Google Instant, SEO, and the Future of Search

Speculation has run wild since Google announced Google Instant, the new technology that starts to supply you search results before you finish typing your query.

One significant point of interest is that Yahoo had instant search in 2005 and then discontinued it. A product manager in Yahoo’s search team blogged about this after the Google announcement, and in the other comments, other ex-Yahoo people indicate that Yahoo was too risk averse to roll it out into Yahoo search, so they launched it on a secondary property known as AllTheWeb.

Make no mistake — this is a big change. Perhaps not technically challenging (other than the server infrastructure component), but it is potentially a real change in the user interaction model of search. Here are some ways it will impact search and SEO:

1. User Reaction

At first it will be distracting, and potentially annoying, to many searchers. It will be interesting to see how users respond to the feature over time.

2. Google Suggest Already Did It

The change may not be as big as we think, as Google Suggest has been around for a while, and Google Instant seems to be using the first query in the Google Suggest list to drive which queries get shown. In some sense, Google Suggest already had already introduced much of the same ability to distract users.

3. The Long Tail; New Search Opportunities

In contrast to my prior point, here are two ways that search behavior may change:

  • You can think of Google Instant results as preview results. If you’re typing away and see something that answers your question, you’ll probably stop typing your query and go click on it. As a consequence, the long tail of search may be somewhat reduced. This could happen because some searchers will see the answer they want before they have finished the query they intended to type, and click on the desired result. However, the long tail won’t go away. Instead of being 70 percent of all search volume it may drop down to a lower number, such as 50 percent.
  • It may cause searchers to explore new things that weren’t in line with their original query intent. In other words, someone who may be looking for [seattle pizza” may see a result for a Seattle movie theater and go look at that instead. This is essentially distracting the user from their original intent.

As a result, the impact of Google Instant may change over time as users adapt to it. Users may become trained to think differently, and how they approach formulating search queries may change.

4. No Algorithm Change

Google says that the ranking algorithm has not changed. This is an important point that Google has been very clear on. All that has changed is how and when the results are presented.

5. Impression Counts Will Change in Webmaster Tools, AdWords

Google explains how they will change here. This creates an interesting situation where one search can result in two impressions.

Here’s what a Google AdWords rep said about this possibility: “…if you start a query and pause for three seconds, that will count as an impression. When you complete your search, the results will change according to the completed query and count as a separate impression. So, yes those are two separate impressions.”

6. Increased Focus on Local Keywords in PPC Campaigns

This will be because even when a user types of non-geo-specific query, Google will be showing local results in many cases. For example, if you type in a “w” at the start of your query, and you actually do see information on the weather, you will immediately see the weather for your local area.

This concept will only expand as Google gets more experience with how Instant works over time. As a result, while a user is typing in a generic query they will end up completing it as a local query, and therefore see locally focused ads.

7. Better PPC Conversion

If the long tail is impacted, it could improve PPC conversion on shorter tail queries. Users who were intending to type a long tail query, but now accept a shorter tail query, still have the same level of readiness to buy.

8. SEO Won’t Die

It may be impacted, but people will still need help with optimizing their web pages, link building, and social media.


The full impact of Google Instant won’t be understood until a year or more has passed. As Michael Gray commented, “it’s not something that solves a problem I hear people complain about.” What this means that it will take time for people to adapt to the new behavior of Google search.

Of course, it will be interesting if users decide they don’t like it. This is the risk that Google is taking.

Did Google simply take this risk because they are driven by a need to keep the playing field moving and this will change hurt them? Or will this drive long term fundamental changes in the way we perceive and use search? Only time will tell.

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