This post was originally written by Ken Shafer, past SEO Manager for Apartments.com.
Unless you’ve been living in a non-WiFi-enabled cave for the past few weeks you have heard about Google Instant, the latest “innovation” from Google. (I say “innovation” because Yahoo actually tried to do this in 2005 but couldn’t pull the trigger on their main site).
I just wanted to scratch the surface of what Google Instant is and how it could impact how you choose what keywords to use for your site.
Essentially, Google Instant renders search results as you type, attempting to predict what it believes you are looking for. The common consensus is that rankings have not changed as a result of the Google Instant. It’s more to do with how the results are displayed. Google Suggest was the precursor for Instant and was the part responsible for that drop-down of suggested phrases that would appear as you typed. It seems like Instant now acts as the visualization of what results are sitting behind each suggestion and that the rankings for that suggestion have not changed.
However, looking at the examples below, it does appear that something has changed in Google Suggest, and that might be the most important change of all…not the fancy display. What they suggest to a user is ultimately going to drive more and more search traffic to results related to those suggestions.
First, I’m using my work laptop (from Chicago), not logged into my Google account and have search customization based on history disabled. I’ve just typed in “apar”
Notice how Google has chosen to display the Chicago sub-domain result AND include “apartments for rent” and “apartments in Chicago” as a suggestion.
Now, I’ve gone over to my other computer and performed a similar search (note: it goes to “apart” here but the results were the same for “apar”)
Here, it believes I’m in Richmond, VA (which I physically am) and is suggesting “Apartment Guide” and “apartments for rent in Richmond, VA.”
Finally, here’s a search prior to Google Instant’s release. Notice the Google Suggest list:
See how the SUGGESTIONS have changed? That might just be the most crucial aspect of this whole release. First, you can see how dramatic the difference is between pre-Instant and after. Phrases like “apar infotech” no longer appear among my suggestions. Second, notice how the suggestions differ from the different computers I tested. Google still believes my two computers are in two different geographies and is displaying suggestions differently for each. To get a second opinion, I had someone in the Chicago office test this and he saw the same suggestions. But what does it mean?
Well, let’s say you’re in Chicago and spent all your time optimizing for “apartments for rent in Chicago.” Now, Google Instant doesn’t offer that up as a suggestion when someone starts typing “apar.” It recommends “apartments in Chicago.” I’d have to believe that’s going to have some impact on how much traffic will not be coming to your site for the keyphrase “apartments for rent in Chicago.” This, potentially, indicates that traffic could be funneled to fewer of these keyphrases, and creates even more intense competition for ranking among those suggested phrases.
The good news is that you can use Google Instant as a keyword research tool to help determine what phrases Google is most likely to suggest. I’d recommend doing the research a few different ways: logged in to Google, not logged in to Google, and then finally clear all your cookies and try it.
Like I said, we’re only scratching the surface here. I’d love to hear about your experiences with Google Instant and will be more than happy to answer any questions you may have as best I can.
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