Will Google Instant Search Turn SEO On Its Head & Pander To Big Business?

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We waited patiently to learn what big announcement Google was going to make, having been told it would be “huge” and a game-changer. And then it arrived — Google Instant Search. No longer do you have to hit the enter key after typing in a search query to see search results — they appear below the search box as you type in your query. Start typing any old thing and voila — any old thing appears below the box. The suggestions appear as soon as you start typing and change as you add letters to your query. If you see that Google has provided you with just what you were looking for at the exact moment you are looking for it, you can save yourself a nanosecond and click on a result. Actually, Google claims it will save 2-5 seconds, but I’m not so sure.

Google warns that “feelings of euphoria and weightlessness” are to be expected, but how about nausea? I don’t know about you, but having the bottom 2/3 of my screen constantly change as a add more letters to the word or phrase I am typing into the search box is disconcerting and mildly annoying. Distracting? Did I mention that? After entering just one character, you get results. How the heck does Google know what I might be interested in amongst every piece of information in the universe that starts with a given letter? And do I see a propensity for those early letter entries to bring up huge advertisers? Only a coincidence? Some samples:

With “a” I get Amazon, AOL, AT&T, Apple, and the letter “a” — why is “a” at the bottom?
With “b” I get Best Buy, Bank of America, Bing, Bed Bath & Beyond, and finally “b.”
With “c” I get Craigslist, CNN, Chase, Costco, and finally “c.”
Thank goodness that “q” brings up the word “quotes” first of all, but it is followed by — you guessed it — QVC, QuickTime, Quiznos.
Even “z” is not immune — Zillow, Zappos, zip codes (yeah), Zumba, then “z”

But further to the issue is the fact that this is not an innovation in search. Actually, Yahoo tried a similar approach to search a number of years ago — on September 15, 2005 to be exact. They called it “Instant Search” and it was amazingly like the new Google “Instant Search.” In the Yahoo case, “[a]s users type, Instant Search Immediately displays the most relevant result for the most popular queries directly beneath the search box” (from the Yahoo press release announcing the beta of the product). Yahoo’s product only showed the top result to you and provided an easy way to access it via Ctrl-Enter, making it more like Google’s “I’m Feeling Lucky” button than their version of Instant Search. Yahoo did experiment with a version closer to that which Google is offering later via AllTheWeb Livesearch in May 2006, but the entire experiment never really caught on and Yahoo eventually dropped it.

Even more intriguing is what effect this may have on the way we approach optimization. The effectiveness of keywords may be at stake, given that users may be lured off to a different site showing for the first few letters of a keyword rather than one showing for the entire keyword (and how does Google figure out which one is ranked highest now?). Participating in AdWords may be a more important strategy than ever before if it helps you appear sooner in the typing of a partial search query, especially if more ads overall are shown. And will people choose to modify their query before even checking out anything beyond the results that instantly show, meaning that anything showing below the fold is likely to never be seen, making positions lower than about 4 on a SERP a virtual no-mans-land?

What do you think? Do you like the idea and think it will help you find what you are looking for more quickly? Or do you think you will find it distracting? Am I just being paranoid at seeing the propensity for the results to feature big business? Can Google read our minds? How is this going to affect SEO and SEM? I’m interested in knowing what you think in the comments.

About the Author

Frances Krug has worked in market research since graduating from UCLA with an MA and CPhil in Latin American history. As an editor and online content provider for the last 7 years, she currently is Associate Editor at iNET Interactive, where she also directs Search Marketing Standard's email marketing program.

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4 Comments

  1. Clive Morgan

    As a user, I hate it. As a PPC and SEO marketer, I hate it. I agree 100% with your article Frances. It is distracting, really annoying and like you say, how on earth does google know what I want from a few letters. It has not got it right once yet (within the first 5 characters). More importantly as an online marketer, this is defeinitely going to be a game changer - assuming the masses do not switch it off, which they won't because they will be unaware the option is available. Long tail keywords will deminish. More premium/expensive terms will be activated within Adwords. Call me a cynic, but I'm guessing this is the primary driver behind this new functionality. Another slap in the face by google for its advertisers. Seems to me, they only want the big brands to survive online.

  2. I'm not liking it any better with time, Clive. Although it's fairly easy to turn it off, I'm not sure that the general public will ever learn how to do so unless Google becomes "forced" to make it clear how to. As far as SEO goes, the folks at Response MIne Interactive have posted a nice read on how it's liable to affect different aspects of paid and organic at Acquisition Intelligence.

  3. deimos

    Hi Fances I agree with you sentiment, however I have one interesting caveat. I hardly ever go to the google home page anymore! The two main browsers that I use (chrome & firefox, but mostly chrome) let me search directly from the toolbar which saves me time and clicks. Maybe Google is realising that their search is becoming an API and not a destination and are trying to add value to www.google.com ???

  4. Thanks for the comment, Deimos. Personally, I also hardly ever go to the Google home page any longer. Like you, I enter queries directly into the toolbar in Firefox (mostly), so I bypass this for the most part. Maybe if I used it more often, I'd find Instant Search less annoying, but I doubt it :)