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Things that will probably change after Google Instant

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Google Instant is a radical change and will definitely modify the way we do online business and how people use search engines to get their content. Google usually makes several minor algorithm changes on weekly and sometimes daily basis, but this time the change was really dramatic.

Why do users need Google Instant?

This improvement was the next logical step after Google Suggest, the auto-completion feature on the search input field. Their explanation was that they needed to increase the speed of searching. The suggested results are probably cached, so it is easier for Google to provide search results for cached terms than the non-cached searches. From the monetary perspective, the new way to display the results will directly drive Google’s revenue. With the addition of Google Instant, the person searching is definitely exposed to many more sponsored listings than they were before, which is likely to give an uptick in ad click-through rate for the sponsored ads. Additionally, Google will need less publishers to serve ads since the ads will be served from the own ad stock; this could end up killing thousands of blogs.

The end of SEO?

Google has put out an official video about how this change will not kill SEO (Search Engine Optimization Industry). The fact is that Google Instant will definitely have a large impact on SEO, because SEO’s most important contribution is to achieve a good positioning of a site basing on link-building. Creative search engine optimizers will have to find other methods to drive traffic. A great link is one that increases the relevance of the page in the eyes of search engines and thus drives traffic via the link. Discovering such links will be a reasonable thing for the SEO industry to adapt to. These changes and paradigm shift put focus on the fact that SEO is also fragile: traffic source diversification could be a more solid approach for your business.

Just a matter of time

The launch of the service has been only a few days ago, so we can’t see its effect in monthly results. Google itself has been modifying the product many times in the last days, and will continue doing this for, weeks and months to tune and improve the service to their needs and profit. So we can say that the Google Instant we are beginning to enjoy and suffer today, is under no circumstance the final version of Google Instant.

Who wins?

Definitely, Google is the short and long-term winner, because with Google Instant they will be able to take a much larger revenue share from its ad portfolio. Users will see more search results and therefore more sponsored search results. That means there will be an increase in the click-through rate of the sponsored search results. There will other winners, those search engines where users don’t want to see instant results and want the old approach. Microsoft will be a winner , since Bing is the only large remaining search engine; maybe Yahoo! receives some more traffic, too. In case the loss turns too gross, Google will probably offer some way to disable the instant results and get the traffic back.

Who loses?

The search engine optimization industry will definitely suffer from the introduction of Google Instant, because violent paradigm shifts require a lot of adaptions on their platform and methods for search engine optimization. Publishers who use AdSense also lose money: the search-time will be increased, since people get more and more results, thus the ad-click-through rate of sponsored searches will decrease, also have smaller-quantity and lower-quality ads to display. As always, people who have stopped innovating will lose: paradigm shifts always end up killing business dinosaurs. People who have one single customer acquisition strategy, e.g. only relying on SEO, will also suffer with this shift. Google results 5 through 10 will definitely see a decrease in click-through, since they will appear below first initial screen block. When users are searching, they see results 1 to 4 change in real-time; although sites who turn up in position 5 to 10 also update in real-time, only users with very high vertical resolutions (e.g. 1200 px) will see those links. I also think people will see more uniform results, since cached searches will be displayed first, thus people will all initially see the same results.

More revenue for Google?

One obvious change is that people searching will be exposed to more search results, and therefore more sponsored search results. This will improve Google’s revenue via increased click-through of the ads. That may be bad for publishers who use Google AdSense as their ad inventory as they will serve up ads with smaller inventory since more of the ad inventory will be clicked on during the searching instead of when the person lands on the site. Plus, in slightly shifting the place where ads are clicked, Google will not have to split the revenue share with the publishers. This should increase Google’s revenue and margins.

What to do now?

SEO specialists:

  • learn that it’s not just about putting links around every possible term.
  • focus on building links that also drive traffic.

Businesses:

  • focus your SEO activities on the terms that Google shows early while entering the search query
  • focus on user retention so that the traffic you do get, comes back to your site.
  • Natural or free traffic from Google is likely to decrease: find other sources of traffic.

Search engine users:

  • Play around with Google Instant, since the heuristic dimension it introduces will potentiate your searches.

Usability issues and bugs

Some suggestions made by Google Instant can be ridiculous, sometimes strange and distracting. It not quite clear how they try to avoid the randomness of the single-letter instant searches, but they strongly base on GeoIP-like location. Other side effect can be the interruption of most spontaneous long search strings, say 6 words or more. Searches using complex syntax will also suffer from this suggestionitis…

Discovery of related topics

Although Google Instant may represent a horrible distraction, people will discover a lot of new things. Maybe Google is basing on Picasso’s “No busco, encuentro” [“I don’t search, I find”] and is trying old new paradigms of human – knowledge interaction, pushing people to come across meaningful items instead of searching for things they had in mind. We are all used to getting things suggested and imposed by the media; why not at Google…?

Long vs. short strings

In the last years, people started using longer strings in their searches. In the early nineties, people used to enter one single word e.g. in Altavista. Therefore it was almost the same thing to use directory-based search engines, like Yahoo! Google also started having a small box to enter the text. In the last time, they also extended their search box, to adapt to longer strings. The instant discovery makes you enter just a few letters. What will be the future of long strings?

Saving or wasting time?

Google sells their Instant feature as a time saver. On the other hand, how much time will you “invest” in other sites you never intended to visit or topic you did not know about? Maybe the discussion is not about saving or wasting, but re-investing and re-organizing the way you interact with the world.

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