Is Google Instant an SEO Train Wreck?

Our host today is Suzanne Vara. If you're interested in getting in front of the readers of Site Sketch 101, check out our guest posting invitation here.

Google Instant … the latest and greatest in search that promises to lower your search time while providing predicted queries with instant search results.In other words, Google just became psychic.

Innovative, intriguing and useful. As we yearn for more time in our day and when we find ourselves searching for something, we want it quickly but without sacrificing time for quality. Google Instant is, on the surface, all the answer to this but it is also raising some eyebrows once you really get into the weeds for different search terms.

  • Will my rankings remain the same?
  • Will searchers confide in the predicted queries and results and not query further, scroll further down the page or even to page 2 to find me?
  • Did they ever though?

Google Instant and Its Impact on Rankings

The impact upon rankings thus far seem to be an SEO train wreck as previously searches were user dictated but now Google suggests or dictates them in the way they predict what you are searching for. With each letter of your query that you type, not only does the query prediction change, the results change.

Optimizing your site or blog in the simplest form was to  match user generated queries. Many were trying to optimize for the same terms but yet said a bit differently or even misspelled and that was what pushed the rankings, backlinks, queries, etc.

Google Instant is changing that as now they are prompting users with search queries and results that are now making us transform our way of thinking and ignore the previous search data that we used to figure out how Google will let us be found.

This is very powerful from an SEO standpoint as how can we guess what Google will be suggesting to users that will allow us to be found?

Is the Death of ‘Long Tail Search Phrases’ Imminent?

For many, the competition for popular keywords is out of reach and we know that users don’t search one word and expect exact results. No, this one word was broad and yielded broad results that sometimes did prompt a new search query as it narrowed it down to a specific focus for the user. This was especially popular with search queries such as “how do I…” or “what is the best way to…”

Now with Google Instant, as we are typing each letter we are being prompted with a query and search results. The query for how do I, promoted “tie a tie;”  and, while, for the company that optimized for that, they are singing the praises of Google Instant but that is so far from my search query (as I already know how to tie a tie), I was searching for “how do optimize for Google Instant.”

I was actually a bit distracted with the results. With each letter that I typed, I felt like I was in a conversation where I was unable to finish a question without someone chiming in with an answer … that somewhat answers our question. For the user this may or may not be satisfying but for the companies whom where ranking organically the long tail, they are going to feel the pinch.

Google Instant and Its Impact On Local Search

Local Search was what has enticed small businesses to come aboard with optimizing their site.  They could claim their location on Google Places and that would allow them to gain awareness without optimizing the city location. So far that has worked well but now Google Instant seems to be changing that.

It is, in many circumstances providing search results that are not consistent with the location of the searcher. I performed numerous searches for which I was seeking local only results. On Tuesday, my search results for certain terms only provided local companies (minus the paid national companies) but on Wednesday with the launch of Google Instant, suddenly national companies who may or may not have a presence in my hometown of Las Vegas were ranking above the locals.

Interestingly enough, Google Instant prompted the city location as a query prediction. This is a bit alarming as do we need to go back to searching with a location? I thought that Google knew where we were. Hmh.

Google Instant appears to be an SEO train wreck as each letter yields different results for each user. Unless the users are typing the same sequence of letters, the search results will be different.

The same can be said for Google Classic as each user was creating a different query, however, we know a little bit more as through our stats, we analyzed the search queries users entered to find us. Armed with this information, we have to be a bit on the edge of our seats as Google Instant is enticing the user to pick from their suggestions.  Hey, it is Google. They must know what I am thinking. Rather than allowing users to tell Google what they’re thinking. This may be a situation where faster is not always better.

What has your experience been with Google Instant? Is it too early to tell the impact upon your rankings and your SEO strategies?

Note from Nicholas Cardot: Here’s a great article expressing an opposing view. Danny Sullivan believes that SEO is here to stay…It will never die.

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36 Vibrant Comments

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  1. September 9, 2010

    Mayowa said:

    This took me by complete surprise to be honest. I hadn’t considered the impact of the insant search on SEO.

    Well done.

    I think the biggest concern is the long tail. A lot of bloggers depend on those keywords and if they are being merged into the more popular variants, we’re in trouble.

    I’m not sure how it affects larger long tail dependent companies like Netflix and Amazon just yet.

    Thank you for the heads up and the analyis.

    • September 9, 2010

      Suzanne Vara said:


      I agree as we do as bloggers rely upon the long tails to get some rankings and authority. What is even more interesting is that blogs were ranking higher than static web pages as we were able to match search queries but now how can we match a query that is different with each letter?

      This could be a bit of a fad where people follow the predicted and are more intrigued but will find that they end up ignoring it and type their entire search query as they once did.

      It is definitely something to keep an eye on and shows that paying careful attention to your rankings is a priority.

  2. September 9, 2010

    Samuel said:

    Good information Suzanne,
    It should be released for the local searches too. In it doesn´t work, so if i go to in english the results are different.
    The changes are oportunities too. We must find ways to use it right.

    • September 9, 2010

      Suzanne Vara said:


      It is a bit haphazard for local searches. It does change the SEO game a bit and we will need to be a bit more creative as I see it pushing paid a bit more. Impressions will be increasing with the 3 second rule (where if the result is up for 3 seconds, it is an impression count) which will be great numbers for Google as well as folks paying for the term.

      It is new so with new we have to be aware of what is going on and how we are able to gauge where our keywords and rankings fit in.

  3. September 9, 2010

    Randy Pickard said:

    Based on a review of visitor traffic and conversions yesterday on a number of sites, Day 1 of Google Instant was a non event. Time will tell if it is a game changer, particulurly as searchers become accustomed to this amazing new technology

    • September 9, 2010

      Suzanne Vara said:


      Interesting. I felt some negative results with a search term that was an 11 and went to a 20 with Google Instant. It could change (I hope) as it was holding steady at 11.

      The full impact is yet to be see as it is so new. It could just be that people ignore it and search as they once did or it could be that people use it extensively and paid is the way to go.

      • September 9, 2010

        Randy Pickard said:


        I have not dug in and done a granular review at the keyword level yet, as you have done. Guess I better follow your example and start digging into the data.

  4. September 9, 2010

    Dan Fonseca said:

    Hmm, these are all interesting ideas and I hope it doesn’t change the balance of things too radically. What I DO know is with every change of technology there are winners and loser. It is up to us to be prepared for that! On a simpler note, it sure looks cool!

  5. September 9, 2010

    Kidgas said:

    I agree that it felt like I was being interrupted with every letter I was typing. It was incredibly annoying and may cause me to use Yahoo or Bing more for my searching.

    All in all, non-event is an apt description, and Google Instant will likely not be a game changer.

    • September 9, 2010

      Suzanne Vara said:

      Some may turn to bing or yahoo or just turn off google instant all together.

      Bing results are not always providing the info that is needed but with more people using it, it just might perform a whole lot better.

      Interesting thought.

  6. September 9, 2010

    Nicholas Cardot said:

    Although you argue that this might be a huge setback for those users who are going after long-tailed keywords, couldn’t that, in fact, be a huge plus for the user? Now instead of having to type out an entire string of material trying to figure out what they’re searching for, they can see what others are looking for with similar queries. Instead of finding subpar results from webmasters who aren’t up to par with to compete for high profile search phrases, they will now be directed toward those who really are relevant?

    Just a thought. I’d love to hear your opinion.

    • September 9, 2010

      Suzanne Vara said:


      Yes for hte user the convenience of not having to type out an entire string is helpful but if they are not getting the results that they once did and end up refining their search 2-3x then it is no great anymore.

      The long tail is important to get rankings and some authority. They are not super backlinkers but they do their job of getting found. It is about getting the information to the users which helps the companies.

      I am not sure how this will really pan out but from what I have seen rankings do me more now than they have before and people should think about it from Google and Bing; considering all Yahoo rankings were lost.

  7. September 9, 2010

    Suzanne Vara said:


    I agree with being at the top of the page is more important than ever but for some the long tail was what got them there and with Google in essence telling people what they are looking for as a guide so to say, some companies will lose out as they have to go in and rework. It is not deadly but considering as I said above that people already lost on Yahoo and are still trying to gain some traction on Bing (with only 25% of the market share, it is not a big player) it opens the doors for some but closes for others.

    What can happen is this could open new doors in social media as people need to be found and social does create that awareness and drives traffic directly to your site from your profile. Interesting to see if this does pan out.

    Local search – it could just be that it was so new yesterday afternoon but for those that did put the time and effort into it and now they are getting a mixed bag, it is concerning.

  8. September 9, 2010

    Mandy June said:

    I’m not really liking Google Instant. With the original google, it already provided us with some suggestions and then now they just went overboard. I liked how they used to allow us to click the “Search” and then tadah! We get our results. But now its like…instant gratification where I don’t want it.

    • September 10, 2010

      Suzanne Vara said:


      Thank you for sharing your thoughts to the dislike. I am distracted by it. I like that the results come before I click search, but I do not like the predicted. I also do not like that most results are under the fold.

      I am half liking it I guess.

  9. September 9, 2010

    Jazz Salinger said:

    Hi Suzanne,

    I’m still getting used to it as it feels like I’m being interrupted as I type my query.

    I have to keep checking to see if Google has worked out what I want yet.

    Is this a case of Google continuing to personalize our search habits? Will Google build a profile of what I search for and give me results based on my previous searches?

    I think it’s going to be very interesting to see how Google Instant pans out. Thanks for a great article.

    • September 9, 2010

      Suzanne Vara said:

      I feel the same way. I thought that it would be based upon search history but when I was searching many things yesterday, ones I have previously searched, it was not pulling that information. Could be as it was so new but we know that they have my search history as I am always logged in to my account.

      The more I use it, the more time it is taking me to search. I do pay attention to what result are popping up with each letter that I type so it is slowing me down.

  10. September 9, 2010

    Dennis Edell | Direct Sales Marketing said:

    Searchers must have a lot of time on their hands for this to make any impact at all…..checking results after each letter/word they type.


  11. September 9, 2010

    Steph said:

    I haven’t checked out the new update to Google’s search engine. However, I am not concerned about anything. In the long run, someone will always figure out how to best apply SEO for good traffic and as long as we stay involved in what’s happening, we’ll be okay.

    • September 10, 2010

      Suzanne Vara said:


      I appreciate your optimism but SEO will change. It almost has to for a couple of reasons. It had to change with local search, it had to change a bit with places and now it has to change with instant.

      It is not dead nor do we have to start over but we have to monitor a lot more and see how we are ranking. Google has already said that there will be traffic changes. That to me says that there will be some SEO implications. If you are not found your traffic is down.

      I am not here to say that run and dig a hole and jump in as SEO is dead but I am saying that you need to realize how now people are searching and what results are being provided.

      • September 14, 2010

        Steph said:

        I am not concerned because I have taken the steps to make sure I am as optimized as possible for the terms that matter, and I use several opportunities to maximize my SEO potential. Thus said, at the end of the day, as long as I have:

        – unique quality content
        – regular postings
        – maximized SEO use
        – engaged in proper linkbuilding and internet marketing methods
        – developed good relationships with others in the same genres
        – time to observe and analyze general SEO and internet marketing trends

        I will be okay. I am not a newbie who’s going underwater, and I think this will simply be another event which will make it important for us to realize that what’s important is paying attention to what it is web users are looking for and making sure our content meets the needs for the appropriate SEO services.

        Atop of it all, Google Instant can be turned off by users, and I’m pretty sure this will happen as I’ve already turned it off. Interesting concept, but not of interest for me, and due to the constantly changing “search results” most people may be inclined to ignore all of their results until they defiantly enter their entire query and push “search” for themselves. 😉

  12. September 10, 2010

    Gabriele Maidecchi said:

    I had the chance to observe people here at my work place using Google Instant so I could take a look at their behavior. What I did notice, after the given “oooh is this new?”, was that they quickly adapted by changing their query in real time while typing. They saw the result of what they were typing, they didn’t like it, they changed the query, shuffled some word around, fine tuned the search, and they got what they needed.
    It kind of fascinated me, even if I guess that’s the whole purpose of the new toy.
    In these perspective yes, SEO is gonna be changed a lot, but if I have to be honest, I have no idea HOW it’s gonna change, not for sure at least.
    I think it’s probably too soon to make educated guesses, or maybe I just suck at SEO 😉
    I personally like this new feature, but the real challenge is going to be the browser implementation of it. How is a browser going to show such real time results? Will browser and website searches differ so much to make SEO even more complicated?

    • September 10, 2010

      Suzanne Vara said:


      Thanks for sharing your experience with watching your co-workers. It was interesting to read here as not finding what they needed had them to and start over to find what they needed. That is the same as we had done before. I was not thinking that people would not but I did think that people would be more apt to build upon what google predicted/suggested.

      I do not think that SEO is dead but I am thinking that we will see a shift. People will be trying to optimize letters and sequences of letters (like ark – for marketing) if they can. That is taking us into new territories.

      An article that I had read pointed out that most results are under the fold. Oh that is a big difference as the paid are first and then you are only seeing a few whereas before you saw up to 5. That will push people harder in seo.

      • September 10, 2010

        Gabriele Maidecchi said:

        See? Your kung fu is stronger than mine, I did not think about “optimize letters and sequences of letters”, makes perfect sense, I guess all SEO experts are going to have many customers soon 🙂

        • September 10, 2010

          Suzanne Vara said:


          First, my apologies for spelling your name incorrectly.

          Optimizing will change on that end and even bigger which I believe Nick can speak to better is adsense. I am seeing quite a bit of chatter on this.

          Great content with optimizing for words and now even letters is still the name of the game.

  13. September 10, 2010

    Charlie Seymour Jr said:

    This seems to be a lot about a little.

    With Classic and Instant, it’s still up to the person typing to decide when to stop typing. I will search for what I want, not what someone tells me.

    Oh, sure… the ADD of a lot of computer users may sidetrack them for a while as they jump from point to point, but in the end they will use the long-tail query they set out to use.

    Let’s see how this plays out before getting too upset.

    Charlie Seymour Jr

  14. September 13, 2010

    Mike said:

    I only found out about google instant this evening thanks to your blog. I usually use a local search ( or and instant doesn’t seem to be setup for these yet. I’m not sure I can see search use changing that much with this new additional. Maybe if you are just browsing about, but I imagine most people have a definite term or topic they are searching for, so they are likely to still find their way to that. Whether they get sidetracked or change the direction of the search is hard to know. Be interesting to see how it develops and feedback from users.

    • September 14, 2010

      Suzanne Vara said:


      They do and they do not. If that makes sense. Yes, some people are looking for something specific but when they start typing it and they get something similar, they are going to look at that and possibly revise their search. This is not an end user issue, it is an issue for the sites in optimizing. It does open doors in a way to see how people are finding you with instant but then you are optimizing for new terms. For a blog, great, for a static site it is a bit trickier.

      Some are saying that the long tail will be what people are searching for (but they have been saying that for a long time now).

      It is a wait and see as some are reporting some pretty big changes in their traffic and search terms used to find them and also rankings. So far, at least for me, the predicted have not been based off previous search terms which as always being signed into my account, is concerning.

  15. September 13, 2010

    Kathy said:

    I don’t think that this is going to change SEO itself as much as it is going to change keyword research.

    As far as the people who are going to optimize for partial words; I think they are wasting their time. Google isn’t returning instant results for partial searches. They are guessing what the complete word will be and returning the results for that completed word as if the user had already finished typing it.

  16. September 13, 2010

    Joe @ Madison Carpet Cleaning said:

    I’ve been seeing a lot discussion about Google Instant. Everyone relax. It may slightly change the way people search in the long term, but just keep writing solid content and everything will be just fine.

    • September 14, 2010

      Suzanne Vara said:


      I agree on the content part as it relates to blogs. No doubt. However for static pages where you are targeting 2-3 keyword/keyword phrases quality content is a bit harder as you can only say certain things in so many different ways.

      traffic is a combination of sources and for some they are not able to have the combination that others have (ie social media, forums, networks, etc) and relied upon search. Will they still get found, yes however with many of the organic results coming under the fold, the top three rankings are going to be harder as everyone will be pushing for them.

  17. September 18, 2010

    Ron Leyba said:

    I am a bit late in commenting here so pardon me.

    Anyway, my view about Google instant is that, it doesn’t affect directly SEO campaigns. I mean, it may affect at one point but not totally will kill the effectiveness of SEO.

    And hey, good thing, we can turn this feature off right?

    • September 18, 2010

      Suzanne Vara said:


      It is never too late to comment. Google Instant, from the feedback that I have been getting, which you also bring up – is people turning it off. It does provide results fast however people are spending more time looking down to see what results the predicted is giving which then has them creating a new search – in the long run is taking longer. Which is helping impressions under the 3 second rule for paid advertisers but not helping the organic folks.

      Yes, you can turn it off quite easily through your preferences. I think I am going to do a how to opt out post as a lot of people are asking!

  18. September 19, 2010

    Reza Winandar said:

    Google Instant create a serious damage on longtail keywords maker.

  19. September 11, 2011

    Ron said:

    I couldn’t agree with you more. Google instant was a epic fail. You summed up it well when saying “I felt like I was in a conversation where I was unable to finish a question without someone chiming in with an answer”. I am glad Google instant is a thing of the past.

  20. October 12, 2011

    Mel Melhado said:

    Google instant lowers our search time while providing predicted queries with instant search results. Its good to see Google bring innovative changes to make things easier for users.