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!”