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by Stephen Logan on 9th September 2010
Google updates their search results. Confusion reigns. After much speculation, Google Instant has gone live and the world of search has moved on again overnight. But this is certainly no time to panic.
The search soothsayer is using predictive live updates within search queries; meaning that pages will update as you type based on the most popular auto-complete choices for that word. It has pushed the ‘Search’ button into enforced redundancy (although it remains on page as a reassuring relic) and is designed to speed up the whole process of finding content far easier. But how does this affect you?
Well, for the searcher it provides a way of shortcutting to what you want and possibly finding a little added inspiration on the way. Of course the auto-complete options have been there for some time, but with Google Instant you’ll be able to see the whole SERPs as you type.
Impact on SEO and PPC
For businesses using PPC and SEO the impact should be marginal. The SERPs themselves haven’t changed. The rankings and on page elements such as local search are still in place. You also shouldn’t see a massive rise in impressions on your PPC adverts. An impression is only counted if a user lingers on a page for at least three seconds [see: Google AdWords Help | What is Google Instant?].
Of course the only cause for concern is the fact that potential visitors can be sidetracked and miss your search query as a consequence of Google’s predictions. This shouldn’t be cause for panic, but if you do notice a major drop-off you might want to do more keyword research and perhaps consider re-targeting particular pages.
Potential Long-tail Issues
The biggest effect is likely to be seen with long-tail terms unfortunately. Whilst we’ll be following this up when there is more data available, the likelihood of people now searching for more selective terms is greatly reduced. This could impact newer sites looking to get a foothold in search who don’t have the strength to compete with more established competitors on short tail results.
If you hate the new Google Instant search then you’ll be happy to hear that it is easy to switch off. To the right of the search box there is a small tab that says ‘Instant is on’. Click on this and select ‘off’. This will return you to the traditional Google search.
From an SEO point of view this update will put more of an emphasis on the keyword research stage. Suddenly Google’s predictions are now far more important, so being able to command those that appear more regularly and higher up in the chain could prove more valuable.
Anyway at least we now know what the Caffeine update was all about. Google wanted to speed up search results and evidently this was the ultimate goal. There’s still speculation that AJAX style SERPs with 30 results will soon become the norm, making a first page ranking a good deal easier and possibly helping those who have been negatively impacted by this update.
It’s certainly not perfect yet. As you can see from the example below, even short and seemingly harmless searches can throw up some nonsense results. If I’m looking for the Wayback machine to find a cached website design, I have to first type in ‘Way’. As you can see the first result for this is ‘Wayne Rooney Allegations’. That’s top because it’s the most searched for term, but certainly not relevant to most searches starting with ‘Way’ you wouldn’t have thought.
Anyway, this is just another problem for those charged with the duty of managing reputations online [see: Using SEO to Manage Your Reputation on Google].
As I say though the full potential impact of this update is as yet unknown. Will it change the way people search? Will users universally reject it? Is this the future for Bing too? Plenty of questions, but still no answers.
We will of course be keeping a close eye on our clients’ sites and monitoring the effects of Google Instant. The important thing to remember though is that SERPs remain the same and PPC should not be hugely impacted due to the three second rule. But as with last month’s brand update [see: Big Brands Benefit from Latest Google Update] the advice now remains exactly the same, keep calm and carry on.
So rather than speculating as to what else Google have up their sleeves or what could happen as a consequence, I think it is best to end on the same note as yesterday’s (now slightly more providential than intended) post [see: The Perpetual Mystery of Google Doodles] – let’s see what tomorrow brings.