There's been a lot of conjecture and wild accusations about what Google Instant means to the SEO community. But what about our clients? How do we answer their questions when they ask us what Google Instant means for their businesses? It's one thing to say that SEO is dead, or SEO has to evolve, but in reality, a lot of this debate is a fun form of intellectual navel-gazing. What about what actual businesses are asking about Google Instant? Here's a round-up of some of the questions and answers that we've fielded so far:
1. Is everyone now using Google Instant?
No, not yet. However, Google made it clear that "Instant will become the core search experience on Google.com".
To emphasize the point of how important Instant will be Google clearly stated that
"We’ll also be offering Google Instant to our users in France, Germany, Italy, Russia, Spain and the U.K. who are signed in and have Instant-capable browsers. Over the coming weeks and months, we’ll work to roll out Google Instant to all geographies and platforms."
What this means is that Google Instant will almost certainly be coming to your search results in the near-ish future, so it is something worth keeping in mind.
2. Will we have to do SEO differently?
No. As far as we can tell so far, the results generated by Google Instant are the same as the non-Google Instant pages. There is no evidence to suggest that the results being served up by Google Instant are different from the "regular" results.
3. Do I need to start optimizing my site for partial words?
No – absolutely not. As people type, Google is not presenting results for partial queries. If someone starts typing in "flowers delivered", and makes it as far as "flowers d", the results that the searcher will see will be for "flowers delivery", not "flowers d". The point of Google Instant is that it tries to predict what you're typing in, not to present you with meaningless gibberish for results. Therefore, Google shows the results for it's best guess at your meaning, not for what you're actually typing in.
There are some funny conversations being had right now about optimizing your website for "toronto f", "toronto fl", "toronto flo", "toronto flow", "toronto flowe", "toronto flower" and "toronto flowers". Shh… don't tell your competition… they're completely wasting their time and money – Google Instant doesn't work this way.
As for sites which are ranking well for extremely short terms, like Target and Twitter being recommended when you start typing the letter "T". Think about it realistically – if you were doing a search for "toronto movies", would you really click on Target? No, you're not likely to lose these visitors.
4. Will I need to change my keywords?
Not today, not yet, but as more data becomes available, taking another look at your keywords might become important, depending on your market. If searchers learn to change their behavior and their searching habits, then yes, you would be wise to take a look at your keywords based on the data available on that future date.
But remember – searchers change their habits s..l..o..w..l..y. It's not wise to rush out and change a winning strategy just because of what you think people might do in the future. Keep in mind – most of the predictions being made about Google Instant right now are based on conjecture and anecdotal evidence. Make your business decisions based on fact and business data, not on speculation. Wait for searcher behavior results to come in before considering changes to your strategy.
5. How will Google Instant Affect the Long tail?
Now this is a question that does need some further investigation. What Google Instant does, is show people suggested searches based on what other people are searching for, and what Google guesses will appeal to you in particular. Google has been doing this for a long, long time (In Internet years), since Google Suggest was officially launched back in 2008.
In terms of the search box itself, aside from the Google Instant announcement box, nothing has really changed with Google Instant, except that now the top suggested term appears greyed out in the search bar while you type. It's an added visual suggestion that adds an assertive push for people to consider the suggested query.
What does this mean? By more assertively pushing people to search for the recommended search, instead of the possibly unique and new query the person was going to search for, Google will be limiting the diversity of the keywords being searched for in Google. The search landscape will change from its current vast, rich keyword ecosystem, to a somewhat less diverse keyword ecosystem. More people may search for the more popular queries, and fewer people may search for unique, long tail queries.
This isn't necessarily a bad thing for businesses engaging in SEO however, in fact, this could be quite positive. If you are already ranking well for a popular query (they tend to be the more difficult ones), you could stand to win as more searchers are funneled to the popular query, and away from the long tail query traffic that your competitor was getting from an archived article buried deep in the depths of their website. Businesses that have invested in quality SEO and improving the content on their website could stand to gain from Google Instant.
6. Can I track people using Google Instant?
Not really, no. Google is generally not letting you see the actual queries that people are typing in. For the moment, there is no reliable way of tracking the "original query", not even this clever filter created last week – we tested it with our Google Analytics ninja-fu, and as Google confirms, it doesn't work (although it was a brilliant try).
7. Will Google Instant Significantly Affect My Business?
Unless you are in a high competition space with tech-savvy customers, then it's unlikely that Google Instant will affect your business in any meaningful way in the near future. Why is this so? Because we're seeing that even our tech-savvy people in the office are frequently ignoring the Instant results on the page. Remember – most searchers like their sites simple and clean, without flashing, jumping, changing text.
The average searcher will adopt Instant (even if only because they won't know how to turn it off), but not quickly. Where we might see a shift is in the diversity and distribution of searches, where some searches gain in traffic, and others lose traffic. If this happens in your market space, you will likely be able to identify it in your analytics. For the most part however, most businesses (those with non-geeky customers) should likely not be affected by Instant in a meaningful way in the near term.
8. Will Google Instant Significantly Affect my PPC Campaigns?
Google Instant is not expected to have a huge impact on PPC yet, but our Paid Search team is tracking the data closely, and we'll share the results of the investigation at a later date when enough data has been collected. PPC campaigns could see an increase in recorded impressions, with a corresponding drop in CTR, however, it's too early to tell for certain at this very early date.
9. How does this affect me as a business focused on the Canadian market?
It doesn't, yet. Google Instant is not meaningfully rolled out in Canada yet. You can however, with FireFox or IE 8 give Instant a try if you can't wait (you may need to log in, or log out, to get it working).
10. How will Google Instant affect my Google Analytics Data?
For the moment, not at all. Google Instant is not currently passing any information to Google Analytics that can track use of Google Instant. The keyword that ends up referring the visitor to your website will be the keyword that is recorded in your Google Analytics – you won't know, for the moment, what people actually typed in to the search box – only the query that was suggested and which brought them to your website.
11. How will Google Instant affect my Google Webmaster Central Reports?
If a searcher stops typing, or pauses for 3 seconds while they are typing, then the results shown in Google at that moment will count as an impression. Therefore, it may be possible that your site's impressions will rise, and your organic Click Through Rates fall, as reported by Google Webmaster Central.
For example, let's say someone started typing in "toronto dry cleaners". Google however, suggests "toronto drywall" for you. This means that everyone that ranks on the first page of Google for "toronto drywall" will track an impression of their site on Google for "toronto drywall" when people search for "toronto dry cleaners", assuming that some people searching for "toronto dry cleaners" pause for 3 seconds while typing.
What this means is that it is possible that the impressions and click through rate as reported by Google Webmaster Tools will become less meaningful, and possibly meaningless, until they fix this issue (which I would hazard a guess should happen by mid-to-late winter, if not sooner).
12. Will Google Instant affect anything else I use from Google?
So far, no, Google Instant should just affect your SEO & PPC.
Unless of course you count your personal search experience, in which case, the answer is yes. Google Instant breaks a few features, such as turning off Google Suggest, customizing the number of results per page, and some other features. However, these are features that generally only tech-savvy people use, so most people won't notice anything changed at all. Even most tech-savvy people won't notice for a while.
In general, Google Instant is a new interface in Google that does need some attention – it is likely to change how businesses will need to optimize their sites. That being said however, it will take people time to adapt to the new interface, even after it's fully rolled out. Until then, sit tight, watch your traffic, and address any issues directly as they come up. Google Instant is going to be a closely-watched roll-out, so there will eventually be data on what it all means as people engage with it.
Vice President at Search Engine People, helping clients with Conversion Optimization, Analytics, and On-Page SEO.
Online Marketer since June 2000, Internet geek since 1994. Follow me on twitter at @semlady to see what I'm reading now.