Google Instant Search and its impact on SEO

by Hessam on September 10, 2010

During Tuesday’s major search event in San Francisco Google announced a new search feature called Google Instant which will significantly change the way users search for information on Google Search.

Google Instant – Live updating search result page

This new interface updates as a user types in the search query. Not only will the regular search results update as a user types in letters in the search field, but elements from Universal Search (maps, news, shopping, etc) as well as AdWords ads will also update in real time. This results in a user seeing a much larger set of search results as the query is being typed in and refined. In addition, the query suggestions (Google Suggest) play a more central role in discovering possible queries and relevant websites.

Some advantages of Google Instant are:

  • Searching is now much faster which results in people performing a higher number of searches and in their viewing more potential listings in their search for information.
  • Since users are shown a much larger set of search results, there is a much higher chance of your pages being displayed in the SERPs.
  • Users can now easier modify their query which results in more specific queries which will drive relevant traffic to your website.

screenshot - Google Search

Google preparing for Instant Search

Looking back at the past months you can follow the steps Google has taken towards this major release:

  1. May – Google Caffeine: This was advertised as the new infrastructure which would allow Google to offer new and faster services in the future. It’s however assumed that Caffeine went live long before the official announcement in June.
  2. May –May Day update: Google changed the way it handled long tail queries (queries where there is a smaller set of results available). This resulted in many large sites with high domain trust losing traffic to smaller sites with more specific content.
  3. August – Handling navigational queries: With this change Google started to show more results from the same domain for navigational queries. For instance if you search for a brand name (e.g. ‘sony’), there is now a higher chance that several more pages from the official domain are listed in the top 10.

Impact of Google Instant Search on SEO

In general this new feature won’t change the basic rules of SEO since Google’s algorithms will continue evaluating webpages in the same way as before. Webmasters should hence continue focusing on their content, traffic, and conversions. What changes however is the way users will go about finding information, how they interact with search results as they learn to use more specific search queries, and how they review the results before making a choice.

  • CTR  is the new ranking. The click-through rate for organic listings becomes more important than pure rankings since users will see many more search results in each session.
  • Creating relevant content which better targets specific queries will drive more traffic as users learn to perform better searches.
  • Experimenting with page titles and snippets and tracking the changes in CTR becomes even more important.
  • Universal Search listings (images, video thumbnails, maps, shopping, etc) will attract more clicks since dense graphic elements will draw more attention in a fast updating interface.
  • The traditional Golden Triangle theory regarding the users’ eye movements on search result pages is no longer true. Earlier you performed a search, sat back and studied the results and the ads before either clicking on a listing, or modifying your query. This will now be substantially different as the users’ eyes will wander up and down between the query field, listings, Universal Search entries, and AdWords ads. I’m looking forward to the first eye tracking study for the new search page.
  • Searches with short queries will fall considerably since people usually come to Google with a very specific goal in mind. The now interactive search result page allows users to dig deeper into a subject until they’ve found a reasonable set of search results which better fits their intent.

For those proclaiming the death of SEO, I would actually argue the opposite.

This is definitely a game changer but it does not change the way serious SEOs have worked for a long period of time. That includes focusing on important KPIs other than rankings. Instant Search is however a massive headache for those who still treat SEO as a magic formula and have been focusing on optimizing for mere nuances in Google’s search algorithm. They will continue wasting their time focusing on the petty details in the algorithms instead of working on improving the overall value of the sites they are promoting.

All in all, no matter what some people wrongly proclaim, SEO is certainly not dead – it just got more interesting.

This post is cross posted in Swedish to Search Integration blog: Google Instant och dess påverkan på SEO

7 comments

I wish I have been written this! "This is definitely a game changer but it does not change the way serious SEOs have worked for a long period of time" Excellent post! Thanks!

by @elcario on September 10, 2010 at 18:25. Reply #

Thanks Sebastian, I'm glad you liked it.

by lavihessam on September 10, 2010 at 18:41. Reply #

thx hessam, great post. Agree!

Greets from cairo.

by anke on September 12, 2010 at 10:06. Reply #

Thanks Anke, enjoy the sun!

by Hessam Lavi on September 12, 2010 at 22:10. Reply #

Great summary, Hessam, thanks! Glad to see that out there at least one has kept a clear head between all the muddleheads proclaiming SEO's death. :)

by @tobimann on September 12, 2010 at 20:17. Reply #

Thanks Tobi! Proclaiming the death of anything is usually a good linkbait strategy :)

by Hessam Lavi on September 12, 2010 at 22:10. Reply #

I agree with you on SEO becoming (finaly) more interesting. I am curious to find out, how this will impact user behavior in the long run and how keyword usage will change.

by Christian on September 13, 2010 at 12:29. Reply #

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