Google Instant Will NOT Kill SEO – But It Will Change It

I’m not sure I can remember the last time an innovation from Google caused such a stir in the SEO community, but Google Instant has certainly ruffled some feathers – and that’s putting it mildly!

Headlines like “SEO IS DEAD” aren’t particularly helpful or even informed. Nevertheless there have been plenty of them. Let me start by saying SEO is NOT dead. The introduction of Google Instant WILL change the landscape though.

When quizzed during a Q&A session at the Google Instant launch event, Google’s answer to the “How will Google Instant affect SEO?” question was simple – “ranking stays the same”.

Of course it does. Google Instant isn’t a change to Google’s algorithms. What it will do though is change the way people behave when they’re searching and it’s that that will impact search engine optimisation.

The general consensus is that generic terms – already highly competitive – will become even more competitive while traffic volumes for longtail searches will fall. This makes sense as instant results on every keystroke will likely lead to shorter searches.

This might sound like bad news but it doesn’t have to be. A skilled SEO should still be able to target and rank highly for just a couple of generic terms, giving them access to now higher search volumes.

However, those operating under a limited budget, those who previously targeted several longtail terms as a way of generating traffic, will now find it that more difficult to retain, let alone increase, traffic levels, at least in the short term.

At least, that’s the theory. The reality may be different and here’s why.

The number of people that will end up using Google Instant is limited – only those who can touch type will really benefit. If, like me, you look at the keyboard as you type you won’t notice the search results coming in until the full search is completed. What use is Google Instant to those people, me included?

In practice, none. I’ve tried it out and I can see the advantages but for me it didn’t really increase the speed of my searches as I had to keep looking up after every keystroke or two. No, the vast majority of people will continue to use Google in the normal manner.

The other thing to consider is the type of search. Let me quote this blog post I found, which gave a perfect example:

“This will only affect users who are searching in instances where the shorter or predicted terms match the users end goals. For example, if I am searching for “buy shoes online” and get as far as “buy sh” the top results are sites which clearly suit the needs of a searcher for “buy shoes online” and thus – this may work to the detriment of sites who rank well for “buy shoes online” as they may well lose traffic. In the case of a site targeting, oh – I don’t know – “seo consulting” there will likely be little affect if any. The searcher, looking for an SEO consultant, will find once they’ve entered “seo” that they are presented with Wikipedia and Google – sites that, while informative, don’t offer the services (or results) desired and thus – the searcher would be less affected. Once they proceeded on to enter the “seo c” the searcher would be presented with the results for “seo company” but I’m prone to believe that if the searcher wanted those results – they would have searched for it. For this phrase I’m confident we’ll see little in the way of negative affect from Google Instant.”

You could now be tempted to believe that far from killing search engine optimisation, Google Instant doesn’t affect it in the least. That would be a mistake. SEOs need to consider it when devising their strategy for a particular website, especially in terms of keyword research.

The decision to be made is choosing between targeting one or two very competitive terms for high volume traffic or continuing to chase 10-20 longtail terms with potentially reduced search volume but higher clickthrough rates. It will all depend on the industry and target audience.

Once that decision is made, through solid, thorough research, it is carry on as normal because “ranking stays the same”. And is that really any different to what we do now anyway?

I’ll finish up with this quote from another blog. After reading a lot of opinions stating what I said above – that longtail search volumes will fall as generic, shorter terms become more valuable (or relevant), I came across this:

“To conclude, it is more likely that predicted search suggestions will increase volume on the mid-tail and longtail…”

The reasoning was well explained and plausible too. So we’re back to square one!

Everyone has an opinion and until Google Instant has been taken up by enough people, used often enough and ultimately proved a success (or not), we’ll not know who was right.

In the meantime, it’s business as usual for SEOs, with just one more thing to think about. After all, “ranking stays the same” – it’s user behaviour that is (maybe) going to change.

fluidcreativity
  • Written by on 17th September 2010 at 09:20
  • “Fluid Creativity is an award-winning, multi-service digital agency based in Manchester.”
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  • http://www.net66.co.uk JamesD

    “if I am searching for “buy shoes online” and get as far as “buy sh” the top results are sites which clearly suit the needs of a searcher for “buy shoes online” and thus – this may work to the detriment of sites who rank well for “buy shoes online” as they may well lose traffic.”

    This bit just *does not* make sense. How will “buy sh”, which auto completes to “buy shoes online”, cause detriment to those ranking for that term when the instant page that is loaded is for “buy shoes online”. If this article is suggesting that you should start targeting part keywords then the blog writer has *missed the point* of Google Instant entirely!

    • http://www.fluidcreativity.co.uk Ben Greenwood

      Actually, James, I think you’re right. The main point of the blog I quoted was that a ‘part-search’ for “buy sh” would return what you wanted, but a ‘part-search’ for “seo” wouldn’t return what you wanted until you got in as far as “seo c” at least.

      That bit about sites ranking for “buy shoes online” losing traffic DOESN’T make sense, not sure where the original blogger got that from.

      Personally, I’m not suggesting you should target part keywords! I really would have *missed the point* if I thought that! As it happens, I think the biggest effect Google Instant will have is on how we write page titles…but that’s a post of its own at some point.

  • http://www.net66.co.uk JamesD

    “if I am searching for “buy shoes online” and get as far as “buy sh” the top results are sites which clearly suit the needs of a searcher for “buy shoes online” and thus – this may work to the detriment of sites who rank well for “buy shoes online” as they may well lose traffic.”

    This bit just *does not* make sense. How will “buy sh”, which auto completes to “buy shoes online”, cause detriment to those ranking for that term when the instant page that is loaded is for “buy shoes online”. If this article is suggesting that you should start targeting part keywords then the blog writer has *missed the point* of Google Instant entirely!

    • http://www.fluidcreativity.co.uk Ben Greenwood

      Actually, James, I think you're right. The main point of the blog I quoted was that a 'part-search' for “buy sh” would return what you wanted, but a 'part-search' for “seo” wouldn't return what you wanted until you got in as far as “seo c” at least.

      That bit about sites ranking for “buy shoes online” losing traffic DOESN'T make sense, not sure where the original blogger got that from.

      Personally, I'm not suggesting you should target part keywords! I really would have *missed the point* if I thought that! As it happens, I think the biggest effect Google Instant will have is on how we write page titles…but that's a post of its own at some point.

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  • http://www.content-writing-india.com/web-content-writing.php Carol

    Thanks for the detailed info, I still hope some positive to happen in SEO…