Here’s the thing about Google Instant: It doesn’t change search as much as you might think. I’m not ignoring the fact that it’s a big innovation. The speed required to make Instant work is mind-boggling. Somewhere in the world lights flicker every time you do an Instant search.
But it’s not going to cause SEO’s to spontaneously combust. Nor is it going to be one last nail in Bing’s coffin – Microsoft will have to do that themselves.
Why people think Google Instant will bring the End Times
I know a lot of people are suggesting that Google Instant may kill the long tail and take SEO with it.
If you’re new to search, the ‘long tail’ are all of those phrases of 3+ words that drive highly-targeted, low-volume traffic to your site. The long tail is a huge chunk of search. Over 60% of all searches performed on Google are long tail.
The theory: If someone starts to type in a long-tail search, but Google Instant shows them a good, click-worthy result after they type in a word or two, then the customer will stop there. So, if you rank for the long-tail phrase but not the shorter ‘head’ phrase, they’ll never find you.
For example, say I’m looking for cheap tickets to Hawaii. I start to type in ‘Hawaii airfare deals’, but by the time I’ve typed in ‘Hawaii air’ I’ve got some promising results:
I stop typing, so I never see the results for ‘Hawaii airfare deals’:
So the folks that rank top 3 for ‘Hawaii airfare deals’ don’t get the traffic they once did.
End of Days.
Or not. Here are all the reasons I don’t think Google Instant’s going to have that much of an impact on organic SEO, or the way we generally search:
Nope. Google Instant won’t kill the long tail
Most people in English-speaking (see correction below from Matteo) Western cultures create search queries by putting together a modifier – like ‘discount’ – and a focal product or topic – like ‘hawaii airfare’.
The scenario I described above requires that the user type in the focal product or topic – the destination – first. If they type ‘airfare to hawaii’ or ‘discount airfare to hawaii’, Instant doesn’t help. That’s because ‘discount airfare’ doesn’t include a destination. The condition alone – ‘discount airfare’ – isn’t enough information to generate a useful result.
Turns out, most people in Western cultures also put the modifiers first, not last.
How often do you type ‘bike tires flat proof’? You don’t. You type ‘flat proof bike tires’.
Or you type ‘cheap airfares hawaii’ (according to Google’s keyword tool).
Unless we all start typing the focal product/topic first in our queries, and tacking on the adjectives or other modifiers after it, Google Instant isn’t going to change our search habits that much.
There are more reasons Instant isn’t Instant Death for SEO and traditional search:
Google Instant only shows if you’re signed in
Unless you’re signed into Google, you don’t get Instant. I have no idea how many people use Google Accounts when searching. But I bet it’s somewhere between ‘not very many’ and ‘a smidge’.
That means that a whole lot of people will continue seeing the same personalized results (remember when personalized search was the End Of All Things?).
Google Instant only shows on Google
If you do a search using your browser’s search box, or typing a search from the address bar in a browser like Chrome, you won’t get Instant results. You’ll still get the same results you always have.
There’s no change to the Google Algorithm
As Matt McGee pointed out on Search Engine Land, Google hasn’t changed their algorithm. They still rank stuff the way they did a week ago.
What Google Instant might do: Hurt Adwords revenue
You know what Google Instant might affect? Adwords. Someone will need to do an eye-tracking study to test this, but:
If I start typing a search query, and then Google Instant displays results, I find my eye is drawn directly down to the organic results. I don’t even glance over at the Adwords results. If there happen to be Adwords results right under the search box, those ads could get a lot of clicks:
But the ads on the right? Forget it. That could discourage a lot of Adwords advertisers.
And that’s something the Guardian got right: If Google Instant hurts Adwords revenue, Google will shut it down so fast Google Wave’s brief time on Earth will seem like an eternity.
Google Instant’s only been around a couple of days. So we’re all reading tea leaves, at this point. But you can make a strong case that Instant is more cosmetic than functional, and that maybe this is the 50th time the media has incorrectly called a new Google feature a ‘game changer’ or an ‘SEO killer’. Grab your grain of salt, and keep your eye on your traffic reports.