Google Instant – Friend or Foe?

In this fast paced world of drive thru food service and movies on demand, one thing has always been missing…and that my friends is a search engine that can execute a search before I finish typing. Google heard the calling and unveiled Google Instant on Wednesday, 9/7/2010.

What is Google Instant?

Basically, Google Instant shows search results as you type. This search enhancement takes what you have already typed into the search box, predicts what you are searching for, and then displays search results in real time. The search results based on these predictions continue to change as you keep typing.

Testing has shown that Google Instant will save the average user 5 seconds per search. That is 3.5 billion seconds per day or 11 hours saved every second. Thanks to the geniuses at Google we can all spend more time doing what we love and less time searching for it. For me personally, I enjoy collecting Pokemons when I’m not at work…to each his own, right?

Google’s Jonathan Effrat does a great job explaining Google Instant in this video:

Google Instant and Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

Some people believe that Google Instant makes SEO irrelevant and others believe it makes SEO more important than ever. I personally agree with the later of the two, as long as there are search engines, there will be a need for SEO. If not, I’ll be forced to rely on my entrepreneurial skills.

Google stated that this new search enhancement will not impact the rankings of organic search results. However, I wouldn’t start doing your  happy dance just yet. Organic rankings are probably the only thing that remains unaffected.

Searcher behavior has changed tremendously. Organic results have been pushed further down the page, while paid ads are being displayed more prominently and as a user you are being guided toward Google’s suggested queries. The previous Google search interface encouraged queries with long tail keyword phrases. Now a user has to “fight” Google to conduct a search with long tail keyword phrases.

Searcher Behavior

Is this the end of long tail keyword phrases? The answer is no, but some SEOs predict a decline in traffic sourced from these long tail keyword phrases and I happen to agree with them. Suppose a user has a long tail keyword phrase that they are going to conduct a search for, they type in the first two words of the phrase and they see a something similar to what they are searching for in the results. They will stop typing and click on that link. This is going to make competition for these broad, head terms fiercer.

Other SEOs believe that Google Instant will boost traffic from long tail keywords. Their reasoning behind this is that they think a user that is typing in a head term will see something more relevant in the Google Predictions and click on it. I have to disagree with this reasoning because auto complete is nothing new to Google. Google Suggest has been around for some time now, the results being displayed in real time and having a suggestion actually appear in the search box in light grey text is what has changed. If the suggestion that is in the search box is still the head term and they see a relevant link in the results, why would they bother clicking on one of the suggested search terms below? They wouldn’t, they would click on the link that seems relevant. Having the results displayed real time will only decrease traffic from long tail keywords.

Organizations with names that begin with letters similar to industry related terms will most likely see boosts in traffic. Imagine you are going to do a search for “airline tickets”. Once you have typed in “ai”, a page full of results all centered around AirTran appears.

Google Instant   Friend or Foe?*click to enlarge

How many users do you think will stop and check out AirTran’s rates? Organic search rankings may not have changed, but I assure you AirTran will see increases in traffic. If you complete the search for “airline tickets” you will see Orbitz, Priceline, Expedia, Travelocity, Delta, and so on. You will also notice that AirTran does not appear on the first page of organic search results.

Keep in mind that Google Instant is localized and takes into account your current geographic location and previous search behavior when attempting to predict what you are searching for.

Less Real Estate for Organic Results

The first image is what a user sees when they conduct a search for “search engine optimization” without Google Instant enabled.

Google Instant   Friend or Foe?*click to enlarge

The second image is what a user sees when they conduct a search for “search engine optimization” with Google Instant enabled.

Google Instant   Friend or Foe?*click to enlarge

Notice how the suggestion box takes up space in the results. This pushes the organic results further down the page and bumps one or more organic listings to page 2 of the results. This changes the ratio of organic results to paid results.

Is Google Being Greedy?

Besides the fact that the paid ads are being displayed more prominently, Google has changed the way they classify impressions. The major change is that Google added the “3 second rule”, this means if an impression is counted every time a searcher stops typing for more than 3 seconds. What does this mean for paid search account managers? This will most likely have a negative impact on impression to click ratios. If the click through rate goes down, your quality score will go down as well. This means you could be penalized with a higher cost per click. This blog does a great job explaining the “Google Instant Conspiracy Theory”.

Living with Google Instant

If you absolutely hate Google Instant, you can disable it by clicking the link to the right of the search box, or by visiting your preferences page. However, I would not recommend doing so. Disabling Google Instant will only make it harder for you to understand and predict user behavior.

I encourage you to leave a comment and let me know what you think about Google Instant.

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Vaughn Regelin

Vaughn Regelin

Marketing Services Manager at Groove
Vaughn joined the Groove team in January 2010. Vaughn specializes in paid advertising management, search engine optimization and conversion optimization. He is individually qualified in Google Analytics and Google AdWords with a specialization in search advertising. He graduated from Towson University with Magna Cum Laude honors.
Vaughn Regelin
Vaughn Regelin
Vaughn Regelin

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