Google announced the launch of Google Instant last week, once of those odd instances where they formally launch, and brand, improvements to their search function that many regular users won’t really notice or care about to begin with (see Google Caffeine for another example). Google Instant just means that, while you are typing a search into the engine, the results become “predictive” while you are typing, so the search results change right before your eyes with each successive character you enter.
The news led many many industry-watchers to pronounce SEO dead… yes, again. There is usually a smattering of negative Nellie nabobs who seize upon every update to anything in Search to declare that SEO is not going to be possible anymore, and they are always wrong.
Here’s why: Search optimization doesn’t exist because of the technology that is available to search with, it’s a function of the need for users to find things and the corresponding need for sites to want to be found. Those needs were there before the big G even came along.
As long as there are companies like Google who want to make those connections, there is going to be a way to optimize for it — the changing habits of searchers add to the challenge of SEO instead of undermining it. If your site is relevant to a query, Google wants you to help them help their user find you.
For as much as Google Instant is causing some consternation among SEO-types, I don’t think it will be met with much more than a head-scratching by search users, and many folks are going to find it downright confusing to see the results blinking before their eyes while they type. They may wonder why they are seeing results on the “weather” in their area when they are only two characters into searching for information on the band “Weezer”. In line with my prediction on this, Google has already introduced a link on the right where you can turn off Instant if you find it irritating.
For SEO consultants and their interested clients, Google Instant just means that you have to be ever more conscious of what is going through the minds of your target customers as they are searching. Do you have the right keyword clusters, and are you considering all the various permutations of keywords, (ie “left handed golf clubs” vs “golf clubs for lefties”)?
The rules aren’t much different, other than the fact that now, if you really want to get down to it, you could optimize your site to be ranked for letters, or partly-typed phrases. This means more need for SEO, not less.
As a practical matter, there are some changes that some keyword-list makers will want to adjust for, especially for PPC advertising. It would be worth the effort to add more negative keywords (those that you want to guarantee won’t trigger your ad to be displayed) to weed out possible false matches for partly typed words that are not relevant queries but may match your keyword on the first few characters.
The jury is still out on whether the presence of Instant results means that people trust Google to predict what is in their minds, and will stop typing the full search query when they see what they need. If that happens, then search queries, which have been getting longer for the past few years, will tighten up again, but they are unlikely to get more general in nature.
Google Instant is not Instant Karma… its not gonna get ya, but you might want to turn it off if you don’t want Google to try to read your mind… y’know, more than they already do.