Search Marketing. The effects of Google Instant Search.

September 20, 2011 - Digital State Marketing

Google’s new Instant Search system heralds a significant change in how we look for information online. Instead of typing a request into Google, hitting return, and then seeing a list of results, Google users now see a changing list of results as they type. Google considers this a significant step forward in the evolution of search. It claims the new system will save between two and five seconds per search. Extrapolate that globally and 11 hours are saved every second. Not bad, for a company that strives to make search as efficient as possible.

The online marketing community, however, has not been as gushing in its reception. Search Engine Optimisers, who try to get websites to the top of Google rankings, and Search Engine Marketers, who jostle for their sites to be placed in Google’s ‘Sponsored Links’, have been blogging and tweeting with worried haste, some going as far to suggest the death of online marketing as we know it.

The community is an endemically nervous one, and perhaps rightly so: a small change from Google can make or break an online business. In this case, however, the worry is misguided, for while Instant changes the engine’s interface, it leaves untouched Google’s core system for deciding relevant results. Type in ‘red striped socks’ to instant Google and static Google (it’s still available) and you’ll arrive at the same list of results. With Google Instant you’ll whizz through results for ‘red’ and ‘red stripe’ first, but as these produce listings on the DVD rental company Redbox and Red Stripe beer, they’re unlikely to hinder SEOs titling for the term ‘red striped socks’.

Equally, concern that Google is now serving personalised and localised search is hyperchondriacal. Google has been personalising results for users signed into Gmail since 2005; since December 2009, it’s even been personalising results for users not signed-in to an account. Personalised search is a variable that SEOs already have to consider.

Far more interesting than the white noise of worry emanating from optimisers is how Google Instant will alter search behaviour. Without the psychological full stop of pressing return, and with users able to see points of interest as they type and consequently refine as they go, it’s plausible that searches will get longer and more specific (feeding, not starving, the Long Tail). It’s also likely that ranking in the hallowed top 3 or 4 positions will become even more important, given that users probably won’t look further down the page while typing. If your result appears in those 3 and it answers the query, it’s going to get a very high Click Through Rate (CTR).

All of the above, of course, depends on one significant point: users actually going to the Google homepage, instead of using the search bar in their browser. Google Instant changes the way people can interact with search, but it far from sounds the death knell for search optimization.

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