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Google InstantIt’s been a week now since Google Instant hit the news desks of IT blogs everywhere.

I’ve started getting a few questions from clients and friends about it, so I thought I’d put together a simple collection of recommended links, and finish off with some of my thoughts. There’s been tons of discussion of course, but for a good summary of the main points, the following 4 or 5 posts will serve you well:

SEObookHow Google Instant Changes the SEO Landscape

Aaron Wall has a good overview of the announcement and summary of the main effects (and if you are an SEObook member a very detailed analysis inside) as well as some interesting thoughts in the comments. Primarily it seems as though the changes are profit motivated, wrapped up in a ‘it’s faster and saves time’ ribbon.

Search Engine LandGoogle Instant: The Complete User’s Guide

Matt McGee provides a good analysis of the user experience, covering what kinds of searches work well and which don’t, as well as how it works (it’s localised and personalised) and how to disable it.

John Ellis covers probably the main concern of SEOs: that Google Instant will reduce the number of long tail searches (ie searches with 4 or more keywords). His post – Will Google Instant Kill the Long Tail? is pretty much on the money as far as I’m concerned.

Danny Sullivan has a great post – SEO is here to stay, It will never die – where he answers the inevitable ‘does this mean SEO is irrelevant now’ questions.  Answer, no. Danny also puts Google Instant through the George Carlin ‘seven words’ test in this post.

PPCblogHow AdWords Counts Ad Impressions with Google Instant

Geordie Carswell clarifies how impressions are counted. Initially some advertisers were worried that their impression counts would be based on the instant search keystrokes. But as per the Google AdWords help, impressions are only counted when a user clicks, presses enter, selects a predicted query or results are displayed for 3+ seconds.

That 3 second rule… BTW here’s a possible gotcha – type a keyword term and hold the Enter key for 3 seconds. When you release you’ll be taken auto-magically to the first result (this result will be the first paid result if some are listed, otherwise the first organic result). Yep – in a competitive field, someone might be getting a bunch of unexpected clicks if they are in the first ad position. This could be good and bad. Good in terms of raising your CTR, bad in terms of sending you possibly inappropriate clicks. [Hat tip to the SEOBook forums (where I’m a member) for first discussing this issue.]

Matt CuttsThoughts on Google Instant

Finally, Matt Cutts finishes with a nice Q+A style post where he outlines why SEO is still important Smile in spite of what some people trot out. Summary: SEO is very important, and gets more important every time Google puts out a major change (not to mention the hundreds of minor changes they release every year).

SEOmoz – strangely, no post from Rand on the Google Instant release…

Here’s the obligatory Introducing Google Instant video, complete with ‘zetabyte barrier’ and ‘magic’ references as well as footage of people being astounded by how useful Google Instant is – ‘oh look at that… I like that’.

To be fair, Google Instant is pretty cool. The impressive part is how they’ve managed to scale this out. As many have pointed out, the technology itself is not that innovative – Long Zheng had a similar concept he dubbed The Real Live Search (based on the Bing APIs) working over a year ago. And Yahoo had their own Instant Search plans as far back as 2005.

Instead what is impressive with Google Instant is how they are providing the results plus advertising so quickly. It’s a massive undertaking.

My experiences so far

Personally, as a user, I quite like the experience.

But putting my SEO and AdWords hat on, what are the effects?

It’s only early days so it’s not yet clear how big an impact this is going to have on SEO and PPC. In the private forums I’m a member of, the jury is still out, with people having varied experiences. With that caveat, I thought I’d share some of my own observations based on my own sites, and some of my clients’ sites.

The summary (thankfully) appears to be that there’s only minimal changes on both organic and paid fronts:

Organic

After a week I’m relived that our revenue producing sites have experienced little impact. Our organizing site for example has had a small decrease in organic traffic, mostly in long tail terms (which we rank really well for). This is understandable given that Google Instant is encouraging shorter keyword phrases. Users are getting results immediately – they get distracted and don’t bother finishing the longer phrase they might have otherwise entered (as discussed earlier).

The result of this is that I’ll probably start focussing on optimising for some of the shorter terms again – something I haven’t put a high priority on lately – as shorter terms in our niches tend to have lower buyer intent.

On client sites that have focussed on shorter terms there has been a slight rise in traffic. This is pleasing but isn’t significant enough to say is definitely Google Instant having an impact – it may just be seasonal fluctuations at play. It’ll take a few months to see whether the trends really pan out.

Paid

On the other side of the page (ie the paid results via AdWords) we’ve seem an increase in both impressions and clicks. Again this is understandable because in our AdWords campaigns we tend to be top heavy in the shorter terms. Our average CPC is also slightly up.  As our campaigns mature the terms head more to longer tail but when I’m experimenting and looking for new terms to target the terms are usually shorter (and broad match even!). Google Instant means I’ll probably be keeping short terms in campaigns longer…

I don’t run any local campaigns on my own sites, but I do manage them for clients – and this has been one area of noticeable improvement. The click through rate on location based ad groups started increasing on 12 September (a few days after Google Instant was released) – I assume as it started rolling out by default to Australian users. I’ve had specific location keywords jumping from less than 1% CTR to up to 20% in some cases. CPCs are slightly down also, so this is a great result… but I suspect this window of opportunity won’t last long as most PPC managers cotton on to it.

Summary

Overall then, the Google Instant changes haven’t had a major negative effect on my SEO or PPC efforts, and there’s even some positive opportunity in the local side of things. So, Google Instant will affect my approach in some areas going forward.

But What About Bing?

Does Google Instant mean I should focus more on Bing?

This shouldn’t really change your attitude to Bing. Because basically, if you haven’t been targeting Bing yet, then you definitely should be! But not because of Google Instant. Instead you should be targeting Bing because it’s now heading to the number 2 spot, and commands close to a quarter of all US searches.

I get asked all the time how to target Bing over Google. It’s not a simple question to answer of course, but when forced I usually mention that Bing tends to favour fresh links – so if you’ve got a blog that’s regularly updated and getting freshly linked to, that’s a nice advantage to have (over a static web site that has an aging link graph). Just sayin’.

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