15/09/10

By Malcolm Slade, SEO Project Manager, Epiphany Solutions Ltd

On the 8th September, Google unveiled and launched a major change to its search UI called Google Instant which aims to speed up a users search experience by loading search results as you type your query. Although at the time of writing Google Instant is only live on www.google.co.uk if you are logged in to a Google account and is fully rolled out on www.Google.com, it will almost certainly come to everyone in the near future so let’s have a look at the number 1 question, how will it affect SEO?

So, how will Google Instant affect SEO?

The first and most obvious impact for SEO is that yet again (this seems to be a consistent trend with Google UI updates) the above the fold screen real estate allocated to natural search results has taken a hit meaning natural search listing are even less prominent visually.

In the comparison above you can see quite clearly that while the Google Instant functionality is active, an additional natural listing is lost while PPC real estate volume remains the same.

Another impact is likely to be a traffic shift from the long tail towards the mid tail and head especially in instances where you or competitors are ranking for the shorter term. Within Google Instant the decision as to what search results to load is driven by the Google Suggest results. As you type, the results shown will always relate to the first listing in the Google Suggest box. So in cases where you there is a strong head or mid tail term at the start of your long tail term, ranking for it has become even more important to gain early exposure during the Google Instant enhanced search experience.

So as an example, LASIK is a strong term that appears at the start of the term LASIK eye surgery. Ranking naturally in the top 3 or 4 for LASIK will now draw traffic away from LASIK eye surgery as the user is being exposed to the information they want earlier in the Google Instant enhanced search experience. Not so bad if it is you who have just gained a ranking for LASIK as you are in effect just moving some of your traffic from LASIK eye surgery to LASIK and gained traffic from your new ranking term. But, if a competitor suddenly gains the LASIK ranking your traffic for LASIK eye surgery is likely to drop as a knock on effect.

When you think about this more, it is likely to be disastrous for businesses that rely on a long tail niche especially where brands or big players have a presence outside of the long tail. If a user is exposed to a competitor before they have even finished typing the long tail term then chances are they won’t bother completing the term and therefore will miss out on being exposed to your number 1 listing for it.

On top of this, the terms that appear within the suggestion box are now even more important targets. Searcher behaviour has already changed once due to the inclusion of Google Suggest. Google Instant takes this even further due to the ease in which you can flick between queries using the up and down arrows on your keyboard and see instance results. This could easily impact the long tail again and could potentially go so far as to reduce the overall range of keywords that users use, especially in cases where viable sites can be found in the top 4 listings early within the Google Instant enhanced search experience or within the top 4 listings for the terms presented by Google Suggest (which change frequently).

Google Instant could also have a major impact on click distribution by position with less users inclined to scroll favouring simply continuing to type until they are presented with what they are looking for. This will make getting those top 4 rankings even more important. The battle between scrolling or clicking page 2 and typing another word will be even more heated with more users likely to choose delving into the long tail in cases where they haven’t received the results they wanted earlier in the search process.

So what can be done to benefit from Google Instant?

Well the first thing to do is to ensure your target keywords include those found within Google Suggest while of course remembering that these may change over time so keep reviewing.

You should also look at how the Google Instant enhanced search experience plays out for all of your keywords and potentially amend your focus accordingly.

Finally you need to take your SEO seriously. In some situations even ranking 5th for a particular term is going to be useless. Top spots are going to be even more important and your efforts and budgets need to reflect this to stay ahead of the game.

At Epiphany we are already reviewing keyword targets, monitoring Google Suggest changes and plotting potential Google Instant paths to identify opportunities to get our clients in front of their potential visitors quicker than ever. The term Google Instant has been heard (and typed) all over the office and will continue to be a major part of the SEO and PPC teams lives for the foreseeable future, as we begin to see the impact on search volumes and click through rates.

Find out more about Epiphany Solutions Ltd at www.epiphanysolutions.co.uk