Google Instant - Implications For SEO & Internet Marketing
While reading Harry McCracken's rather insightful article on Google Instant in PCWorld, I was reminded once again, how narrowly focused my own thinking has become in regards to Google. I keep forgetting, not everyone is into SEO or Internet Marketing (lucky dogs), and that Google search has a function outside of SEO.
I keep forgetting that the general public actually uses Google for online search, there are millions of web users out there who have been using Google Instant to find out the weather, the latest Lady Gaga outfit or which flat-screen HDTV to buy? Of course, I know this to be the real function of Google, but if you're a full-time search engine marketer, your perspective is solidly aligned to all the SEO elements - keyword rankings, link building and content placement in the most dominant search engine in the world.
Basically, you will be more concerned with how Google Instant will impact those top keyword rankings, your click through rates and most importantly, what effect will it have on your conversion rates and sales? More specifically, how does this instant search impact the display of your listings in Google and what are the long-term ramifications this instant "real time" display will have on your online marketing?
There are even some so-called experts which say Google Instant will be the end of SEO. This is a rather foolish notion since the underlying structure of using optimized strategies to obtain top rankings in Google or any other search engine for that matter, has not changed. We still have the emphasis on quality content, high quality backlinks and on-page ranking factors.
In the background nothing has changed, in the foreground everything has changed. Well, somewhat.
Google Instant is a game changer for online marketers simply because it changes "How" your listings are displayed. Not only is the faster speed a factor but Google is guessing or rather dictating what the web surfer is searching for so Google's influence on what's displayed has increased 10-fold. They are displaying results not only based on rankings BUT on what their data tells them you're looking for? How big a role this other compiled data and web users' histories play in these suggestions only Google knows, but to the online marketer all this is somewhat worrisome.
Eric Schmidt, the CEO of Google has been quoted as saying, "Never underestimate the power of fast. Quick, quick, quick - we want to help you right now... we can understand things like what you really meant."
Only time will tell what effect this "jumping the gun" or "making up your mind for you" will have on Internet marketing. The long-lasting effect of Google imposing its results on the web searcher will no doubt have some strong impacts on web marketing. Getting those first suggestions when a surfer types in just one or two letters... will become the real money-makers in terms of online traffic and sales.
Those companies and products which pop-up first will gain in market share and importance, but hasn't this always been the case with getting those first place keyword rankings in Google? Yes, but now Google is giving the searcher options and planting seeds/suggestions, which Google has done in the past but not at this speed and to this extent. The implications for online marketing could be enormous, assuming of course, web surfers actually use this function because Google does give users the option of turning off Instant search. In our hurried fast-paced world, one would reason, web searchers would not turn off this function, although if your Internet connection is too slow, Google will automatically turn off Instant search for you.
From a marketing angle, webmasters must now note Google's keyword suggestions which quickly pop-up and target them in their SEO efforts. Analyzing and targeting which keyword phrases Google are displaying in your niche market will be vital to capturing the majority of the traffic. Surfers will click on Google's suggestions to find what they're looking for on the web. Getting top rankings for those 4 or 5 suggestions will become important if an online marketer or webmaster wants to cover/corner all the search territory in their niche. Whether you actually target these keywords would really be determined by their commercial intent probability which can be discovered by using Microsoft's Adcenter Laps (http://adlab.msn.com/Online-Commercial-Intention/) and of course, the amount of traffic each keyword gets each month. (Try here: https://adwords.google.com/select/KeywordToolExternal).
Another area of concern has to do with the ever decreasing space for organic listings on the new Google Instant interface. With the drop-down menu and depending upon how many paid listings are shown, there may only be room for 3 listings instead of five or more above the fold. Keep in mind, we are mainly talking about lucrative keyword phrases which will also usually have three paid Adwords listings in the spots where organic search results were formerly displayed. Searchers are lazy, they will probably not scroll down, especially if they see different listings popping up as they narrow down their search. So your SEO has probably gotten much harder since you will now have to aim for the top 3 spots - thanks Google.
Of course, savvy online marketers know the real gold is in the long-tail keyword phrases which surfers use to find what they're looking for on the web. Google Instant could possibly play havoc on this whole process because before the searcher finishes typing in the long 4 or even 5 word phrases, they would be exposed to maybe 4 or 5 pages of Google listings... chances are great that searchers will click on one of these listings before they finish typing, especially if the listing contains a part of the searched for phrase.
Marketers will have to closely analyze their own web stats and conversion rates in regards to Google Instant. I am seeing little change in my own online marketing... traffic has dropped on some sites and risen on others, subscription rates are up and sales are steady. What really concerns me is the fact that Google may not only be pre-judging their rankings but also your mind. They are playing a much bigger role in how you decide which listing you click. Granted, this is probably drawn from unbiased data but will the influence of top-brand companies be more dominant in Google's Instant results?
Another general concern, will the display of so many listings make it harder for your site or page to be clicked? Will giving the searcher so many options so quickly, lower your chances of getting that click-thru, even if you have the top spot in Google? The laws of probability and human nature says your chances have diminished somewhat in this new instant search environment. Not good news if your livelihood depends upon getting that click.
However, many of these changes and no matter how fast Google gives you their search results, will not change the fundamental principles of good SEO practices. Keyword positioning will still get you to the number one spot in Google for your chosen phrase if you have the time and resources to create quality content, build quality one-way backlinks and use good on-page optimization. Besides the smaller emphasis on organic traffic, the only other real concern is the degree to which Google will use their suggestions and how much those suggestions are based not on SEO ranking factors but on users' histories and compiled data. Even with this concern, Google Instant, even at warp speed, does not negate the importance of getting those top rankings. For many search engine marketers, like myself, it's business as usual. Full speed ahead.