My Knee Jerk Reactions to Google Instant

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Well. Today certainly has been a day. And it’s only 2:00 PM

Google rolled out Google Instant which modifies the SERPS as users type in their search terms.

My first impression was negative, and I admit it’s because I don’t like change. But it’s also because in a few minutes my brain went all haywire and I realized the ramifications for my industry. If this type of user interface catches on, there will have to be some serious changes in the way I think about keyword choice and optimization for my clients.

“But wait!” you say. “Google said the actual RANKINGS won’t change, just the way in which they’re presented.”
(http://www.google.com/instant/ :
Q: Does this change impact the ranking of search results?
A: No, this change does not impact the ranking of search results.)

While this may be totally true, it doesn’t really matter.

Say, for instance, that my client’s biggest money making keyphrase is “blue widgets from outer space.” It’s the key phrase that brings them the most targeted, conversion-oriented traffic. They were ranking number one for this term (thank you very much) and they were happy as a clam.

Now, with Google Instant, searchers may not be getting past the key phrase “blue widgets” before they are distracted by the shiny changing results parading around in front of them. The kicker is, they might end up clicking on a bunch of these less-focused pages and searching longer on those sites for what they want.

Am I whining because my long-tail, less competitive keyword might not matter as much? Sure. But I also feel like the user’s experience won’t be as enriched by constantly changing SERPS as the big G would like to think. Mostly, though, I feel bad for my client that spent a long time refining their product landing page to exactly fit what the user was looking for only to have it languish, unnoticed (potentially.)

Organic Results Below the Fold.

I’m using my super dorky big monitor right now, so the suggested search box, which used to simply overlay the search engine results but now actually pushes them down the page, allowed three of the organic results to remain above the fold. However, were I on my puny but awesome netbook, those organic results would be buried quite nicely under the paid search results. Sadness pile.

PPC? Impressions? Clickthrough Rates?

I wonder how long it will take before Adwords charges by impression? Hah. The user only has to pause for three seconds in order to trigger a new set of paid search results. Sheesh. Also, consider clickthrough rate as it pertains to quality score. If your impressions skyrocket because someone paused, then finished their search and your add appeared twice, but the quantity of clickthroughs stay the same, that is going to stink.

On the OTHER Hand

Maybe it’s not longtail but short tail keywords that are in for it. I just did a search for Distilled (the brand name of a SEO giant) and came up with a lot of distilled water pages where previously said company used to rank first. I had to search for “Distilled SEO” to get the site I wanted. I also just did a search for blue widgets from outer space. Just for funsies.

What I KNOW Will Change.

The way I include search terms in title tags will definitely change since the title tags (as i see it right now) will be increasingly important.

The way I research keywords and how I construct user behavior models will change. Maybe a little, maybe a lot.

The way I explain the SERPS to clients will change a lot, obviously. Also, I see a further decreased focus on rankings and a stronger focus on traffic metrics used as benchmarks for success.

Christina is a former LunaMetrician and contributor to our blog.

  • Chris

    Just as I start understanding everything ( even with Googles ever changing algorithms ), they decide to introduce this and completely shatter my confidence at doing my job.
    Today feels like the day I started, except I understand what a few more words relate to, hah.

  • http://oli.web.cmu.edu Carlos

    Searching isn’t browsing.

    Before you had to type, load, then browse the SERPS. The marketing part of SEO was built on the “browsing” part of searching. But now searching will be more about finding.
    Consider this: type “luna and you get moon projects. Now type that extra “m” and Lunametrics comes first. One character. All the difference.

  • eBraford

    Thanks for your thoughts! Ian Laurie wrote a good article about Instant Search that I found helpful in considering the debate. His argument is that the changes are more cosmetic and he talks about how westerners search. Plus, the fact that it only shows up when a person is pretty significant from a business marketing perspective. Here’s a link to his SEO blog: conversationmarketing.com/2010/09/google-instant-end-universe.htm

  • Lex

    Since Google Instant starts flashing results with the first letter typed….how many millions of dollars will a company pay (in a competitive auction of course) to be the first result for the letter “a” or “b” or “c”…ect.

  • Greg Moore

    Philosophy of Search Department:

    If Google keeps suggesting searches and showing results before people finish typing, those suggested searches will be executed more frequently, and pages from their results viewed more frequently.

    A company that wants to organize the world’s information is increasingly showing us less and less of it – just the popular stuff – the stuff based on the “most likely completion” of my search phrase, what most people do.

    If this was TV, I’d be less likely to find out what’s on those cable channels, because Google would keep showing me what the “most likely completion” of my TV query is based on what’s most popular.

    Goodbye Mad Men. Hello Wheel of Fortune.

  • Greg Moore

    One more thing….

    Speculation is fun, but I eagerly await the data. The #measure folks will have the last word, because only they will be able to see and report changes in search queries bringing people to their sites.

    I’ve yet to see one post like that.

  • Robbin

    @Lex, companies shouldn’t pay for the letter. Remember how it works: If I type an “A” into Google, it may think that I want Amazon, Aol, Apple, ATT, etc, but companies have to bid on those keywords, not on the letter “a.”

  • http://www.danielduckworth.com.au SEO Expert Daniel Duckworth

    I wrote a bit of a follow up to Google Instant and searcher behavior here: http://www.danielduckworth.com.au/blog/how-google-instant-changes-seo/

  • http://www.aleromoving.com/ James

    I agree with your concerns and these are some of the things I was thinking as well. I believe that this will reduce the number of variations of a given search. It won’t necessarily reduce long tail searches, but it’ll make the variations more predictable. So instead of having 1 search each for “blue widgets from outer space,” “blue widgets from space,” and “blue widgets out of outer space” you will be more likely to see 3 searches for the variation that Google suggests to people who start typing the beginning of this search query.

  • http://www.mercuryonlinemarketing.co.uk Tim@ Mercury Online Marketing

    I am convinced also that keywords in the domain name, especially top level domains will become increasingly important – More so than usual

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