Google Instant And SEO: Change is Hard

Published September 17, 2010 11:34 am by LoSasso
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Google launched their new Instant Search on September 8 and internet marketers everywhere collectively raised one giant eyebrow,

“Is SEO Dead?”

As is often the case, the answer to this internet marketing question is relative, depending largely on how you or your company defines search engine optimization (SEO).  If your search team focuses exclusively on gaming the search engines to achieve rankings…watch out.  Search engines are constantly working towards eliminating this type of SEO and Google Instant is a large step in that direction.Google Instant

On the other hand, SEO is alive and well if your SEO team works hard on relevant keyword lists, curating great content, building strong inbound links, and finding qualified traffic.  For years, these types of activities have won results and erased the dubious reputation hanging over the SEO industry. SEOmoz’s latest research on Latent Dirichlet Allocation is one example of the great work achieved inside the SEO industry. But a few stragglers have remained and for those, Google Instant is a loud wake-up call: SPAMMY SEO IS DEAD. Let’s look at some ways for hard working SEOs to continue their craft amidst the Google Instant hoopla.

SEO’s Vital Signs

First and foremost, Google Instant triggered no massive changes to Google’s ranking algorithm. Still, some very earnest SEO practitioners have raised important questions about the launch this feature. Google Instant suggests topics and phrases in real-time, slightly altering the behavior of most searches, but that’s hardly reason to sound SEO’s death knell.  Rather, it’s time to reevaluate your online marketing practices with a strong focus on accountability.

Points of Contention: Viva SEO!

In response to several “SEO is Dead” proclamations, Search Engine Land’s Danny Sullivan explained: “SEO is the activity of ensuring you are well listed in any search results that are offered to a user for free”.   In that sense, SEO will be around for a long time, but the industry must continue to evolve as search engines progress.  Let’s look at some of the ways Google Instant will change SEO:

Emphasis on Local

Within hours of Instant’s launch, hundreds of screen shots (like the one below) were uploaded showing how organic listings are obsolete when it comes to geographical queries. Instant suggestions move the results further down the user’s screen, pushing organic listings “below the fold”, an area web users rarely scroll to. Therefore, the optimization of local listings must become a priority for SEOs, if it isn’t already. Local optimization includes claiming your business listing on Google Places, and building links from local directories like your Chamber of Commerce or local wiki’s.
Chicago Cupcakes

Traffic Fluctuations

Even Google acknowledged that Instant will most likely change the distribution of traffic of organic keywords. For example, if the phrase “Cupcake store” brought 1,000 search visitors to your site in August, your September numbers may vary more than you’re used to. As the months go on, it’s important to track these changes and learn how visitors are finding your site.  These analytics numbers may uproot the keyword research conducted months ago, but that’s the life of an SEO, right? Each optimization strategy must be supported by actionable data.

End of Long Tail?

Long tail keywords are the phrases and search queries that generate very specific results for users. Long tail strategy is very important for SEO results.  The importance of long tail cannot be overlooked even in the era of Instant. Highly motivated searchers entering long tail phrases like “Cupcake stores organic frosting are unlikely to hit Enter after only typing “Cupcake store”.

Additionally, in the minutes after Instant was announced, Marissa Mayer, Google VP of Search Products explained how the new feature may actually increase the relevancy of long tail. In an interview with Evelyn Rusli of Tech Crunch, Mayer described how Instant led her to explore additional search suggestions, making the search process more of a learning process than ever before. Even if we factor in Mayer’s objective perspective, SEOs must keep the adventuresome searcher in mind, optimizing for both long and short tail searches.

Keyword Research

It’s time to add usability tests to your keyword research. With search behavior so varied now, it’s important to see what your potential customers will see when they search. Start by typing your key phrases and long tail terms into Google’s search box. What suggestions are made? When does your targeted term finally come up? Does another term come up first? Asking these sorts of questions can lead to low hanging fruit for your clients.

Google Loves SEO

Without a strong SEO community encouraging content creation, smart meta data and other best practices, Google would have some trouble finding the best websites to answer search queries. Likewise, what would the SEO community be without search engines like Google? This symbiotic relationship is one reason SEO is not dead at the hands of Google Instant.  As Mayer articulated in the Tech Crunch interview, optimized sites will continue to rank well. It is clear that Google Instant will change some of the fundamentals of SEO, but that’s exciting! Genuine, hard work will pay off now more than ever.