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Today Google unveiled a new product called Google Instant, which predicts users' search queries and delivers results as they're typing. The news immediately got people talking. While it will make search faster, not everyone is excited about this new feature. Some, in fact, are worried it will kill SEO and harm paid search advertising results. 

Google, however, knows better than to kill off its cash cow with a new consumer friendly feature. Rumors of Google Instant killing the art of SEO are greatly exaggerated. 

According to Google:

"Google Instant is a new search enhancement that shows results as you type. We are pushing the limits of our technology and infrastructure to help you get better search results, faster. Our key technical insight was that people type slowly, but read quickly, typically taking 300 milliseconds between keystrokes, but only 30 milliseconds (a tenth of the time!) to glance at another part of the page. This means that you can scan a results page while you type."

It also means search results will change as you type — early and often. That fact has some worried about the effects the new feature will have on SEO.

According to Steve Rubel, director of insights for Edelman Digital, this is the death knell. In a post titled Google Instant Make SEO Irrelevant, Rubel explains:

"Google Instant means no one will see the same web anymore, making optimizing it virtually impossible. Real-time feedback changes people's behaviors."

Rubel gleans this from the details of the new tool Google released today, including:

"Even when you don’t know exactly what you’re looking for, predictions help guide your search. The top prediction is shown in grey text directly in the search box, so you can stop typing as soon as you see what you need."

Rubel takes that to mean search results will be too personalized to leave room for internet-wide SEO efforts:

"No two people will see the same web. Once a single search would do the trick - and everyone saw the same results. That's what made search engine optimization work. Now, with this, everyone is going to start tweaking their searches in real-time. The reason this is a game changer is feedback. When you get feedback, you change your behaviors."

His fears are a bit premature. For starters, Google's search delivery is only as good as what's available online. Faster recall of results won't eliminate the art and science of SEO. But it could change the way words are prioritized in headlines. According to the Google Analytics Blog:

"With this change, you might notice some fluctuations in AdWords impression volume and traffic for organic keywords. For example, you may find that certain keywords receive significantly more or fewer impressions moving forward."

Paid advertising is sure to change as well. Google Instant will quickly start delivering more ads, since search results change as users type their queries. They'll be scanning more advertising as they refine searches. Whether they click on those ads will be another story.

CTRs could easily plummet. Josh Woelker, senior manager of internet marketing for JC Whitney, predicts as much:

"Paid search advertisers: expect your impression numbers to explode and your CTR to drop big time with #googleinstant"

However, it could be awhile before the effects of Google Instant are felt by advertisers. As JP Morgan’s Imran Khan tells AllThingsD:

"We think this new product will have little to no impact on monetization rates. We see this product as an improvement to user functionality and think that its impact on advertisers will be limited. All of the ads typically associated with the suggested search appear as normal as the query is being entered. No changes have been made to serving or ranking. Although the constant updates to the results page may result in more ads served as a person types a query, this should only impact CTRs not the number of clicks as a user will not likely click on an ad until the appropriate results appear."

Meghan Keane

Published 8 September, 2010 by Meghan Keane

Based in New York, Meghan Keane is US Editor of Econsultancy. You can follow her on Twitter: @keanesian.

721 more posts from this author

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Moe Rubenzahl

I agree. Rubel says: "Here's what this means: no two people will see the same web...making optimizing it virtually impossible."

I disagree. It makes optimizing more interesting. It changes the game -- again. It was always a game, you know! Black hat, white hat, Aliweb, Excite, Looksmart, ODP, Altavista, Inktomi, Yahoo, Google, Bing. The winners in SEO were the most clever and the most nimble.

But the real winners in SEO? The ones who played to the smart rule, the rule that always works: Do well for your visitors and you will do well with the search engines. Played that way, we are benefiting our customers and the search engines' customers. So the search engines want us to win.

More and more, good SEO has less to do with exploiting the search engines' machinery and more to do with content, and making content serve customers. What that means is that SEO experts have to be partners of the people in our companies who write quality content.

To me, that's a good thing. It makes my job more interesting but more important, it makes my job more relevant because instead of spending resources gaming the search engines, more of my time goes to being an editor and publisher. One of my jobs is to get product groups to do what they should be doing anyway -- making technical articles, application notes, FAQs, and now videos, that our customers will find interesting and educational. Search engines are almost an afterthought -- almost.

To me, this is the kind of thing that makes my job fun and interesting.

May you live in interesting times!

almost 6 years ago

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Mik Pam

I agree with Moe and I think Rubel is playing the role of "chicken little" too well. These are exciting times and any SEO advocate worth his salt will adapt to how the game is now played. I think the effect on this though is the diminished value of long tail searches that are great at creating conversions and I see a lot more emphasis on the optimization of local maps as they show prominently on the "blended" search results even without the localization components of the search queries. We can speculate all we want but at this point SEO is still very relevant and is here to stay . As Moe said SEO is not just simply "gaming" the engines but creating a real gratifying user experience that answers the search query. 

almost 6 years ago

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kids games

Google Instant will change not kill SEO. Nothing can kill SEO, like nothing kills roaches (which I mean in the best way!)

almost 6 years ago

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Toni Anicic

I love Google Instant :)

From what I can see in the Analytics of several sites I have access to, long tail keywords give a bit less traffic now, but my strong one word keywords now send almost double the traffic they did before!

I can see how this might be very unfortunate for those that spent lots of time building the long tail keyword strategy and not concentrating on the high volume words. 

almost 6 years ago

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Depesh

Expanding on the comment by Mik Pam it is the long-tail which is going to potentially be affected - however for the average user I don't think this makes too much difference. If I start a search, Google auto-suggests options anyway which I may or may not consider relevant or of interest. What now happens is that as I type, the results change in real-time and in theory, I may find a relevent site earlier thus reducing the need to type as many words.... the speed of the results will play a crucial role as the results load - they've been a little sporadic on certain searches... a big factor however is the infamous Page Fold - many of the results (aside from PPC....) will be reworked below the fold thus placing more emphasis on P1 results...

almost 6 years ago

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Salman

I agree with Toni. Seems like big brands who usually do well on single word keywords are possibly the winners here. I think generally people like to type less number of words while searching and google instant could addict them more which mean SEOs might have to concentrate a bit more on single word keywords.

almost 6 years ago

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SEO Dubai

Earlier when Google Personalized search was introduced, many gurus were talking that it will end up seo, but it never happened. Just it changed the methods little bit. And I hope same with happen with Googal instant. We will have to experiemnt and learn more to understand how it works and how we should optimize our sites to get better results.

almost 6 years ago

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David Ranby

So in May Google gave dominant brands a "hand up" and due to their link power achieved more dominant P1-5 listings (Mayday update impact). And now with Light the initial evidence suggests single word search is getting higher volumes, favouring the biggest brands....so the big guys with the big budgets win and the long tail specialists loose? Of course it will be more grey than this but nevertheless, the changes in fold line, predictive text, links to brand all push searchers to the big boys not the specialist. A bit like Tesco moving in on your highstreet greengrocer...

almost 6 years ago

Brian Anderson

Brian Anderson, Marketer at Sporting Index

...isn't this feature only available to those who are signed in to a Google account? What percentage of the searching world is signed in at any one time? I'd suggest that it is a small percentage, in the grand scheme of things. SEOs will not drastically change what they do to optimise their sites. But it will place more emphasis on nabbing a top 5 ranking for shorter tail keywords, IMHO.

almost 6 years ago

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Toni Anicic

@Brian

I have no doubt that eventually this will be default feature even for the users that are not signed in. 

almost 6 years ago

John Courtney

John Courtney, CEO and Executive Chairman at Pay on Results SEO, Content Marketing, Social Media, Digital PR, PPC & CRO from Strategy Digital

We are running tests on how this may affect SEO and search patterns. It certainly won't kill SEO, but it may well change it.

almost 6 years ago

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Robert Barcus, Director of Operations at Apheus Solutions, LLC

I think this is going to allow good SEOs to shine through the fog of war, so-to-speak. It will definitely change the way we work.

almost 6 years ago

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GO optimisation

Google suggest the delay in measuring impressions will be 3 seconds (a life time in search terms). That means impression share reports and CTR (an important part of quality score both for SEO and PPC) wont be over-reported as most people would think. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i0eMHRxlJ2c (58 minutes in)

almost 6 years ago

Brett Relander

Brett Relander, Founder & President at Tactical Marketing Labs

This is certainly not an SEO killer. What it does is create imitation intelligence for the searching public. This means that we as marketing firms and business owners need to consider the impact and potentially adjust our keyword usage to include more short tale phrases. Google Instant users will no longer need to type in long tale phrases in many cases because the simplified search term will be populated for them. Change is inevitable, so you might as well be ready to roll with the punches. Brett Relander Tactical Marketing Labs

almost 6 years ago

Peter Leatherland

Peter Leatherland, Online Sales Manager at Ethical Superstore

It won't kill SEO, why would it? just because you might need to consider a few more things doesn't mean you would give up?? When Google changed the game to focus on link building most people had been concentrating on keywords, titles and onsite optimisation, and it was 'the end of SEO' but all it did was made people consider link building as the main focus. All this is doing is changing things again but to a much lesser extent. Infact the change is probably more of an opportunity

almost 6 years ago

Grant Whiteside

Grant Whiteside, Technical Director at Ambergreen Internet Marketing

I’m still trying to work out what the fuss is about. Google tries to predict what you are looking for whilst you are typing in the search bar, the results are displayed as you type. Other suggestions of variations of the query are also displayed exactly as they are being currently shown. So the only difference is the updated results as you are typing in the search bar. Is it a case of ‘seconds will be saved and headlines will be made?’ Let’s face it; it’s another way of getting big G in the news again. Googles’ VP of search products Marissa Mayer said "There's actually a psychic element to it”. Somehow I think she’s playing a game of smoke and mirrors.

My prediction is that males will use this type of pre-fill query more than females; it has something to do with the way that guys shop and search for stuff. Lazy searchers will stop typing when a pre fill response seems relevant. More people will probably click on more generic search queries (just like they did a decade ago), Google will make a fortune out of displaying broad match results that are not always relevant but big businesses will blindly pay the big bucks for their PPC results anyway.  

On the subject of impressions and click through rates, things have changed a bit. An impression is now set if the searcher stops typing in a query for more than 3 seconds. I dare say that all the PPC geeks are all thinking about quality score, impressions and click throughs’, realising the cost per click for more considerate searches will rise as the quality score decreases and the alternative option of going for more generic  variations of the search term will deliver lower returns, due to increased advertising costs. It’s a win-win situation for Google.

 Eventually searchers will realise that the only way to ensure you get the results you are looking for is to reinvent their search queries to make them more relevant.

SEO agencies will simply adapt as always to the changes. Good SEO agencies that have always covered the entire search path and have the know how to gain the positions from the most generic search terms all the way through to the most local offerings wont see much difference at all, why would they?

One thing that niggles me is, when you are typing your search query and other suggestions of search queries are being refined and suggested in the drop down list, they don’t tie up with the related search query at the foot of the search results page. Does this infer that Google knows there is still a good deal of refinement still to do with their instant search product or are deliberately trying push the lazy searcher into a more profitable search query?

Hey, it’s worth a thought.

almost 6 years ago

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Nick Emby

Overall my feeling is that this new feature will be great, as it has a real capacity for saving the end user time in the long run. Although I don’t think this feature will stop people from using the Google search bar in their browser as opposed to the homepage. The challenge now is for PPC and SEO to learn how to work around any snags this new feature will bring. We could see a reduction in long tail search queries with searchers finding what they want quicker. My feeling is that PPC will have to get smarter due to the fact that users will be seeing results for queries before they have finished typing.

almost 6 years ago

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Disappointed

My consumer watchdog community blog/forum was #1/#2 for a term for the longest time (niche) now a scammer selling an eBook (his other site copied me) and scam sites are way ahead of me.  I've been mentioned by tons of media outlets, Time, Wired, ABC and more! My Alexa is 25K, the others? 1+ million! Why Google, why? :(

almost 6 years ago

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Jerome L.

Google is always into something new and indeed it will change the SEO industry and SEO specialists will have to make adjustments with this.

almost 6 years ago

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Mike Denberg

Some good analysis on both sides of the equation but the reality is no one actually knows how this will play. One thing for sure however, I thought I might add that for those people like me who use Google Wonder Wheel you will notice that it has disappeared with Instant. You have to turn Instant off to be able to access Wonder Wheel.

almost 6 years ago

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