Some people are saying that Google Instant is an “SEO killer.” I’ve heard several things heralded as SEO killers over the years, but nothing has really been as bad as people think. It’s just too important for a site to be ranked well, regardless of how quickly the results are displayed. You get ranked well by having great content, strong links, and a spider-friendly site. One “SEO killer” that comes to mind was a feature allowing users to “star” a result. If you’re signed into your Google account you’ll see little stars next to the results. Clicking the star allows a user to “vote” a result to the top of their results. This was supposed to revolutionize search and make SEO irrelevant because each user’s results would be completely customized. It never really caught on. SEO pundits had fits about that functionality and the industry got in a panic about it.
Another Google “innovation” was mixing in results from previous queries in with the results they present for a new search. This was really supposed to lead to completely customized results based on a user’s history. Though it’s still in place, it hasn’t resulted in the customization and that people expected and it sure didn’t kill SEO. Here’s a post I wrote about it: Google’s Mixed Results
There are people talking about the instant results affecting the “long tail” of search, but I doubt search behavior will change a lot for most industries. People shop for products online in a pretty specific way; they start broad and as they learn more about what they want, their search becomes more specific focusing on finding the best deal. I think that all the “instant” results presented for a shopping for a specific product will be an annoyance, a distraction, and most users will end up at the same organic results that they did before instant results.
The impact on news will probably be negligible because Google’s index can’t keep up. Let’s say you’re interested in the Ferraris catching fire. As you type, Google’s results change with each letter as they try to guess what you want. When you start typing Ferrari you are presented with several sets of results that are irrelevant to your search. Start typing “ferrari recall” and you’ll get all the way to “ferrari rec” before you start really seeing relevant results. If the user selects “ferrari recall” from the suggestions, they see the same results as they would if they organically searched for it.
There’s a recent story about a USB hack for playstations. I checked the results about this story and it wasn’t until “sony playstation hac” that Google presented results relevant to my search.
Google’s idea is pretty cool, but for news searches they just can’t keep their index fresh enough to present relevant news results in every set of their suggested results. Users are probably still going to have to get pretty darn close to exactly what they are searching for before they see results, just like it is now.
This may change things a little bit for users that conduct traditional shopping searches online because they might be able to find what they are looking for quicker. For example, I looked at results for “buy wind chime.” I got to “buy wind c” and right then Google presented relevant results. Before that it was about wind turbines, microsoft windows, wind power, etc. A shopper will still have to get very close to their intended search to get the results they want, but probably won’t have to get all the way into the long tail to find what they want, unless they are really trying hard to find the best deal. In this economy, everyone is looking for the best deals so the impact might not be immediate.
I’m really interested in the impact on PPC. What a great way to force PPC advertisers to pay for short tail phrases. It’ll really affect the travel industry and force advertisers to bid on things like “disneyland” and “cancun” because people are less likely to get all the way to “disneyland hotel” and “cancun beach resort” if they see immediately see ads at “disneyland.” This could really hurt the smaller companies that can’t afford to compete for “disneyland” in the sponsored results, and will probably lead to more complaints about people bidding on brand names without authorization. Over the past several years more PPC advertisers have been getting sophisticated with dynamic keyword insertion, regional campaign targeting, and exhaustive lists of short-tail keywords to make sure they brand is represented. It’s great for advertisers because it allows them to pay fifty cents for a click and get traffic. Now they are going to have to spend $10 or more per click just to compete. They will also see a reduction in their impressions because their ad won’t be displayed as often. A reduction in impressions will also reduce click through rates which, to Google, means that an ad is less popular so the cost per click bids will go up. The bids on short phrases will go through the roof as companies start to feel the squeeze of “instant” results. Good for Google’s bank accounts, bad for advertisers and searchers.
The instant results are a direct result of Google’s caffeine update which greatly increased the search giant’s capacity to handle queries on the back-end. Caffeine was not an algorithmic change, but an infrastructure change and I have to say that it’s pretty impressive to see some of the fruits of the labor of all those nameless computer nerds making Google’s systems smokin’ fast.