Google Instant, unveiled Wednesday, represents a major breakthrough how search engines operate. This goes beyond the incremental innovations trickling out of Bing or the kind of fascinating features offered by Blekko (currently in beta).
Will people like Instant? We'll see. For some, the experience may be useful. For others, it can seem overwhelming, with a lot of motion on their screens and information to process quickly.
Either way, I expect Google Instant will change the kinds of searches people make. Here's a few of my gut reactions and initial thoughts, from the perspective of a search marketer. Time and data may tell a different story:
People will take up Google on its suggestions more than ever.
Granted, Google has been offering search suggestions since 2008. However, Instant search makes those suggestions more prominent. Plus, using the suggestions went from being easy to being super hyper easy.
The Takeaway: Be sure to enter your industry keywords into Google, examine the suggestions, and consider optimizing for those terms. Perhaps you've optimized your website for "garage doors" and "garage door repair," but didn't think to include the "garage door sales" anywhere. Do so.
People more than ever will see and explore what's being said about you, your products, and your company.
Enter a famous person's name or a historical event, and you may be intrigued by the suggestions, leading you on tangents you just didn't expect. This is similar to the way that Wikipedia can lead you on a trail of related topics through its links, leaving you reading about ancient Roman helmet design when you were originally looking up Cianti. Entering "michelle obama" into Google, they suggest appending "spain," "in spain," and "vacation," drawing attention to the First Lady's recent Spanish vacation (and headlines that suggest controversy).
The Takeaway: If your company has received many online negative reviews or other damaging publicity, this can be made apparent as soon as people enter your company's name. For one search, I saw Google suggested "scam" after a company's name. (I wonder how much revenue this will cost that company?) This is a new factor in online reputation management.
That top 5 ranking for "cincinnati plumber" may be out of sight.
I suspect the new interface will have a large impact on local service companies that utilize SEO to draw new business. More specifically, the "instant" box pushes organic results even further down the screen than they already are. Between the new Instant "box" (whatever it's called), PPC ads, and the Map listings, many searchers simply won't see any organic results unless they scroll down. (Will they?)
The Takeaway: If your local service company is not already targeting maps results, consider learning Local SEO ranking factors now or demanding it from your seach engine marketing provider.
SEO is dead and we can all pack our bags and move on. Game over, right?
Finally, I wanted to weight in on the ages-old "SEO is dead" aphorism that has been resurrected once again. As the logic goes, instant search makes SEO "irrelevant." Just as Google's search personalization supposedly "killed" SEO a year ago, and just as other updates to the Google ranking algorithm supposedly made SEO irrelevant.
One of the main objectives in SEO is understanding search engines not as a website owner seeking clicks would like them to be, but as they really are. They've always been increasing in sophistication, and SEO providers in turn have always been experimenting with methods to best leverage them for results. This won't change. Google is still run by software, and that software still uses objective (albeit complex) criteria to produce results. As long as search engines remain one of the most important discovery channels for shoppers, it will always be wise to understand how your website can be modified or promoted to achieve search engine traffic.
Still don't believe me? Here's the verdict straight from the mouth of one of the most prominent Googlers :