Okay, let’s go to the most important question to be answered: “How does Google Instant affect SEO and its users?”
The answer to this question is fundamental to the evolution of SEO, and it’s important that practitioners adapt to this change in order to survive and do well at the SEO game.
To answer this question as realistically as possible, I’ve conducted a test using real world examples on Google to search for information.
Scenarios Where Google Instant is Not Available
As of the time this tutorial was written, not all searches done with Google could be served via Google instant. There are some limitations, which I’ve elaborated below.
First, there are specific command search operators which are not supported by Google Instant. For example, consider the following search query:
Google does not serve that query using Google Instant, which means you’ll have to manually click the search button.
Sample screen shot:
Other search operators which are not supported by Google Instant include:
Google remains mum as to why those queries are not supported by Google Instant. Possible reasons could include controlling automated searches and queries to their index by spammers. Such searches are against Google’s terms of service. The operators which are not supported are commonly used by marketers and SEOs to gather more information about a certain website.
However, the good news is that there are still lots of operators which are supported by Google Instant. These operators include are the following:
Second, slow Internet connections can cause issues for Google Instant. Specifically, when your connection appears slow to Google, the search engine automatically turns off Google Instant. However, if Google has previously turned off the service and you are pretty confident that your connection is now fast, you can switch on Google Instant by means of the relevant control beside the search button.
Third, Google Instant does not work in some browsers. Of the top five Internet browsers according to Wikipedia:
Only the top three browsers as of the time this article was written are supported by Google Instant (Internet Explorer, Mozilla Firefox and Google Chrome). The two other browsers are not yet supported (Safari and Opera in Windows).
It is possible that in the near future, Google Instant will be available to most common browsers, including the last two.
Fourth, it seems that only Google.com serves Google Instant. If you visit country- based versions of Google, for example http://www.google.co.uk/ or http://www.google.ca/, you will not be able to use Google Instant. [This is expected to change in the future, as Google gradually rolls it out to other countries. --Ed.]
Let’s look at an example of using Google Instant and analyze its potential effects on user behavior and SEO.
Suppose you need to hire an SEO based in California, USA. Your website is powered by a DotNetNuke platform and you need to hire an SEO specialist that is very familiar with the DotNetNuke platform.
Your objective is to hire a freelance SEO, since budget is your main priority. However, you may consider hiring a non-freelance SEO only if you are not able to find a freelance one.
Suppose you are using Google to search for a potential candidate SEO to handle this job. The following is the sequence of events that can happen with Google Instant:
First query: DotNetNuke SEO, then pause. When you stop typing, Google Instant automatically provides the results.
The following results are provided by Google Instant (from position 1 to position 10 title tags):
- DNN SEO
- DotNetNuke SEO Webinar
- DotNetNuke SEO Webinar
- DotNetNuke SEO weaknesses – General Discussion – DotNetNuke
- DNN SEO Quickstart Guide
- DNN SEO | DotNetNuke SEO Modules & Services by Endo
- Best Web Sites for DotNetNuke DNN, Search Engine Optimization, SEO…
- DNN SEO
- DotNetNuke Onsite SEO Tips
- DotNetNuke SEO
Analysis: Keep in mind that with Google Instant, the moment you stop typing, the results are provided. So the user will immediately skim over the results very quickly, especially if he/she is still thinking of formulating his/her exact query. By skimming quickly through the first page results seems to be so far from what you are looking for based on your original requirements that you are not satisfied with result. So you decide to refine your query to a much more specific one…
Second query: dotnetnuke seo freelance, then pause again
The following are the results:
- SharePoint MasterPage Designer | Pakistani Freelance SEO / SEP …
- About us – AliNawaz.net (DotNetNuke Specialists)
- Ahsan Shumail Pakistani Freelance Website designer , SEO / SEP …
- DotNetNuke Jobs for Freelancers | Employment, Part Time Jobs …
- HTTP Module for DNN CMS | .NET | C# Programming | DotNetNuke | SEO
- Freelance Dotnetnuke Jobs
- Freelance Job 272529: HTTP Module for DNN CMS by OSTLtd
- HTTP Module for DNN CMS by OSTLtd | Freelance Jobs
- SEO question – General Discussion – DotNetNuke
- .NET/DotNetNuke/SEO :: HTTP Module for DNN CMS
Again, skimming through the results shows that they are still far from the objective. There might be related results, but they are not California-based SEO professionals.
This time you need to refine your query to something that is more general, because the specific queries did not provide a very relevant result.
Third query: dotnetnuke seo California, then pause
And this time, what looks like a relevant result is found:
Title: Search Engine Optimization – SEO California [ CA ]
Snippet/Description: Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is the process of making your website search engine … WordPress; Joomla; Drupal; PhpBB; OsCommerce; vBulletin; DotNetNuke
This is a California-based SEO firm, and the DotNetNuke platform is included in their scope. If the query "dotnetnuke seo California" fails to give a relevant result, you might be interested in conducting succeeding queries, such as "dotnetnuke seo California freelance," but since I found a relevant result, I did not continue the test.
Conclusion: With Google Instant, the user actually sees more than one result coming from different query combinations, even though the user has only one/single objective when doing the search.
The query combinations tried in sequence were as follows:
- DotNetNuke SEO
- dotnetnuke seo freelance
- dotnetnuke seo California
In reality, some users may conduct three or more queries just to arrive at the information they need. In the example, it took three queries before a single relevant result was found.
Implications for SEO
SEO companies and typical services are based on one keyword per campaign. Based on the observation above, it is very likely that the user will click on a certain result provided by Google Instant which is NOT actually his intended query. In our example, the most specific query would have been "dotnetnuke seo California freelance," but Google Instant provided a relevant result, which is clicked, before we got to that key phrase.
This means that Google Instant can decrease the chances of a certain user arriving at a particular SEO-targeted keyword.
Say for example that you are targeting “dotnetnuke seo California freelance” in your SEO campaign. Then, instead of the user typing in this query, he/she is provided with three different sets of results by Google Instant. A 90% to 100% probability of typing the exact phrase (without Google Instant) might be reduced to 1/3 (in our test there were three pauses while the searcher continued formulating queries, leading to three Google Instant results). This means a 33.3% chances of arriving at an intended query.
This can decrease traffic to a website from a targeted phrase, especially if you are targeting specific terms which are common to SEO. Users “might” click the first or second set of results (those coming from broader terms) provided by Google Instant before they actually type in your optimized term in full.
Google actually says that users in the long run will adapt to this new way of doing searches. With SEO, this can be a big benefit if you targeted a lot of keyword variations for both competitive and long tail purposes. This increases the chances that the user will see your website in the Google result for each of the different keyword variations, as opposed to only one.
You can also benefit in SEO terms if you put more emphasis on what makes the search result attractive to a “click through,” rather than focusing on rankings. Bear in mind that the selected relevant result on the test conducted above is NOT exactly a position 1 result, but rather in position 6 — because it seems that the result is relevant based on the examination of the title tag and search result snippet.
Long Term Recommendations for SEO
It might be wise to put more emphasis on getting a high click through rate for different keyword variations rather than focusing on rankings for a few specific keywords (for Google Instant-enabled searches, which is currently the default and will continue to be so for the future).
This might be a good criteria for a “guaranteed” result in future SEO as opposed to the classic “based on ranking” guarantees. Google Instant will not directly affect the conversion rate, but only the “click through” to the website. Sending traffic to the website based on “broader” keywords can affect the conversion rate, however, as specific keywords do convert better. The lower the number of click throughs (meaning traffic from search engines from your keywords), the harder it will be to get a decent website conversion (like sales).
Bear in mind that it can be difficult to rank for different keyword variations (competitive and long tail terms) for a single URL because it takes a lot of authority and trust, as well as quality links and content.
A typical example is when you are trying to find information about commercial loans in Google.
If you type “commercial loan” and then pause, this is the top result: www.steelheadcapital.com/rates.asp. You get the same result if you make a more specific query, say “commercial loan rates.”
This also appears expensive to an SEO client, because his investment on a single targeted keyword may actually get fewer leads/traffic to his/her website using Google Instant, unless SEOs are willing to reduce their prices to optimize a website for different keyword variations at the same price.