Google is in the process of rolling out a new technology, Google Instant, to all of its search platforms. By now, if you’re in the U.S. and using a modern Web browser, you should be seeing Google Instant in action.
This column is going to take a quick look at what Google Instant is and what it might mean for those of you who are concerned with reaching new customers via search engine optimization (SEO) and search engine marketing.
What’s Google Instant?
Google Instant is basically a new way of presenting the same search-related information that Google has always shown. In terms of the data-source/business rules/user experience model of understanding software, the changes to Google are primarily in the "user experience" end of things.
Before this round of changes, the process to conduct a search was:
1. Type in search query.
2. Press "enter" key or click "Search" button.
3. Wait for the page to refresh.
4. View the search engine results.
Now, with Google Instant, you are served search engine results as you type. Using Google used to be a linear process in which you do something, then Google does something, then you do something, and so on.
Now, using Google is a dynamic process in which you start doing something, and Google responds and recommends as you are typing your query.
As a list it might read more like this:
1. Start typing a search query.
2. Google attempts to autocomplete your query.
3. Google simultaneously shows you the search engine results for its autocomplete attempt.
4. Google continues to refine its autocomplete attempt as you continue typing.
Google is now treating every keystroke in the search query box as an input, serving results on the fly.
The main advantage of this new method of presenting search engine results: It will be quicker for many search queries.
In the cases where Google does an adequate job of guessing what you want to search for, you get the results before your finish typing and without having to wait for a page refresh after hitting the search button.
I’m not sure if the biggest problem with Google Instant is that it’s slow, but apparently that’s a big enough problem that the company chose to devote some significant resources to making it faster.
Google Instant is the continuation of the "Caffeine" update I wrote about last year.
How does this affect my real estate marketing?
Google says that the new Google Instant doesn’t affect the ranking algorithm. Since the ranking algorithm is the part of the search engine that determines which site is listed first, second and so on, what they’re saying is that this change won’t have any effect on the position of your website in search engine results.
But this change to Google is significantly more important than a change to the ranking algorithm — it’s a change in the way humans interact with the search engine and forces a change in human behavior.
Sure, it looks pretty basic: Google just shows you results as you type. But this has a couple of implications for people who use search engines to find websites.
- Google will influence the terms being searched for via its autocomplete feature.
- Users will be presented with several opportunities to click on a result before they even finish typing their query.
- Advertisements displayed via AdWords will also be updated as the user types, presenting additional opportunities to click out of the search page before finishing their query.
Long-tail search junkies should be on alert
For those of you who are actively engaged in long-tail search marketing, where you focus efforts on ranking well for a search term that has several words in it — "Thompson, ND house for sale under 200K," for example — this change may require you to adjust your strategy.
By the time I finished typing the example search query, Google had displayed about 12 different search results pages. And any one of those pages could have had a link that would pull me out of the search process.
For all of the search terms that really matter to you (your Web analytics are a big help here), you’re going to want to find out how Google is trying to autocomplete the query. Then you’ll want to start devoting some resources to ranking well for those terms too, because the results will be displayed before the searcher finishes typing out the long-tail search.
It’s still in the early days but I, for one, will be watching what the impact of this change is on the whole concept of long-tail search.
I imagine that the volume of long tail-search will decrease but perhaps the quality of those remaining will increase. Who knows? Watch your stats to see how it plays out on your site.
The biggest thing to remember, when trying to get your site in front of new people via Google, is that Google pays the bills by serving up advertising. In my example above, about the little town in North Dakota, in the old Google search there would have been one search engine results page served: one opportunity to show advertising.
In the new Google Instant, there were more than 12 search engine results pages served. This is going to have an impact on advertising budgets.
First off, if you have a cost-per-impressions (CPM) campaign, the potential for significantly faster drain on your budget is pretty high. Google will count your advertising as an impression if the search-user stops typing for three seconds.
I’m not saying to discontinue CPM if it works for you, but definitely keep an eye on it for the next few months to see how it changes — especially in terms of click-throughs and conversion.
On the other side, just like with long-tail SEO, you may want to start experimenting with advertising on all the terms that Google suggests on the way to delivering your targeted keyword search.
Many of these autocompletion attempts by Google will be totally irrelevant to your keyword, so you may have to be creative with your advertising. But pursuing them may give you the upper hand on your competition.
There’s obviously a lot more to Google Instant that should be observed over the coming months. Keep an eye on your search traffic (especially quality) and your search advertising.