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Google Instant Doesn’t Instantly Change SEO

Wow. Has it already been two months since Google Instant was launched? Two months in ‘Internet Time’ seems like a decade in real time, doesn’t it? And I think this is a good time to ask, “Has Google Instant really changed anything for SEO?”

If I look back at that seemingly long ago September day, I remember scrambling to find research predictions and forecasts on how Google Instant would revolutionize search and impact SEO campaigns and strategies. Google claimed that the Google Instant update did not change anything about the ranking algorithm and that basically told me everything I wanted to know, but I still felt the need to read opinions from other online marketers.

Alas, the only posts I found that day were the typical polarizing-keywords-in-the-title blog posts. You’ve probably seen these blog posts. They have attention-grabbing titles like “Google Instant Killed SEO” or “Google Instant Means SEO Is Dead… Again.” And when you click into those posts, you find very little substance, if any. Yuck. (By the way, mixed in with the SEO posts, I found several articles claiming that Google Instant would have a very positive effect on Google’s ad revenue. Shocking!)

One honest post I remember reading was on Matt Cutt’s blog. He boldly predicted that Google Instant might change SEO… over time. Aaron Wall also had a great post over at SEObook, where he wrote, “If anything, Google instant only increases the value of a well thought out SEO strategy.” I couldn’t agree more. In the end, SEO is still SEO – smart keyword research, effective keyword targeting, and unique, fresh content. SEO is still about having a great website, an even greater product, and about being seen for the keywords that drive your revenue. If you are marketing an armadillo keychain, then you need to optimize your website to rank well for ‘armadillo keychain’ (and any plurals or related keywords). This is true with, or without, Google Instant.

However, if there is one thing that Google Instant forces us to consider when creating our SEO campaigns, it’s the search suggestions. Search Suggest has been around for a while, but when you add in the fact that the SERPs change as we type – the search suggestions become even more critical for keyword research. These suggestions are not based on your search history or personalized search. The suggestions in the search box are the same for anyone and everyone, which means you can use that data to mine for popular/trendy search keywords and phrases. For example, if you sell keychains, you can go to Google, type in ‘keychain’ and then see the following suggestions:

  • keychain camera
  • keychain video camera
  • keychain bottle opener
  • keychain wallets
  • keychain rings
  • keychain flashlight

These are the most popular search phrases related to ‘keychain’. And you can use this data to impact your copy. I believe an increasing number of online marketers are harvesting these suggestions and building landing pages for each keyword or phrase. For many SEOs, this is where Google Instant has changed things – in the keyword research and targeting strategy!

Earlier this week, Conductor released a study about the impact of Google Instant on search behavior. Ultimately, Conductor concluded that, so far, Google Instant has had no significant impact on search behavior.

“The data is telling in what it doesn’t show: if Instant was having a significant impact on searcher behavior we would expect to see things like a percentage of longer tail visits (4+ words) leaking back into the head (<=3 word terms ) as searchers click on Instant results before they get to the end of their intended query.”

“The traffic data suggests searchers are searching the same way they always have and, with a month of getting used to Instant already behind them there’s nothing that indicates that will change any time soon.”

There you have it. Google Instant has had no impact on the ranking algorithm, and search behavior has not changed. Therefore, SEO has not been impacted by Google Instant.

Or has it?

I would never advocate using data that doesn’t involve your website to make marketing decisions about your website. While Conductor’s sample size is rather large, and while their data is rather convincing, I recommend analyzing the data from your website. Take Conductor’s into consideration, but follow your data. You know that Google Instant was launched on September 8th or so. Check your data and logs. Look for odd trends around that time frame. And don’t forget – behaviors often take time to change. One new feature from Google is not likely to have a significant impact on a user’s search behavior. And while some Google features will cause us to write major addendums to the principles of SEO, Google Instant is not one of those features…so far.

In the end, it’s clear that Google Instant has not changed much for SEO. It’s made us pay more attention to the keyword suggestions. It’s given us insight into more opportunities for keyword targeting. As Matt Cutts would say, the best SEOs are the ones who can adapt to change. I just don’t think Google Instant is one of the changes that requires a reworking of our SEO philosophies, strategies or campaigns…yet.

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