Google Instant Search: Effects on SEO & SEM

Author // Rebekah
Posted in // Adwords / PPC, All Posts, Internet Marketing, SEO

Today Google rolled out their new Instant Search feature, providing users with a quicker way to search for results online.  Throughout the day, blogs and twitter users have been buzzing about the new feature and what the implications this may have for the future of SEO and Adwords.  I have heard claims ranging from SEO is dead (again) to talk about how this may improve optimization – as well as a lot of theories about how this will impact Adwords advertisers.

Nobody can say for certain at this time what the change will bring, like any Google change this will be a wait and see game, and I am sure SEOs and SEMs will be watching their metrics and analytics data like a hawk over coming weeks.  However, while we can’t say for certain what the future holds, there are a few logical conclusions one can make – here are my two cents.

Around mid -2008, when Google Suggest was released, there was much debate over how this change would affect SEO.  The top arguments were primarily focused around:

How your keyword referrals will go up (or down)

How this will be the end of reputation management

Long tail keywords will diminish (or increase)

These are many of the same arguments I see resurfacing today as Instant Search is rolled out.  While these are perfectly logical assumptions, and may turn out to be accurate – I myself didn’t see much of a change in traffic and referrers when Suggest was rolled out a few years ago.  Some of my long tail keywords went down, while many shorter phrases were expanded on.  It allowed me the opportunity to better optimize for phrases customers were specifically searching for – as well as receive traffic from longer tail search queries that users type in once they do not get the answer they are looking for from the suggested list.  Looking back, I think one of the biggest arguments against Google Suggest was the diminished traffic from long tail – and I believe that the long tail has remained alive and well in SEO for the last couple of years.

I realize it is also important to keep in mind that this new instant search feature is way more powerful than Google Suggest.  With suggest you still had to choose a phrase you wanted, hit search and be taken to the results page to find what you are looking for.  Now results are displayed dynamically as you type, and searchers may stop to find something that interests them mid – search.

Thoughts on Impact to SEO:

All in all I do think that this will change SEO, or at least certain aspects of it.  How big or immediate of a change remains to be seen, but this will affect how users search over time.  I am not saying that this change will be negative, though some parts of SEO we currently rely on may no longer work as well as they have in the past.  On the other hand however, we may realize new and exciting optimization strategies that we can begin adding to our current techniques.

Domain names that target keyword relevant search queries may become more viable for marketing and SEO, though I will still say that just having a domain with specific keyword phrases won’t help much, you will still need to optimize your site as before and provide good, relevant content.   I think that we may be seeing more of these types of domains in the future however.

If you are creating a brand, you may want to think of one that starts with an industry keyword, optimizing this can help your site show up for broader queries.

Acronyms may become less relevant as people become used to seeing Google predict and complete their search queries.

Is SEO Dead?

If you immediately jump to the conclusion that SEO is dead because it has changed then I think you are not looking at the bigger picture.  SEO is constantly changing, and SEO’s have to be ready and willing to adapt to this changing environment.   There have been big changes in the past – and there will continue to be changes in the future.  There are always two sides to a coin however – and while some strategies may die off, new ones will take their place.  I think we are at a time now when we need to be ready to find, test and implement these new strategies to grow with the industry else risk being left behind.  If you do not adapt with the changes, then for you SEO certainly is dead.

How will this affect Reputation Management?

Now that Google has removed suggestions for negative keywords such as “brand name sucks”, Online Reputation management may change slightly – but I also think back to the day before Google Suggest was implemented – without these suggestions, searchers still would search for negative statements surrounding a brand.  The question is whether or not a user will change their original query intent when seeing the suggestions presented.  Since the suggestions do not include negative keywords now, my thoughts are that users will still search for their original query.

I think it’s also important to consider that Reputation Management isn’t always about damage control after the fact; it’s also about working with companies to education them on how to prevent damage through developing long lasting relationships with their customer base, providing outlets that customers can go to when they are frustrated, and turning customers into brand evangelists.

How will this affect Adwords?

I personally think this may have a larger impact on Adwords than organic search, but I also try to keep in mind that Google has been testing instant search in a variety of locations off and on.  With Adwords being Google’s primary income source, I am sure they have studied how this feature will impact advertisers.   Google claims that this feature will provide more interaction with their advertisements than before, this claim may come from what their studies show from their previous tests with this feature.

My immediate thoughts on this is that Adwords cost will rise.  I personally think that ads will be seeing a much larger increase in impressions than previously.  With an increase in impressions, comes a decrease in CTR and a higher cost per click.  In addition, if more searches are performed on the predictive queries Google provides, less searches are performed on other random keywords – the cost for maintaining a decent position for the main predicted keywords Google provides will rise as well.

I think that this may also affect the position you want your ad to appear in.  Currently, first position gets a much higher click through rate but much less targeted traffic.  In many campaigns I have found that each ad has its own sweet spot you need to find in order to receive the best click through rate and the most targeted traffic.  For me this is generally around position 4-7, but can differ based on the keywords involved.  With this new search feature, I think that the first two ad spots will see a drastic rise in click through rate due to its placement right next to the dynamically changing search box.

I think it’s going to be harder to balance a good position for targeted traffic and decent click through rates with the rise of impressions and the higher cost due to increased clicks of being in position 1 or 2.

I also think that negative keywords may be even more important now than previously.   I would urge advertisers to review their adgroups and research possible negative keywords they can add.  This may cut down on unnecessary impressions as well as non-targeted clicks that may have arrived due to a predictive query you didn’t originally account for.

Advice and Final Predictions:

I don’t think SEOs or webmasters should make any immediate or drastic changes to their site based on the data we will be seeing over the next few weeks.  I believe that with this new change, people will play around with it and experiment more than we are used to – which will possibly cause big fluctuations in the data we see.  I personally think that after a few weeks, this will taper off to be closer to the type of data we saw before this change, and then change slightly over time.  I would definitely recommend close monitoring of your analytics data though, and to be prepared to develop new strategies as needed.

With Adwords, I recommend checking up on your negative keyword list.  I suggest comparing the keywords you are targeting to the queries Google predicts as you are typing your main keywords, and adding new ones as you see fit.  Keep in mind your ad won’t show for any of the irrelevant predicted queries, but it may be predicting new keywords you haven’t considered.

Like above though, I would refrain from making any drastic changes.  If you are on a pretty tight budget in Adwords and appearing in first for many of your ad positions, I may recommend reducing your bids temporarily while users get the hang of this new feature.

Further Reading:

Tips on Tracking Google Instant with Analytics

Google Instant Complete Users Guide from Search Engine Land

Some Funny Reactions to Google Instant by Dazzlin Donna

Google Adwords Help – How Impressions are counted with Instant Search

Matt Cutts thoughts on Google Instant

How Google Instant Changes the SEO Landscape – by Aaron Wall

Have any other thoughts or specific resources?  Share them here!

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  • Kevin Sghia

    Nice read. Thanks.

    What are your options when your company is adversely affected with negative trademark suggestions, and it has a great reputation?

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