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What is Google Instant and how does it affect SEO and PPC?

15:25 on Thu, 9 Sep 2010 | SEO | 6 Comments

Yesterday Google announced their latest technological innovation of search – Google Instant

You may have seen the teaser Google homepage logos days before this announcement. Google Instant is currently being rolled as a default search method for users in the US, UK, France, Germany, Italy, Spain and Russia. There's also plans for Instant to be available on mobile devices too.

What does Google Instant do?

As you start typing Google will return instant search results if you’ve not completed your search query and without you pressing the Enter/Return key. These instant results mean you can find what you’re looking for much quicker. Google itself states each search is 2 - 5 seconds faster.  Not only are results instant but Google uses its vast amounts of search data to predict what you’re searching for as you type.

Let's say you type ‘cha’ and pause for a second. The most common search starting with these letters is ‘channel 4’ and thus results are shown for this query straight away. Also included after this are five expanded common searches related to ‘channel 4’. Simply clicking or using the up and down cursor keys you can instantly narrow your search down. Similarly while typing additional words you can press your Tab key to auto-complete the word if Google already suggests the term you were then typing. All this means searching is fast... very fast (although we've noticed it can be a bit jolty while it catches up). It’s not surprising that it uses 15 technology enhancements for Google to achieve these impressive instant results.

How is Google Instant powered?

In order to provide these near instant results Google is using Ajax (Asynchronous JavaScript and XML). Ajax is adopted on a wide range of sites and allows data from servers to be fed into web applications without the need for reloading the page. Ajax is used extensively today and it provides rich interactive experiences. It also helped facilitate the so-called ‘Web 2.0’ generation of websites. In some cases based on your browser and bandwidth Google Instant will deactivate and your new search experience and will revert to the old style. This alone shows just how demanding this is on both Google’s highly optimised servers and client-side specifications.

What implications does Google Instant have on SEO?

Most importantly when it comes to rankings – absolutely nothing. Google Instant is merely a new way to search Google’s existing index.

What is unclear however is how searchers will use it and how this could affect long tail search queries and click through rates. While there’s been some good discussion in the office, it’s not known just how much impact this will have. While we could analyse statistics in our accounts it would be better to look at how the usage pans out over a few weeks and make more informed decisions by getting some more data in.

One example search which we found which could be affected by Google Instant that we’ve spotted is this generic search of ‘furniture’ (after fully typing 'furniture' in Instant before stopping).

 Let’s look at them both:

Google Instant - Furniture
Google Instant results (click for full size)

 

Standard Results - Furniture
Standard results (click for full size)

 

The difference is clear. The Google Instant result has predicted the user wants Furniture Village and has shown results tailored to that search. This also means the recent brand boost will show many more listings based around the brand. This means that potential brand names which include a keyphrase could see more click throughs. The standard search results show sites related to the generic term ‘furniture’.

What’s also evident with Google Instant is the fact that the additional five search suggestions in Google Instant have pushed results lower meaning less real estate for organic results (above the fold). Although localisation is still prominent in both SERP’s. Other changes include that all results page are now centered, where previously they appeared aligned to the left.

Throw into the mix Google’s personalisation influencing each search and you can see how Instant can make for some interesting changes in the search world.

Instantly Caffeinated Results
Instantly Caffeinated Results - Image credit: Nils Geylen

How will Google Instant affect the search keyword referers and how can I track it fully in Google Analytics?

Lets say you type in a one word term, then Google Instant shows results for another popular phrase, and you then click an organic result; you'd expect Google to track just the keyword you typed as the referring search query. This isn't so - well not fully. Since Google suggested and showed you results for a popular search, that then becomes the main referring search query.

Update (13/09/10): It was believed that it was possible to track both your incomplete query and the resulting 'predicted search' from Google's URL string. However an update on the official Google Analytics blogs states that "the “oq” parameter is not related to Instant Search and is often not passed in the request". I originally referenced a filter devised by Semetrical, which allowed you to track both terms in Google Analytics, but they've also updated their post to say that's it's inaccurate. Google's posts goes on to state that you will only get the predicted search query passed through to Google Analytics.

How will Google Instant affect long tail traffic?

The impact to long tail could influence both SEO and PPC. Potentially users maybe be satisfied by their results before they’ve finished their longer query and thus click a result sooner than normal. Alternatively Google Instant’s built-in predictiveness could actually increase long tail usage since your search is assisted. Either way it will depend on the results and if they satisfy your search desire.

What implications does Google Instant have on PPC?

Google Instant certainly makes PPC a much more interesting field to be in right now. Before this magic came along an individual page load, where your adverts shows, is considered one ‘impression’. In Google Instant searchers will be triggering multiple results as they type. So you would think that every resulting refresh would count as an impression - the result being heavily inflated impressions for an advert. Thankfully Google have created some additional rules for Google Instant:

1. Any Click - whereby any click whether if the user clicks a spell check, ad or link after a search an impression is counted

2. Search Selection - whereby an impression is counted if a user clicks the search button or selects a query

3. Three Second Rule - whereby the advert must remain on page for three seconds before it’s counted as one 'impression'

Google’s ‘Quality Score’ is the the ranking algorithm used for page search results and it’s based on a number of factors but most importantly impressions, click throughs and ultimately the resulting click through ratio (CTR). At this stage there are concerns that despite the added rules, impressions will increase and lower your click through ratios. Although Google has added these additional rules PPC will likely show some interesting statistics going forward. Just don't forget that everyone's in the same boat, so it's likely that any changes will be same for all advertisers.

How can I turn off Google Instant?

Don't worry if you're not digging Google Instant search, it can be easily turned off. Simply click 'Instant is on' next to the Search button on the results page.

Conclusion

The jury’s still out on the real impact of Google Instant, while we can make assumptions, time will show just how much this affects the way visitors search and whether it will influence head, mid and long tail searches. What we do know is rankings will be unaffected by this new faster searching method. Maybe the question we should ask is..."Will the user be satisfied with the resulting speed of your site?"

Comments & Discussion

(6 Comments)

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Poulin

Poulin • Last year

Woah! I'm really loving the template/theme of this website. It's simple, yet effective. A lot of times it's hard to get that "perfect balance" between superb usability and visual appeal. I must say you've done a very good job with this. Also, the blog loads extremely fast for me on Chrome. Excellent Blog!

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designvibe seo

designvibe seo • Years ago

I don't think it will affect it to much, i think people are more clued up these days and already know what they want to type it just saves on the typing i find.

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Kevin Thiele

Kevin Thiele • Years ago

The most comprehensive and constructive answer to the Google instant question. Thanks

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Chris Wheeler

Chris Wheeler • Years ago

Nice article. I think, as ever, the long term aspects of this are yet to be realised, but like everything IT, it could be a while before real impact is seen - positively or negatively.

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Marketing Agency

Marketing Agency • Years ago

Great post! thanks for the in depth explanation on the new Google search. Not many people like it because now they will have to worry about their SEO even more, and trying to get the number one spot. They really made a big shift.

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searchengineman

searchengineman • Years ago

There will be an effect on companies that are unfortunate enough to have names that start with naughty words or partial words. They won't get the benefit of instant search.

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