Google Instant: advice for search marketers


Google recently announced Google Instant, a new feature in their search engine which delivers immediate search results as you type. The Instant experience is available to everyone in the USA, as well as in selected other countries including the UK if you are signed in to a Google account.

As you can see from the example above, if I type “how many”, Google reads my mind and deduces that I almost certainly need to know how many calories there are in a banana. It also offers a few fall back options including “how many weeks pregnant am I?” It’s not a precise science and some of the suggestions are rather comical.

Reactions to the new feature have been mixed. It’s certainly an impressive capability when you first try it out; it’s strangely mind-blowing to see the Internet returning ranked search results so quickly. Google claims that this new feature can save 2-5 seconds per search and are positioning it as a productivity tool. Others, however, have criticised the change as an unnecessary distraction, or as a simple money-making scheme this greatly increases the number of search impressions that Google can deliver (if you pause for 3 seconds or longer while typing, the displayed instant search results are counted as full impressions).

But what does this change mean for digital marketers thinking about their SEO strategy? A number of key principles are starting to emerge:

  1. Shorter keywords will take on more significance. If you’ve optimised your PPC campaign around exploiting the long tail (e.g. “spreadsheet software free trial download”) you may now need to give more attention to shorter phrases (e.g. “spreadsheet software”).
  2. The more specialist you are, the less impact this change will have. If you buy generic keywords, you may have to rethink your strategy as the amount of competition just increased dramatically. If, however, you buy very specialist keyphrases, your customers are still likely to find you, with or without Google Instant.
  3. Novice searchers may become more inclined to search. Less prolific web users may find the suggestions proposed by Google Instant helpful as they’ll stumble across things they might otherwise not have found. This could bring new business opportunities to savvy search marketers who can figure out how to tap into these novice searches.
  4. Distractions could create opportunities. Popular short search phrases (like “cheap summer vacation”) could present new eyeballs to cleverly related search queries. So, for example, a hire car company that can optimise their site content or PPC against “cheap summer” might be able to attract new customers who could become distracted from their initial search intent (i.e. “we’re going to need car hire anyway, let’s take a look at that first”)
  5. imageYour brand’s spelling might take on new importance. Type ‘t’ into Google Instant in the UK and Tesco comes out first in the list, due to Tesco’s popularity. Yet every search result listing below the suggested alternatives (TFL, The Sun, Topshop etc.) relates exclusively to Tesco. If the spelling of your brand competes with other bigger brands in a related category this  could cost you valuable traffic. And if you’re starting a new business, a name beginning with X or Z might take on additional appeal! Commonly misspelled brand names may also suffer with a greater number of similar alternatives being proposed ahead of the actual brand the searcher is trying to find.
  6. People searching away from the Google site are unaffected. This feature only works within the Google site. If users search in the search box provided in their browser or through other applications, the way their search results are returned is unchanged. For now, at least.
  7. Bad people may be quick to exploit this. People who use search for malicious intent will exploit this, as they do every other tool at their disposal, to prey on vulnerable Internet users. Hopefully Google will be alert to the problems like this that real-time results can create.
  8. Things just got a little bit more complicated. We can no longer assume that searchers will type a complete search query before finding a link they like. However, it’s important to remember that search behaviour is fundamentally unchanged from the olden days of Google “Non-Instant”. People will still use search engines to find things they are looking for. They may get distracted from their goal more easily or stumble upon their intended destination in different ways, but they’ll still use the same language to begin their query and respond to the same rational and emotional triggers. As with every aspect of marketing, if you understand your target audience you should be able to quickly determine how the new instant era will affect them.

Further reading:

  1. Google Instant summary:
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