Google Instant and SEO: The Sky Is Falling!

by Canonical SEO on September 11, 2010

Google Instant and SEO

I have spent the last few days since the September 8, 2010, debut of Google Instant making the rounds visiting all of the usual search engine optimization (SEO) blogs and forums.  I am truly amazed at all of the “Chicken Littles” out there proclaiming the end to SEO as a result of Google’s latest innovation.  But I  just don’t see it happening, not as a result of Google Instant, not as long as search engines display organic results. 

The Predecessor to Google Instant:  Google Suggest

Remember Google Suggest?  Yeah… It is that drop down list of “suggested” search phrases that you have been seeing at Google since August of 2008, as you type in your search phrase. 

Do you remember when it was first implemented?  I remember seeing the same posts about how it was going to put an end to SEO, how it was going to kill the long tail, how it was going to mean the end to small businesses, how only big business would now be able to compete in PPC, etc. 

When Google Suggest first came out, people played with it a bit.  I am sure it changed the way some people searched… for a week or two.   But in the end, the innovation and its affect on search was pretty much a non-event.

Personally, I don’t even think I played with it for more than a day or two. I quickly saw it for what it was – a tool to use when I need help with a search. Within a day or two I began tuning out the Google Suggest drop down and went back to my old way of searching.  I now only use the drop down when I need help coming up with the search phrase or don’t know exactly how to spell something.

What is Google Instant?

Google Instant basically combines Google Suggest with real-time search engine results pages (SERPs).  As you type in a search phrase, Google attempts to predict the keyword phrase you are typing into their search box.  The suggestions in the dropdown change as you type and AJAX is used to return predicted results intermittently based on what you have entered thus far.  As you continue to type, they refine their predictions in the dropdown and return more results.

As you can see below, when I press the letter ‘i’ the drop down displays with ‘ikea’, ‘imdb’, ‘itunes’, and ‘inception’ in the list. 

Example of Google Instant SERPs

Google Instant believes the probability is greatest that I am searching for some keyword phrase that begins with ‘ikea’.  So ‘ikea’ appears in the search box with the remaining portion of the word (‘kea’) grayed out.  And results for ‘ikea’ (though I have only typed ‘i’) are displayed in the browser.

This browser/server interaction continues with each keystroke if I type slowly enough or with every few keystrokes if I am typing fast.

Google claims the benefits are:

  • Faster search results
  • Smart predictions
  • Instant results

Google Instant has somewhat limited browser support.  It is available to users of Chrome Versions 5 & 6 (no surprise there), Firefox Version 3, Safari Version 5 for Mac, and Internet Explorer 8. 

Sorry Opera users.  You can only see Google Instant in action if you:

  • Browse to Google,
  • Right click on the Google web page somewhere,
  • Select “Edit Site Preferences”,
  • Click on the “Network” tab,
  • Choose “Identify as Firefox” from the dropdown near the bottom, and
  • Click OK.

What Does Google Instant Mean for SEO?

No one really knows at this point whether or not Google Instant will have any kind of profound effect on SEO.  My guts says that it will not.

Google has stated emphatically that Google Instant does NOT affect organic rankings.  That being said, I do not see this as changing how we optimize web sites in any big way.  It might alter users search behavior somewhat, particularly in certain situations.  But what made a page rank well at Google for a particular search phrase prior to Google Instant should continue to work now that Google Instant is a reality.

The only real impact to existing optimization processes that I can see “might” be in the area of keyword research.  It is certain that users now have another keyword research tool – Google Instant’s drop down list of suggested phrases. But only time will tell whether search phrases become less long-tail as a result of Google Instant causing us to optimize for more of the broader head phrases.

How Will Google Instant Change the Way Users Search?

If I had to guess, I would say users will likely spend the next week or two playing with Google Instant a bit.  During this time it will affect how people search.  But once the “newness” wears off, I believe people will go about searching pretty much the way they always have.  They will realize that the suggestions are there when they need them as in when they cannot remember the full name of something or how to spell something correctly.  They will use it as a tool to assist them when they need assistance. But they will likely not be using it for every search, not even the major of their searches

Though I have not seen studies on it, I would guess that 90-95+ of the time people go to Google with a particular goal in mind and in most cases they already have a good idea of the search phrase(s) that will likely return their desired results.  Once the fad of Google Instant wears off, I think people will go back to entering their own search phrases… in their entirety.  They will tune out the drop down list of suggestions (except when they need it) as well as tune out the flickering of updating SERPs.

Adapt and Overcome!

No one knows for sure whether Google Instant will change the world of SEO.  Even if Google Instant does somehow change the way we optimize web sites, is that not the very nature of SEO?  To me, that is what makes this profession so exciting.  SEO is a field that is constantly changing.  If you don’t like change, I suggest you find a field other than search engine optimization.  Otherwise, embrace whatever changes might come as a result of Google Instant, large or small…  Adapt and overcome!

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