Google Instant Search is the first thing in a long time that has made me want to go to Google.com rather than just search fromt the Chrome URL bar. That in and of itself is quite a feat. Really. But, oh man… every time Google makes a change to search people (mostly people who don’t really understand SEO) come out yelling about how this is “going to kill SEO.” And it happened again this week with Google’s release of “Instant Search.” But Instant Search is only going to kill SEO if you’re terrible at SEO. For the rest of us it represents more opportunities and targets to optimize for, and even thought the analytic tools may not quite be there yet to break down user behavior to a point that makes it completely easy to take advantage of, there is still plenty that can be done. And I’d love some discussion or feedback on this one, so hit me up with comments here or via @supnah on Twitter.
What is Google Instant Search?
Google Instant Search basically means that when you are performing a search from google.com Google will start serving results to you before you hit the “return” button – while you are still typing in your search term. Google effectively tries to guess what term you are ultimately going to type in and serve related results for it before you’ve even finished in order to help you save time. Google will also serve up recommended search terms that it thinks you might be aiming for so that you can quickly select one of those with one click rather than having to finish typing all of the rest of the letters in your search term. Here are examples of both… (click for enlarged view)
These are examples taken from three different points in time as I typed in the phrase “SEO for google instant.” The first taken at “SEO,” the second taken at “SEO for” and the third taken at then end, but before hitting the return button with the instant results for “SEO for google instant.”
What’s interesting is the top results for the final example are a post by Steve Rubel, an SVP for Edelman talking about how Instant Search has killed SEO because “no two people will see the same web. Once a single search would do the trick – and everyone saw the same results. That’s what made search engine optimization work. Now, with this, everyone is going to start tweaking their searches in real-time.” Now I fully respect Steve Rubel, and I’ve shared clients with Edelmen and seen them do stellar work, but I just don’t think this explanation gets it right.
Other Google search developments like integration of social results, local results and personalized results have been producing results pages that vary from user to user for quite some time. And this isn’t really a huge problem. If you target relatively popular keywords around a topic, the odds are that across a large sample of searchers, even the personalized results will include top performing pages. In SEO we are not targeting any single user individually – rather, we are targeting populations, and more specifically, the portions of those populations that will click-through on our optimized result.
Google Instant Search isn’t killing anything, and Matt Cutts (from Google) has explained as much already. The point is that instant search results are potential interceptors of searchers who are on their way to typing in a keyword. But interception isn’t death, it’s just disruption. Google is shaking the SEO snowglobe a bit, but good strategic thinking can take advantage and come out on top of things when all the flakes settle. All of the analytic tools aren’t ready yet, but here are some things to consider in SEO strategy for Google Instant moving forward:
• What results & intermediate keywords show up while typing in my keywords?
The recommended keywords that Instant Search provides to users (as seen in the images above) are potential points of interception, but they are also indicators of opportunity. These may vary based on personalized results between users, but there will still be a great deal of overlap, and because you are targeting portions of populations rather than specific individuals, everything will work out fine. The point is that it’s not enough anymore just to pull the search volume for the keyword you’re targeting, you should also now be paying attention to the search volumes of search fragments that users will be typing in on the way to that keyword, when they’ve only entered the first few letters, first word, or at other points along the progression to typing the full search term. And don’t stop there, continue on to look at the related terms for those partial queries as well as the recommended terms that are served back and the results returned by Instant Search. Again, the tools aren’t completely there for doing this comprehensively if you’re not savvy to build some of these protocols on your own, but a great deal can be learned anecdotally by simply observing Instant Search results and recommendations on your own and looking for opportunities to intercept your own targeted population of searchers.
• Do any of the recommended intermediate keywords look like viable options from the searcher’s perspective, and should I target those as well?
Of all of the potential intermediary keywords returned by Instant Search, do any of them look like they are related to your targeted keywords in a way that your targeted searchers would consider clicking on them rather than finishing typing in their intended query? Remember, you are most interested in the people who are looking for your information – your best click-through rates will come from those searchers to whom you are really providing an answer or relevant information. So it’s usually inefficient to target searchers who would click on unrelated or severely tangential intermediate keywords. However, the keywords that look very relevant are jumping off points where the user might abandon their intended query for the instant result, and this is an interception point where you will need to work to gain a placement. Earning a ranking page in the most important and trafficked interception points of instant search for your targeted keywords will protect against diminished impressions and click-through, and it has the potential to actually earn more by strategically poaching users from other searches where you wouldn’t normally be able to rank.
• You heard me right – use this as an offensive strategy!
That’s right! Stop just thinking about how this might screw up your current strategy and start thinking about how this might help you in areas you were unable to break into previously. When Google introduced their Universal Search features like News, Shopping, Local, and others they were all opportunities to leapfrog competitors who outranked you in standard Google results by beating them in the less competitive areas of local, shopping, etc. This presents the same opportunity again. Identify less competitive intermediate keywords that appear in the Instant Search results for more competitive search terms, and then target pages to rank for them. This can potentially squeeze your pages into view of a very high volume of searchers who are on their way to the more competitive final search term. Don’t forget to make your meta descriptions really count in this case in order to maximize click-through and grab users’ attention in the middle of their searches.
• Are any of these intermediate keywords shared between multiple keywords I’m targeting?
Tracking the intermediate keyword recommendations across a group of targeted keywords can give you a list of overlaps. If you have a set of keywords all related to a certain category or topic, it is likely that there will be overlapping suggestions in the middle of some of those searches. These overlapping keywords represent opportunities to optimize for interceptor terms that have the potential to intercept across more than one of your targeted keywords. These are efficient places to optimize for Instant Search.
So SEO isn’t dead… not by a long shot, but it is changing fast – instantly even, and that’s always what has kept it interesting. Want to say something but hate my crappy commenting system? Hit me up at @supnah on Twitter.