Google Instant Puts SEOs on Their Toes

In the first part of this two-part article introducing Google Instant, I explained the new feature and how it affects search – from Google’s and the searcher’s points of view. In this article, we’ll take a look at how Google Instant is likely to change the way you do SEO for your website.

The first question we might ask is, will Google Instant actually change SEO at all? The SEO Chat forums have been buzzing about this development for a while. While some members think this might mean the end of SEO, others insist that it makes SEO even more important. One respected member bluntly stated that, with Google Instant, if you aren’t on the front page now, forget about it.

And it just might get more difficult to get those high spots, too – at least, not without investing some real cash. Another respected SEO Chat member noted that “On an average size monitor nearly every result visible on popular topics is now an advert. That’s a big negative for anyone relying on natural traffic.”

The biggest concern, naturally, is how this will affect the way the user behaves. One member suggested that, if Google is bringing up results as the search phrase is typed in, users might become “distracted” and never complete their phrase. For web sites that depend on long tail traffic, this could be an issue. It could also make it even more important to rank well for more generic keywords.

Just how much will it affect the long tail, really? Respected SEO Chat member and moderator jsteele823 pointed out that a lot of long tail traffic comes from phrases that include the main, broad search at the beginning of the term. From the numbers he’s been watching on his sites since Google Instant came out, he’s inclined to believe that long tail traffic will still be there; it will just be reduced.

Where some see concerns, others see opportunities. If you’ve had a chance to use Google Instant, you’ve seen that it combines different kinds of content. As one SEO Chat member noted, “if the instant results include just 1 video thumbnail (and assuming visuals draw a user’s eye more than text), it makes video content even more of an opportunity, no?”

Maybe, and maybe not. One user actually experimented with putting a single letter into Google Instant, and got major brand names for every letter of the alphabet. He took it as proof that Google Instant’s suggestions are not made based on search volume, or “sex” would have come up before “Skype” and “love” before “Lowes.”

On a related note, at least one member noted that Google Instant could adversely affect a site’s bounce rate. His example was performing a search for Apple fruit, and having Google immediately throw up Apple.com (which of course has nothing to do with the fruit). If a naïve user clicks on Apple.com, they’ll land on the wrong website, which will increase its bounce rate. While that precise example seems unlikely, others are certainly possible, and if Google takes a website’s bounce rate into consideration when computing where to put it in the SERPs, this could raise real traffic issues.

Or it could raise real traffic, period. Another member noted that Google Instant could be very helpful to those whose native language isn’t English. Even if you do handle the English language fluently, having Google Instant complete your thought could help you put a better finger on what you’re looking for. Of course, it could also remind you how bad of a speller you are, and nobody really wants to be reminded of that 50 times a day!

Speaking of the spelling issues, some think that Google Instant could make it harder to do keyword research. It’s too early to tell how information will be passed along from Google and services like Hittail; will the full phrase for which the results are shown be passed along, or just what was typed in before the searcher clicked on something? Optimizing for parts of phrases makes no sense, but how do you match up your results with your research?

Still, one thing that Google Instant will NOT do is spell the end of SEO or make it irrelevant. It’s worth keeping in mind that the new feature, at least so far, does not work for searches performed in the toolbar. Lots of people prefer to use their browser’s toolbar for their searches rather than go directly to Google’s website, and for them, the “standard rules of SEO” would still apply.

In fact, Google Instant could be very helpful to SEO. Just like Google Suggest before it, it could be used as a tool to help with keyword research. Also, there’s no reason to think that the bread and butter of SEO – content and links – will be of less value with Google Instant. Search results have to be shown based on something, after all.

One SEO Chat member speculates, in fact, that making your website a really strong industry player is even more important than ever. Say someone does a search for “dog house building plans,” but starts getting semi-relevant results after typing as far as “bui…” Say that this query yields the top results for both “dog house buildings” and “dog house building plans.” All of a sudden, you have half the real estate you used to for that keyword – and if you’re not near the top of your field, your site won’t be there.

You can put it there, however, if you do SEO “old school.” That means creating content that is the best of the web, and building links to that content. Yes, it really does come back to the basics. Surprised? You shouldn’t be. Good luck!

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