Google Instant makes it harder for the small guy to do SEO

By September 22, 2010Google, Search

There is a good post on Techcrunch today about the impact of Google Instant on SEO.  SEO company RankAbove has done some research and from the two weeks of data available it seems that one of the big changes is reduced traffic to long-tail keywords, here’s why:

Because Google Instant focuses the user’s attention on more popular search phrases, by suggesting them and showing their results as the user types, fewer users will use longer tail, less popular phrases. Searchers typing a longer, more obscure variation of a keyword are unlikely to complete it before they see the results—automatically loaded onto the SERP [search engine results page] —they were looking for.

A company selling iPod Car Adapters, but ranking for a lesser-used phrase, like “iPod Car Cables,” is unlikely to get much traffic from that phrase, as a searcher using Instant would almost never get to that search before seeing relevant results. For a site counting on unpopular, “forgotten” long-tail phrases like that, their traffic will dwindle.

I think startups are likely to be disproportionately hit by this development, losing out at the margin to companies that have the scale and resources to optimise for the most popular queries.

The other change of note is that less people are clicking through to the second page of results, which will similarly lend advantage to companies that have the muscle to get onto the first page.

Caveat: This analysis is based on just two weeks of data and the results might change as volumes increase and people get through their periods of learning to use Google Instant and settle down to a consistent pattern of behaviour.  The other thing is that Google Instant doesn’t work if you search directly from the nav bar or toolbar, so any changes wrought will only apply to a percentage of users.

Update: In the comments Benoit Cundy pointed me to this chart which shows that very little traffic went to the second page of results anyway.


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  • Arnold Roa

    i search more trought the browser field, also companies like Conduit make a lot of money cause a lot of people search trough a toolbar..

    but.. what are the numbers? i dont know!

  • I’ve been wondering the same thing. So much of SEO is based on long tail keywords. Is Google using this to push traffic towards paying (AdSense/AdWords) customers?

  • And I thought Google’s only motivation was to improve the user experience….

  • And I thought Google’s only aim was to improve the user experience…

  • I don’t necessarily agree with your analysis. But let’s wait for more data. And in any case, the percentage of people having a look at the second page of results is already very limited:

  • That is interesting data. Thanks for the pointer. I will update my blog post.

  • Not sure I entirely agree with this. It may be true that if you’re casually surfing, you may be persuaded by Google’s suggestions, but at what point do you get overwhelmed by the millions of pages returned that don’t provide what you are looking for, start to ignore any suggestions, and go with what you believe is the best search term.

    I agree only time will tell though.

  • Never underestimate the attractiveness of an easy option…

  • Pingback: Google Instant y el Apocalipsis SEO « RDi Press()

  • People haven’t been seeing the same results for years – personalized search ring a bell? This in no way equals the death of SEO, it just has the potential to add another level.
    If you’re an SEO that purely focuses on rankings then you’re not doing your job properly.

  • This is the great blog, I’m reading them for a while, thanks for the new posts!

  • I agree .. if you are doing seo you should focus on relevant traffic and creating brand value