First off, a disclaimer, having just witnessed the launch of Google Instant, I thought it would be a good idea to do a quick blog post on what the possible implications of this new feature on the fundamentals of web marketing and SEO. These are just first thoughts, and I will likely follow this up with another blog post after other people in the industry have weighed in and I can steal incorporate their opinions.
For those who don’t know, Google Instant Search is a new feature rolled out today at their big Search Event in San Francisco.Essentially what it does is dynamically run the search as you type. So if you were to search for something like “Seattle Sounders”, as you type in the word “Seattle” the search results for Seattle would appear. It also offers suggestions of what you might be looking for (this feature isn’t new), however it super-imposes the most likely choice – i.e. if you’ve already started typing the next word – in grey within the search box. With a professional SEO company you will be able to manage it to increase much faster your viewers and customers, this is an excellent tool if you are getting a product out in the market, if you have a business or any type of service.
My first impression:
Google never fails to do stuff which is incredibly cool, and instant search is not an exception. Currently it’s only working for users who are logged in with their Google account (good idea), and the feature can be disabled very easily. It’s amazing to see the power behind the Google search system being used to full effect – the speed and efficiency with which it returns results from millions of pages is truly mind-boggling.
However, like all changes made to technology – particularly web technology that people are familiar and comfortable with – this new feature will definitely freak a lot of people out. Whether or not this feature is actually useful for finding what you want, the break from the norm will undoubtedly cause some of the less tech-savvy amongst us to start jumping up and down making ape noises (“the files are IN the computer! It’s so simple!”).
Whether Google will keep this as the default or just keep it deployed for a few weeks so people know it’s there and available remains to be seen.
How will this change how we search?
The thing I find really interesting about instant search is its potential to change the searching mindset. Typically, when you go to Google, you have a very specific query in mind – “I want to find great restaurants in Capitol Hill”, so you might type in “Capitol Hill Restaurant Reviews” – simple! Search suggestions have always been there, but now their implementation is wildly different.
For instance, if I was to begin search for “capitol hill restaurant reviews”, as soon as I am decently through the words “capitol hill”, the suggestion “capitol hill block party” comes up. This is obviously taking my location into account, and serving up what it believes I might be looking for.
However it’s also incredibly distracting – and could potentially muddle my search intent. Instead of just having the suggestion, I now have the actual results from that suggestion displayed on the page below.
But say I ignore the top suggests and keep plugging away at my original search, now I’ve got to the term “Capitol Hill Restaurant” – the first suggestion conveniently adds the final s to restaurants, making me think this might be a more useful term that “restaurant reviews”, so I may very well deviate at this point and just search for that.
So what’s wrong with this? Nothing on the surface. Search suggestions are created by collating millions of searches and determining patterns. Many searches performed are for similar things so it stands to reason that this might be beneficial to the average user.
What about the long tail?
One problem I do see is the issue of long-tail contraction. If people are offered results before they’ve completed their search term, are they more likely to go for simpler results rather than continue to fill out their entire query?
What about that oft-quoted statistic that 25% of searches on Google are completely unique? Are unique searches going to diminish as people are offered results only partially through their query?
This is all just conjecture and questions at this point – but such a fundamental shift in the way the process of searching is performed I believe will undoubtedly change how users use search in some way.
So how should this change my web marketing?
Immediately, it shouldn’t. While there’s always pressure on to be the first to adopt and leverage new trends, if you were to rewrite your online marketing strategy every time there’s a big shift in the online world – you might as well be writing it on an Etch-a-sketch.
However, as the more consistent patterns emerge, it would definitely be wise to keep an ear out for how this is changing search behavior and how your web marketing should leverage this.
That being said, here are a few guesses – which may or may not prove to be accurate!
These are just my first thoughts, and I’m happy to accept feedback or criticism. I’m always excited when Google does something new. I am a bit of a Google fanboy, I’ll admit. I think they build really cool, though not always commercially viable (cough! Wave.) tech products.
Instant search is possibly the biggest shift in the SERPS since blended results. I for one am really interested to see how this evolves and what they think of next.
“Seems Google Instant may cause biasing away from long tail queries, historically where GG has been strongest.” – Rand Fishkin, SEOmoz
“Oy. Instant != death of SEO. SEO has change as a core part, and a good SEO recognizes, adapts, even flourishes with change.” – Matt Cutts, Google