How Google Instant is Shaking Long Tail Foundations

By BKV in Media Strategy on September 27th, 2010

Before this blog post gets down to the nitty-gritty, it is important that I familiarize you with Google Instant, an update Google recently launched. The update is an attempt to bring custom, tailored search results to users in a much faster way. When you begin typing a keyword into the Search field, Google now guesses what you are typing in and presents search results as you type in your query (see Figure 1.1). This update hasn't launched worldwide. Also, you need an updated version of your browser and you must reside in one of the countries Google has selected (or try it here).

Figure 1.1 figure1


So how will this affect my website?
SEO community professionals have debated this question since the release of Google Instant, with many concluding that SEO will be unaffected. I take a different angle than many in the SEO community. If you're one of the lucky people who have a website that completely relies on one and two term keywords to drive a majority of your traffic, then you should be alright. However, because longer tailed keywords tend to convert better, a lot of people have built the foundation of their website on having several longer tailed keywords to drive the majority of their traffic (instead of a few short tailed ones). figure2


I'm not trying to make the claim that your website won't rank for these longer tailed keywords, because Google has been very open about saying Instant won't change search results. What I am predicting is this will completely change user focus and behavior while performing searches which will in turn change the keyword landscape. It is easier to understand this prediction by looking at where user focus was at (before Instant) and where it is now.


Before Google Instant: before


After Google Instant:  after


I believe the focus while typing in keywords shifts from looking at the Auto Suggest keywords (which encourages users to select longer tailed keywords that still have a decent amount of traffic) to focusing on the search results they are actually creating. So how will this change keywords and drive traffic to your site? Instead of users being encouraged to select a longer tailed keyword that several other users have already searched (and that people have optimized for), the user will be focused on the constantly changing search results. They will be less inclined to select one of these suggested keywords and instead create their own until they have a list of search results they feel more comfortable with. The new inclination for users to create their own long tailed (and more random) queries means that websites will see a decrease in search volume for the reliable, long tailed keywords that had previously been their foundation. So what is the claim behind this entire blog post? Long tail keywords are going to become shorter thereby making them much less diverse. There hasn't been enough time for accurate data analysis and studies on Google Instant for any conclusions to be reached yet, but it will be interesting to see how user behavior changes with the new search landscape.