Has Google Killed SEO?

Chris Trayhorn
by Chris Trayhorn
September 8, 2010

Google changed SEO today. With the announcement of Google Instant they have, at a stroke, increased their number of search queries by a factor of 20, made obsolete current ways of optimizing for SEO and changed how AdWords calculates impressions. It’s a big deal.
In essence Google Instant tries to predict what a user wants to find before they complete their search query. It is now the default option on the Google home page. At first sight it looks a bit like the old auto-complete suggestions feature, but it actually presents new search results in realtime as the query is typed. In the words of one Google executive, “this isn’t ‘search as you type’, it’s ‘search before you type.’”
Google’s key insight is that people can scan the screen faster than they can type, so if they can see new results with each keystroke, they’ll be able to personalize their results and save time. It transforms the static HTML SERPs page that we are used to into a dynamic, personalized page that modifies the results and the advertising presented to the user, on the fly, as they type their query. They can scan the results as they type and optimize as they go. And that has huge implications for SEO, advertisers and brand owners.
Users are now going to see, however briefly, many more search results and many more adverts. Google presented research at their press conference showing that an average query involves 9 seconds of typing and 15 seconds of selection, with only an additional 1.1 seconds of server/network time involved. This new technology will have the effect of extending the typing time because users will be optimizing their query as new results are served to them, and that will provide Google with even more time to present many new revised pages of predicted results.
Think of Google Instant as a stream of search results, optimized on the fly, and you’re getting close.
The technology behind Google Instant is essentially an AJAX application that refers back to the indexing servers each time multiple times per query, predicting each time what should be found in a matter of milliseconds. To give an idea of just how complex this is, take the fact that Google is currently serving 1 billion user searches a day. During the development process of Google Instant, engineers found that it would increase that volume to 20 billion queries a day. They’ve apparently optimized it some since, but it has still required a massive new investment in infrastructure on their part.
The important thing is what this does to SEO. First reactions include one from Steve Rubel, the SVP, Director of Insights for Edelman Digital, who said that because this introduces feedback into the search process, people’s actions will change. Nobody will see the same results page and so optimizing will be almost impossible.
That seems way too much to us. Even if searches change dynamically, it will still be the most relevant searches that rise to the top, and increasing relevance has alwys been the ultimate goal of good SEO. That won’t change.
Google themselves have provided two clues. One is that during their testing they found that user search queries increased because they were finding more things that they were interested in right away. The second is on the Google Analytics blog: “you might notice some fluctuations in AdWords impression volume and in the distribution of traffic of organic keywords.
The reality is that it’s probably too early to tell exactly how people’s behavior will change as they become used to the new interface. But we’re going to be talking a lot more about this over the next few months as Google has already teased the introduction of Google Instant for Mobile, which is apparently coming “later this Fall.”
In closing one reaction we enjoyed from the comment section at BoingBoing: “Yay, let’s eat up all my bandwidth by searching for parts of words! This is great, I always wanted to load fifty unrelated searches while I type!”

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Chris Trayhorn

About Chris Trayhorn

Chris Trayhorn is the Founder & Editor of Revenue Performance magazine and the CEO of mThink LLC, a performance marketing services company based in San Francisco. Chris has worked on marketing campaigns with over 200 of the Forbes Global 2000. Friends say he knows a lot about a couple of things and a little bit about everything. He likes motorcycles, Manchester United and making pictures.

View all posts by Chris Trayhorn

12 Responses to “Has Google Killed SEO?”

  1. inter4522 Says:

    Google has definitely made a lot of changes. You definitely have to work harder to succeed in SEO. You really have to do your homework. 

  2. FacebookFriends Says:

    Great post. I have been searching for this exact info for a while now. I will bookmark it in the public bookmarking sites to get you more traffic.

  3. rjonesx Says:

    The 20x number of queries Google cited does not mean that people will be performing 20x the number of searches. Instead, it means that in the process of typing out one keyword to search for, google will perform multiple searches.

    What this actually does, effectively, is kill the long tail drastically. Think about it.

    You want to reserve a hotel in Palm Springs for vacation. You go to Google and start typing in.. Palm Sp

    Before you even get to the "r", you are seeing results for Palm Springs and, importantly, Advertisements for Hotels in Palm Springs. There is no reason at this point for you to continue your search out to Palm Springs Hotels. Thus, ranking for the keyword "Palm Springs Hotels" is far less important than ranking for the keyword "Palm Springs". This will happen across the board. People will find a suitable result before they ever finish typing in the long tail search. The good thing for SEOs is that this means our services will become far more important as corpus of effective keywords drops substantially.

  4. brechtp Says:

    I think quite the opposite. People will use the speed to refine their searches with long tail keywords.

    Simply ‘Palm Springs hotel” will not be enough, now instantly they will look for hotels ‘downtown’, or ‘dog friendly’ or as I just found with your example ‘with water slides’.

    Users now have the instant satisfaction of a finely tuned search to bring up precisely what they’re looking for, not the other way, no longer do they have to wait and sift through generic results…

  5. Chris Trayhorn
    Chris Trayhorn Says:

    The other way to think about it is that it is now going to be very important to rank for partial keywords and for certain letter combinations.

    To use your example, nobody used to worry about ranking for "Palm Sp". Now they will.

  6. Tradeshowguy Says:

    I never, I mean, never search through the Google page interface. With Google Chrome, I just type my search query into the address bar. When I’m using Firefox (I alternate between the two), I type my search query into the search bar at the top right of the browser. On my iPhone, I search using a Google app where I speak my query – or key it in.

    There are myriad ways to search without actually going to Google’s home page. While this is an interesting change, it certainly doesn’t affect everyone. I’d be interested in knowing what percentage of Google searches are made through other sources and not the home page.

  7. Chris Trayhorn
    Chris Trayhorn Says:

    Yeah, I’m much the same. And what about all the two-finger typists that never glance at the screen while in the middle of typing a search query/ There’s going to be a decent percentage of people who don’t use it.

    But the percentage of people who do will probably still be greater than the search market share of Bing…

  8. cottageman Says:

    As you’ve already pointed out, the ‘same old’ SEO rules still apply. Relevance & quality will not go away as the key criteria.
    The impact on SEM is going to be interesting: large increases in impressions without corresponding increases in clickthroughs will of course lower CTRs, in particular for the broad keyword phrases in advertisers’ campaigns.
    One interesting side note: since you have to be logged in to see Google Instant, this is also a push by Google to further engage their users (via login), and possibly start using Google Apps in ever greater numbers.

  9. Chris Trayhorn
    Chris Trayhorn Says:

    Google says that they’re now going to regard an impression as being anything displayed for three seconds or longer. Given that their own research states that selection taked 15 seconds, they have a lot of room to throw more impressions at users.

    On your other point, I may be wrong but I don’t think one needs to be logged in to see Google Instant. Certainly I can still see it if I log out of Google.

  10. Megan Says:

    I don’t think this kills SEO at all. As some have already pointed out, it will change how affiliates and other who rely on the long tail will market. It also will change Adwords campaigns. As usual, people who try to game “the Man” i.e. Google will suffer. If you build sites that use good, standard SEO principles and stay on top of the latest trends in social media, video, backlinking, etc. you will be fine. It may take some time for this to all shake out. but from the perspective of a searcher, and not a marketer, this update makes sense. After all, the entire objective that Google wants is to deliver better, faster and more targeted search results.

  11. anneli Says:

    Hi I like your post and i think google help to seo technicians recently. Thanks to share your blog post. 

  12. RyanWilliams Says:

    Let’s face it guys, Google’s job is to deliver the best answers to the search queries that people give it. When SEO agencies figure out some trick to get a crappy website top results Google’s job is to figure out a way of stopping that and make sure that the right website is at the top and not the one that got there by some trick. It certainly can be a cat and mouse game. The best advice that I can offer others in the law firm seo field is to start with quality content and then build quality back links, that is what will get your page to stick at the top and bring the results that your law firm is paying for and expecting.