April 19, 2011

Google Instant Search and its impact on SEO

During Tuesday’s major search event in San Francisco Google announced a new search feature called Google Instant which will significantly change the way users search for information on Google Search.
Google Instant - Live updating search result page
This new interface updates as a user types in the search query. Not only will the regular search results update as a user types in letters in the search field, but elements from Universal Search (maps, news, shopping, etc) as well as AdWords ads will also update in real time. This results in a user seeing a much larger set of search results as the query is being typed in and refined. In addition, the query suggestions (Google Suggest) play a more central role in discovering possible queries and relevant websites.
Why Google Instant is cool?
  • Dynamic Results  Google dynamically displays relevant search results as you type so you can quickly interact and click through to the web content you need.
  • Predictions  One of the key technologies in Google Instant is that we predict the rest of your query (in light gray text) before you finish typing. See what you need? Stop typing, look down and find what you’re looking for.
  • Scroll to search  Scroll through predictions and see results instantly for each as you arrow down.
To the Webmaster, Google Instant is cool because as users are shown a much larger set of search results, there is a higher chance of your pages being displayed in the SERPs.  In addition, users can now more easily modify their search which results in more specific query that will drive more relevant traffic to your website (See my post on The Importance of Longtail Keywords).  And relevant traffic means conversion!

Impact of Google Instant Search on SEO
In general this new feature won’t change the basic rules of SEO since Google’s algorithms will continue evaluating webpages in the same way as before. Webmasters should hence continue focusing on their content, traffic, and conversions.
What will change, however, is the way users will go about finding information, how they interact with search results as they learn to use more specific search queries, and how they review the results before making a choice.
  • CTR  is the new ranking. The click-through rate for organic listings becomes more important than pure rankings since users will see many more search results in each session.
  • Creating relevant content which better targets specific queries will drive more traffic as users learn to perform better searches.
  • Experimenting with page titles and snippets and tracking the changes in CTR becomes even more important.
  • Universal Search listings (images, video thumbnails, maps, shopping, etc) will attract more clicks since dense graphic elements will draw more attention in a fast updating interface.
  • The traditional Golden Triangle theory regarding the users’ eye movements on search result pages is no longer true. Earlier you performed a search, sat back and studied the results and the ads before either clicking on a listing, or modifying your query. This will now be substantially different as the users’ eyes will wander up and down between the query field, listings, Universal Search entries, and AdWords ads. I’m looking forward to the first eye tracking study for the new search page.
  • Searches with short queries will fall considerably since people usually come to Google with a very specific goal in mind. The now interactive search result page allows users to dig deeper into a subject until they’ve found a reasonable set of search results which better fits their intent.
For those proclaiming the death of SEO, I would actually argue the opposite.

This is definitely a game changer but it does not change the way serious SEOs have worked for a long period of time. That includes focusing on important Key Performance Indicator’s other than rankings. Instant Search is however a massive headache for those who still treat SEO as a magic formula and have been focusing on optimizing for mere nuances in Google’s search algorithm. They will continue wasting their time focusing on the petty details in the algorithms instead of working on improving the overall value of the sites they are promoting.
All in all, no matter what some people wrongly proclaim, SEO is certainly not dead - it just got more interesting.
How will you change your SEO strategy given Google Instant?