What Google Instant Means for Search Marketers, Part 1
With the debut of Google Instant, marketers will have to work smarter on the search engine optimization front to gain one of the top two organic rankings on the first page of a Google search. At the same time, paid search advertisers will probably have to step up their pay-per-click (PPC) spending just to hold their current sponsored positions relative to the competition.
Google calls it "the next wave" in making search even more targeted, faster and predictive. Google Instant allows the engine to display results as you type, cutting precious seconds from the search process.
What's Google Instant trying to do?
For years, Google has tried to predict what users were searching for on its engine. It does this to reduce the time it takes a searcher to log a query, and because it saves itself processing time for support services. (Google estimates this initiative could save it 360 million hours of data-center time annually.) But Google Instant is taking this concept one step further by adding visualization and changing the results page that gets updated in real time, as a user types.
What are the implications for SEO?
The first key change Google Instant causes is in the drop-down "suggestion box," which attempts to predict queries. This, depending on the query, occupies one to three of the advertisement positions on the critical first results page. Google is rendering the paid and universal search listings as high as possible, but is pushing the SEO results "below the fold." Before Google Instant, a standard web search would yield four organic listings above the fold. Now this doesn't happen until searchers commit to their search and the page re-renders.
This means that top ranking is now more important than ever. Users are less likely to scroll below the fold as related results are instantly reconfigured as a search query is completed. Previously, searchers would type in a query, check the results, refine the search and then repeat the process until they found their desired result. Now, the potential exists for Google Instant to help with the delivery of this process.
This means SEO tactics will have to change. Traditionally, we've seen that users tend to spend a good portion of their time examining meta descriptions. Therefore, it was recommend to place calls to action in your meta description to grab searchers’ attention and get them to click.
However, with results changing so quickly, we now see calls to action potentially moving into title tags, as users spend less time examining the results. Searchers are relying more on those parts of the results they can examine quickly.
Google Instant and the long tail
Perhaps the biggest impact Google Instant will have is on long-tail searches. Consider this example: Someone goes to Google to search for "Las Vegas Hotel Deals." After typing in "Las Vegas," they see a paid ad for Vegas.com and an organic entry for Las Vegas Tourism. Will the user be more likely to finish their search and ignore the populating results? Will the page populating with results become insignificant noise to searchers as they continue to use Google the same way they have for years?
Arguments can be made for and against the increasing importance of long-tail search results, but there will be some effect from Google's Instant search. My belief is that Google has tested the accuracy of its predictive search results over the past years, and it's pretty accurate — say 25 percent of the time it predicts correctly. (This is just an example.) That means that 25 percent of long-tail searches will be rendered correctly off the first keyword, and some percent of users will click on the results.
The other 75 percent will modify and append their searches as unsatisfactory results appear. For 75 percent of users it can be argued that long-tail search will gain in importance because they'll see right away that their initial search wasn't going to work, and will thus mold their search query until they see results more to their liking. It will also be interesting to see whether the conversion rates on those "predicted" results increase or decrease versus the full-search query conversion rates.
I recommend continuing to incorporate long-tail terms into your SEO programs. Closely monitor before-and-after performance to see how user behavior has adapted to these changes. Do this for the top 10 to 25 multi-keyword phrases for your SEO program for 30 days. Then, if performance degrades, you'll know that your SEO tactics on long-tail search have to change.
Next week, in part two of this series, I'll examine what Google Instant means for paid search.
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