Google Rolls Out Instant Search
The fanfare has barely died down from the launch of Google Instant Search and many people in the crowd are busy scratching their heads over what the Google Doodle still means. Google has a history of changing its opening screen doodle, usually to celebrate a holiday or anniversary, but yesterday a set of psychotic balls with a mouse phobia jumped around the screen until they settled back into the familiar Google logo.
The “Big News” is Instant Search, and when the head scratching subsides on the juggling balls, the real questions will need to be asked.
What is Google’s Instant Search?
Users of cell phone text services will already be familiar with predictive texting; you start inputting a word and miraculously the finished word appears, or at least it does as you type in more characters.
Instant Search does the same; it predicts what the search term is going to be and offers more predictions as you input more characters.
The Google blog uses the letter “w” as an example, and inputting “w” gives you “ weather” as a search term, but if you then proceed to input the letter “o”, it changes the predictive search term to “world cup 2010”. Insert another “o” and it changes the predictive search to “Woot”, and so it goes.
For the moment, Instant Search only applies to Google’s desktop and even then only for the plain Google page (you cannot use iGoogle – the page with all the customizable widgets on it). US users will have Instant Search rolled out to them this week, closely followed by the UK and several other European countries.
Why is Google Changing to Instant Search?
There is one official reason – speed of search. We suspect there is another – AdWords revenue increase.
The Official Reason
The official reason is that a user search takes around 25 seconds, but with Instant Search Google expects this will much faster – less than 3 seconds.
By predicting what the user is looking for, Google is bound to hit the mark some of the time, but whether it will be most of the time remains to be seen.
One issue, with SEO implications, is that predictive search is based on Google’s collective search history and the personalized search history of the user. If you are searching for “cars” a lot, then you are likely to get cars returned as a search result as soon as you input “c”. This sounds fine, but when the collective database of search terms kicks in, this is likely to return the big names of internet marketing – Costco for instance. The smaller players are going to be increasingly squeezed by this trend unless they adjust their SEO strategy accordingly.
While Google’s desire to speed up search is laudable, there has to be a solid commercial reason underlying the change too. At the moment, Google dominates the search engine market even though Microsoft is mounting a renewed challenge with Bing/Yahoo! Instant Search is Google’s effort to take the fight to Microsoft before that battle even begins, and it is cold hard cash which tells us who the winner is.
Show me the Money!
AdWords is the Google cash cow, and of course AdWords is significantly affected by the change to Instant Search because it is based upon the search terms which are input. You search for “flowers” and you’ll see ads for Interflora, and florists generally, being served up.
As the predictive search anticipates you, the AdWords ads also change as they are now based upon the predictive search term – type in “flo” and you get ads for Florida, follow that with a “w” (so you have “flow”) and the predictive search term becomes “flowers”, so you get flower ads, but add “c” and the predictive search term is “flowcharts” and you get ads for them. This means in the space of typing five letters, you have 3 sets of AdWords served up.
A big issue is the 3 Second Rule – if a user pauses for 3 seconds or more, Google is counting that as an impression and this means you are getting charged even if there is no click through. It is now conceivable that a slow typing user can have AdWords served up in a changing slideshow of ads, however they may be interested in none of them but Google is still going to count every one which was displayed for 3 seconds or more as an impression.
Suddenly, Google has the power to double, triple and more, the number of ads displayed from one search and that means “Big Bucks!”
In the longer-term, AdWords campaigns will probably become more focused and responsive to users’ needs, but if Instant Search does not work well with AdWords, it will be consigned to the bin faster than you can type “trash” in the search engine.
Instant Search SEO Implications
There are several SEO implications for businesses though at the moment, it is clear that Google itself is not sure what the impact is going to be. This means we need to carefully monitor client rankings to see what the impact is on their individual websites.
The obvious impact Instant Search is going to have is with long tail keywords. The predictive search really comes into its own when a long tail keyword is made; the predictive text engine working overtime to come up with search options for the user. When we tested long tail keywords on Instant Search, we found that a range of interesting options were offered which distracted the user from the search term they were planning on inputting. This drew the user to sites which previously did not rank highly but still caught their interest. This means that long tail keywords are becoming even more important for traffic generation.
There is also an implication for sites which already rank highly. If you are ranking highly, especially in the top 3 positions on Google, then you are likely to see your traffic increased as predictive search based on the collective search database will offer your site up more frequently. For those sites which do not rank so highly, there is an added impetus to gaining top ranking positions on Google because that ranking is now even more valuable.
At the moment, Google’s Instant Search is only available on the desktop; however predictive search is made for the mobile internet. Anything which allows for time-saving and avoiding keystrokes while using a cell phone or mobile device is manna from heaven! Predictive texting found its home with cell phones and this is where the web is moving at an accelerated rate – the next major roll-out for Instant Search has got to be into the mobile market and it counts to be the first with such a feature in that market.
Google’s Instant Search is a massive development in the search engine world. The objective is to make predictions on what a user is searching for and speed up search times dramatically.
Will this lead to lazy searching? Perhaps, but it is more likely that long term keyword searches will assume greater importance.
AdWord campaigns need to be closely monitored to see what the impact is going to be, especially if there is an increase in the number of impressions being reported and the ratio to Click Through Rates (CTR) drops.
High ranking sites are likely to see more traffic from Instant search, and the onus is on lower ranking sites to focus their SEO strategies on gaining high ranking for chosen search terms. At the moment, Instant Search is only available on the Google desktop, but it is clearly a dream feature for mobile internet users.