Google Instant – The Death of SEO?

You’ve probably heard the hype over the last couple of weeks that the new Google Instant is going to ‘change SEO forever’. If you’re not sure what Google Instant is, here’s a quick summary. If you’re logged into Google with a Google account (which you will have if you’ve ever signed up to any of Google’s many services such as Gmail, Google Ads or Google Analytics) then you will notice a difference when you search. As soon as you start typing in the search box, results will appear below it. So if you wanted to search for ‘Green Widgets’, as soon as you typed the letter ‘G’, Google would give you the search results for the most likely search query beginning with ‘G’. Then when you added the ‘r’, Google would change those results to the most likely search query beginning with ‘Gr’ and so on. Also, as you type, Google suggests the most likely phrases you could be searching for.

So why does this affect SEO? The key difference to SEO lies in the fact that Google is giving you suggestions based on the letters you have typed into the search box. Imagine you were going to search for ‘green widgets’ but when you got to the point of having typed ‘green’, one of Google’s suggestions was ‘green whatsits’. You may then change your mind about what you were originally searching for and select ‘green whatsits’ instead. The implication of this is that we expect the range of different search queries that visitors search for to decrease. People will tend to choose one of Google’s suggestions where appropriate rather than typing in the different version of the phrase that they originally had in mind, meaning that more searches will be concentrated on a smaller number of search phrases.

Is this good news or bad news? Overall, we think it may be bad news, particularly for smaller businesses, because it means everyone will be competing for the same higher volume phrases rather than searches being distributed over a larger range of ‘long tail’ phrases. The long tail will still exist, but it will be shorter! Smaller businesses without the resources to conduct large scale SEO campaigns may find it harder to compete. We think that rather than being the death of SEO, this change simply makes SEO even more important (and challenging) than ever before.

What about the impact on Google Ads? The key difference to Google Ads advertisers is that their ads will quite likely now be seen more often. Every time a searcher pauses for 3 seconds, the ads shown on the screen will change to the current ‘most likely search query’. We think – although it remains to be seen for sure – that ads will therefore be shown more often for irrelevant queries than they are at present, so we are expecting impressions to rise and clickthrough rate to drop to reflect this.

Is this good news or bad news for Google Ads advertisers? Probably neither. If clickthrough rates drop then we simply have to re-learn what constitutes a ‘good’ clickthrough rate and a ‘bad’ clickthrough rate. It moves the goalposts, but as long as your clickthrough rate is strong relative to your competitors’, this should not actually do any harm. It is also possible that your ads may be clicked on more often since they will be shown more often. In which case, good news – as long as it is quality traffic.

When will I see an impact? You may see some impact from this immediately, increasing as time goes by. At the moment Google Instant is only visible to users who are logged in, which will limit the initial impact. Once all Google searchers are seeing Google Instant, that’s when the full impact will be felt.

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