How Google Instant Changes the SEO Landscape

Google Instant launched. It is a new always-on search experience where Google tries to complete your keyword search by predicting what keyword you are searching for. As you type more letters the search results change.

Short intro here:

Long view here:

Not seeing it yet? You can probably turn it on here (though in some countries you may also need to be logged into a Google account). In time Google intends to make the is a default feature turned on for almost everyone (other than those with slow ISPs and older web browsers). And if you don't like it, the feature is easy to turn off at the right of the search box, but to turn it off it uses a cookie. If you clear cookies the feature turns right back on.

Here is an image using Google's browser size tool, showing that when Google includes 4 AdWords ads only 50% of web browsers get to see the full 2nd organic listing, while only 20% get to see the full 4th organic listing.

Its implications on SEO are easy to understate. However, they can also be overstated: I already saw one public relations hack stating that it "makes SEO irrelevant."

Nothing could be further from the truth. If anything, Google instant only increases the value of a well thought out SEO strategy. Why? Well...

  • it consolidates search volume into a smaller basket of keywords
  • it further promotes the localization of results
  • it makes it easier to change between queries, so its easier to type one more letter than scroll down the page
  • it further pollutes AdWords impression testing as a great source of data

Lets dig into these, shall we?

Published: September 9, 2010 by Aaron Wall in google


September 9, 2010 - 12:41am

Google’s claim for this enhancement is that it radically improves the speed of search whilst not losing the relevance of the results. While their claim on speed is undeniable, I do disagree on the relevance factor, for Google has omitted one very important aspect of this search “enhancement” – its business purpose. The prevalence of sponsored links in the results is blatant and absolutely shameless. I wrote a blog post on this at - curious to hear your thoughts.

September 9, 2010 - 1:27am

As an end user ..

the "instant" results are a little jarring to look at, as the screen flips as I type more characters. I'm not really sure this is all that appealing to a number of users, but I'm sure this will even out over time.

Another thing I don't really like is the potential extra bandwidth this will cause me. With my ISP (Rogers) we just got cut back on our bandwidth lately, and now I have google sending me data that I didn't ask for. (If I'm looking for Big Red Balls .. I don't want results for "Big" and "Big Red" before I finish the word. Over time if Google is used a lot then this could become an issue.

As an Internet Marketer / SEO Guy ...

Unlike some other posts about this killing SEO, I agree with Aaron. To say SEO is dead is just plain stupid. SEO is still what powers search and will most likely always power it in someway. (And don't forgot, "social search" can be consider SEO as well)

What I see instant search doing is actually killing the short tale search queries. People won't search for "Cars" or "loans" as single word queries anymore. Now they will be presented with results immediately.

I view this almost as a bridging of the google keyword tool and search itself. Relevancy will still always matter no matter what, but now instead of the "1 term" and "6+ term words", we are going to see a strong increase in the "2-5 term" searches, with the most hitting the 3-4 word zone.

And guess what, this is where the money has pretty much always been for SEO.

September 9, 2010 - 8:57am

It seems that Rank Checker doesn't like new Google. It showed me "-" for every keyword, while manual searching proved that for every query target url is in top 200. When could we expect upgraded version?

September 9, 2010 - 10:52am

Possibly not the best place to comment on this but my Rank Checker has gone haywire today too.

September 9, 2010 - 9:07am

I agree. This is one of the best things ever to happen to SEO. It makes SEO much more important and relevant.

September 9, 2010 - 10:02pm

I'm finding Google's SERPs to be so cluttered now. With Instant, it's really made it so completely messy. There's too many competing areas for my attention. When I search I want a clean page with a list of results - end of story. I don't necessarily care for the top 2 or 3 results - I want to see 10 results, maybe go to page 2 and make up my mind. This is the discerning way to search.

I know I can still do that, but what Instant is doing is making people only look at the top 1 or 2 results as they are the only ones above the fold, and if you don't like them, you just select another query and instantly you see new results. Scrolling down will be too much hassle. It's dumbing down search which means only those who are 1 or 2 in the SERPs will score big and everyone else will see traffic drops.
September 10, 2010 - 9:33am

I have been reading here and there about this new release but not many have focused on the implication of the new user interaction on search behaviour and optimisation. In a post on my blog I have put down some thoughts which I summarise here:
# One think seems clear to me. This new interaction will favour typing over scrolling or changing page
# It will be much easier for people to refine their search criteria by typing more words and looking at the results than scrolling and changina page
# The screen size will determine how many results will see the user attention because they will be within the visual reach without scrolling
# Query suggestions will likely become more important. Users will get used to briefly scroll in this dropdown to have a look to which results are displayed
# Older computers and smaller screens will be negatively affected. I tried Google Instant Search on a 12″ laptop and on my 8 years old laptop, in both cases I definitively do not see an improvement to the user experience in these cases

You can read the rest of the post here: (I then changed the title to "Google instant search: Impact of new User Interaction on SEO and PPC" to avoid this potential excess of alarmism)

September 11, 2010 - 2:29am

Older computers and smaller screens will be negatively affected. I tried Google Instant Search on a 12″ laptop and on my 8 years old laptop, in both cases I definitively do not see an improvement to the user experience in these cases

Not an accident IMHO ... those with smaller screens and older computers are easier to monetize...and they wanted to exploit that as best they could.

September 10, 2010 - 3:13pm

I agree with vperr in that people will scroll less, and so effectively Google's search engine has become pretty much a Google Adwords delivery engine (with organic results hidden below the fold or near as).

What I don't understand is Google on the one hand saying that queries are getting longer, and 20% of queries haven't been made before. And on the other, they seem to be fighting this with your query being guessed for you, and the distraction of having to see about 10 pages worth of results before you finish you 6-8 word query. Surely now we will see less unique queries.

Another thing is Google's obsession with "speed". What about accuracy? Without accuracy there's no speed. Delivering results to users who will no longer scroll is going to mean less accurate results.

September 11, 2010 - 2:28am

They wanted to kill off that keyword diversity. That was precisely the goal. It makes it far easier for them to monetize search

  • fewer search queries with more search volume each = higher click prices
  • faster search = more searches = more ad clicks
  • less non-AdWords above the fold = more ad clicks
  • demoting the idea of scrolling = more ad clicks
September 10, 2010 - 4:26pm

When I went to check this out, I immediately typed the querry into the Google toolbar. Then I realized that many people do at least their first querry this way. There is no instant for this. Obviously then, there will not be a total "instant" effect.

September 11, 2010 - 2:25am

Yup. This feature will be hard to bake into browsers that are not owned by Google, particularly since:

  • Google now runs a browser
  • pushing too aggressively into integration might lead to some anti-trust issues (and if they don't lead to anti-trust issues, then they allow Microsoft to do the same thing. and that would suck pretty bad for Google!)
September 10, 2010 - 10:29pm

It's clear that we depend on search to find information but when it's obvious that we've exhausted the ability for search engines to keep up with how our brains crave results, they realized that it must be made better to remain the best.

I wrote a post on how it does not kill SEO and the only thing that can kill SEO is great content and structure which would involve removing the garbage - sites like Mahalo and others that scrape and generate content to fill a need that should be filled by better and in a more thought provoking manner.

We're entering a strange place where the availability of information is needed almost as soon as it can be thought of, which begs the question are we even thinking anymore if we've resorted to search engines for what is available.

September 11, 2010 - 2:23am

This update was primarily driven by monetization IMHO... not by trying to make things the best they can be. Far too many (formerly) popular informational 2-word keywords are being defaulted to 3-word transactional searches. And the lack of ability to undo the autocomplete when it screws up (without turning off the feature as a whole) indicates a lack of thought went into the user experience, IMHO.

Primarily this update was about trying to axe off the long tail and corral searchers into a set vocabulary which is more limited and easier to monetize at a higher CPM.

On recent conference calls Google highlighted how search was sorta capped out. Well this just enabled another round of short-term growth just in time to juice this quarter & Q4. Long-term I am less certain on the strategy.

September 12, 2010 - 1:11am

Long tail hurts Googles bottom line in the short term, which in the venture capital world all that matters is the next couple years.

Revenue doesn't come from Google's power users right now, but rather than keep everyone from becoming power users using instant for short term gains this is going to hurt them tremendously in the long run.

Always build for the power user.

In fact, this is why we need to organize against this BS, SEO is about earning a position and doing so with great content.

Google pushing organic down needs to be brought out in the open and explained before they just become another big media company getting paid off to show what they're paid to show - well could be a bit too late.

September 11, 2010 - 11:43am

People are creatures of habit. Google is making sweeping changes. I have never seen the general public accept these type of changes. It will be interesting to see what happens. Could it be that this practice of telling people what is good for them will backfire? Time will tell.

Kyle Suss
September 14, 2010 - 9:50pm

People are creatures of habit. I have never seen the general public accept these type of changes.

Unfortunately we have no choice but to accept this one in my opinion. Google clearly has a plan & a reason for adopting Google Instant and we will learn to adapt to these changes. Remember when Facebook added the news feed? Everyone hated it but now it is so important to Facebook's usability.

Google is always blazing the trail for others to follow and I wouldn't be surprised if the people at Bing are kicking themselves for not pursuing this technology further in the past since they basically have to now.

September 15, 2010 - 9:20am

As publishers we can't force immediate change onto Google (like they try to force onto the market), but as searchers we have a choice of where to search and which ads to click.

We can also chose to use directories and other forms of navigation for some of our informational needs.

September 11, 2010 - 8:49pm

Primarily this update was about trying to axe off the long tail and corral searchers into a set vocabulary which is more limited and easier to monetize at a higher CPM.

This nails it. How many long tail queries do you see without ANY Google Adwords? Many. Compare that to short queries, stuffed full of Adwords with high CPC.

It is a short-term "gee whiz look at us!" move that will come to back to bite them. I no longer see Google's search pages as clean (as I used to). It's all cluttered now, due to their dependence on ad money.

September 12, 2010 - 4:23pm

It's taken me almost 4 years, but during the last couple of days I finally realized that www google com is absolutely nothing but a website just like any other website out there trying to monetize their website's traffic through relevant ads, except that they get the vast majority of their traffic from type-in traffic, not from the search engines (great, I got to find a way to do the same thing). And their "quality content" are their search results...thanks for sort of driving that point home again and again, or I might still not see it :D

September 13, 2010 - 8:27am

Brand & RSS subscribers & paid subscriptions = type-in style traffic.

In terms of quality content, I disagree that the search results are that. Their search results are the backfill content that is easy to monetize. Their "quality content" is the stuff that creates lock-in: free office utilities, free analytics tools, and so on.

September 13, 2010 - 11:31pm

Looks like affiliates are already using instant

Google Instant Scraper

September 15, 2010 - 6:44am


Maybe I should have said their SERPs are their free content that attracts the vast majority of their traffic (that they monetize then) to the website.

Similar to your blog posts here on SEObook (or the guests posts or those of Peter) - they're what keep the traffic coming to your blog, I assume...and thus an analogy to google's SERPs on their www google com website.

if the quality of their SERPs goes down, they lose market share...if it goes up they win market share...(technically, I know its a bit more complicated in reality)...thus their SERPs are basically there to attract free traffic to the "website".

I think I need to think about the stuff that creates lock-in, that you just mentioned...I never really thought about that stuff toom uch to be honest!

September 21, 2010 - 4:53am

This has nothing to do with the blog post, right here..but I can't help but mention it:

Just wondered what the heck is up with the searchguild-domain (seems like I still have to wait for the "regular poster", who probably never was on searchguild to re-launch the community in 2009!LOL), and stumbled upon this:

Congrats on making it work that well Aaron ;-)

September 21, 2010 - 7:44pm

We do our best :)

dee oneal
September 24, 2010 - 9:56am

There might be some changes in google but I think it is still depends on the site owner if he wanna go far or just stay on his current position. Since competition is everywhere you really have to compete so extensive promotion should be done regularly. It might be unfair to us when they made some changes but they are also having business.

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