Google Instant could mean profound changes for SEO

Google made some big announcements yesterday, most notably the ability to search as you type, aptly called Google Instant Search. Currently available in the USA, UK, France, Germany, Spain, Italy and Russia, older browsers and users who are not signed will not see the auto results. In essence, Google is turning search into an AJAX application much like Gmail.

What it comes down to is the appearance of search results before you finish typing your query. According to Marissa Mayer, Google’s VP of Search and UX, a typical Google search lasts 25 seconds – 9 seconds of typing, 1 second in which the query reaches Google, is processed and sent back, and 15 seconds during which the user considers which search result to click on. These streaming results are estimated to save between two to five seconds for every 25 second query — saving a collective 11 hours every second.

I really like it and over the next few months it will take some time to get used to not hitting the Enter button with every query.
As a search marketer however, four things to look out for come to mind:

1. Impact on Paid search ads
Anything above the fold will catch your eye. This means the top three or four results will really matter to the user. Because Google Instant auto-completes as you type, then sponsored listings 2 and 3 may be compromised as position 4 is now further up the Results Page. I’ve illustrated this below: Position 2 & 3 ads in purple box; Position 4 ad in red box.

Graeme Lipschitz of Clicks2Customers speculates that “Position 4 might become the new Position 1 in terms of catching the user’s eye once the query has been typed in. This will affect how advertisers bid for adrank placement in the Google real estate. When advertisers bid on adrank and the place they’re bidding for is Position 4 – it could potentially damage Google’s auction model.”

2. Change in impression count
Impressions are counted when the user stops typing and results are displayed for a minimum of three seconds and the timer is reset after every letter typed. You can tell when a new impression has counted because the page title changes (before and after scenarios illustrated below). The ability to adapt searches on the fly could lead to a swing of either two ways: increase or decrease in the impression count.

Potentially, some brand-related search impressions could increase when people start to type in a brand name, then spend more than three seconds working out what they want to type next, if Google Instant’s prediction is not what they are after. That lapse will count as an impression. Paid search practitioners will know that an increase in impressions could impact the overall Quality Score of keywords, escalating costs as a consequence.

Whether or not this will impact campaign performance, only time will tell and will ultimately be judged by the searching public’s change in search behaviour.

3.The relevance of SEO
SEO analysts have built a huge business analysing results for particular queries. Auto-complete presents a new challenge and possibly a new frontier regarding how SEOs operate, as it will be harder to examine results as they happen.

Not everyone is convinced this is a great move. The CEO of Didit, Kevin Lee, has stated that Instant
‘could result in dilution of click quality, where the person’s intent wasn’t there in the way it would be if they had been allowed to complete the thought. You don’t have an opportunity to come up with your own way of expressing your needs and desires.”

Graeme Lipschitz has an example of this. Suppose a user queries ‘holiday’ and Instant starts returning results for Holiday Inn — the person might not have been interested in staying at a Holiday Inn during their holiday, but now they’re definitely considering it.

4. A segregated searching public
Searches conducted using the toolbar, or carried out without signing in, will have the good old user experience which we’ve become accustomed to when it comes to search engines. The PPC and SEO challenge will be to cater for both types of users whose approach to search will probably be very different.

That said this is a very bold move by Google which is likely to change the way we approach search. Furthermore, with the predicted query as you type, it really is a much faster method and, in my opinion, an improvement in user experience.



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