The recent launch of Google Instant has thrown a bit of a monkey wrench into search engine optimization and marketing strategy waters for the Google search engine. Why?
First, they’ve called out that this update further personalizes search results for logged in users, giving each individual a different page of results based on data that Google holds about the searcher. Personalized results have been around for awhile- this isn’t actually groundbreaking, although many outside the SEO community don’t seem to know about it. Essentially, if I tend to search for “apple orchards”, and I search the word “apple”, my results may be tilted in that direction. The current hysteria around personalization is based around its interference with tools and strategies optimization and reporting that have depended for on seeing the same view for a given keyword as any other searcher.
Since the personalized results are only for logged in users, optimization will center around non logged in users as a baseline. In the absence of some of the other changes, this wouldn’t change much. More on that later.
Second, the new search page “predicts” and suggests possibilities for what you’re about to type based on previous searches (your own and those of others), “leading the witness” towards specific keywords, especially those related to previous searches – so, although I might set out to search for “apple picking”, as I type the word “apple” my previous search for “apple orchard” could push the predictive typing algorithm to suggest “apple orchard” and get me to change my search query midstream.
Pointing at these first two changes, one well respected blogger in the PR space declared these changes the “end of SEO”. The truth is more complicated.
What this change has actually done is pushed SEO back towards the basics again – be the the best and clearest source of content relevant to a targeted set of keywords, tag your page with the keywords you want, and get links from the best, most relevant, most highly respected sites you can. That stuff hasn’t changed – and it won’t. Being clear, relevant and of acknowledged value will always be strong values in search. (there is irony in this, as you’ll soon see.)
Third, and most interesting, Google now displays multiple pages of search results as you type out your query. For example, ads for Apple Computer appear while the searcher is midway for looking for “apple orchard”. Right now, Apple Computer is suddenly showing a lot of ads to folks who want to go to apple orchards, as well as those buying apple grinders, and so on. This means there will be more impressions available for “apple” because it has become what I’m calling an “interim” keyword.
Since ads on Google.com operate on a CPC basis, they won’t necessarily pay more per CPC but they WILL get a lot more impressions and opportunities for people to stop and click through. I would not be surprised if this was playing absolute havoc with the buying strategies for a variety of ad exchange bidders right now, as I believe this inventory is showing up in the exchange now. (feel free to update me in the comments)
Interim keywords can be whole words, or word parts. Try it yourself on Google – a new page of results is shown if you pause even halfway through typing “orchard”
These changes will thus be a much bigger complication for SEM, as Google Instant makes basic keywords and early word parts much more likely to be shown. Fascinating to look at how seeing potential alternative results may affect search behavior, as people are interrupted (!) with ads and search results for potentially unrelated stuff. In that way, this is BRILLIANT for google. They’ve taken a traditionally highly targeted advertising medium, the opposite of an interruptive traditional media, and figured out how to inject interruptive, semi – unrelated ads into it in a way that may actually avoid pissing off the user, because it seems like it’s trying to be helpful!
This may have all kinds of interesting unintended consequences as seasonal search patterns for various goods and services that share names start to interfere with each other, and may seriously dilute the quality of Google Trends type data.
What other consequences will Google Instant have? Feel free to email me directly at israel DOT mirsky here at porter novelli dot com, or in the comments.