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« New Twitter Shifts the Car from Neutral into Drive | Main | September 18 is National Offlining Day »

Google Instant Makes SEO Irrelevant

Google today launched an ambitious effort to speed up searching. But what they really did is kill SEO.

Google says:

"Google Instant is a new search enhancement that shows results as you type. We are pushing the limits of our technology and infrastructure to help you get better search results, faster. Our key technical insight was that people type slowly, but read quickly, typically taking 300 milliseconds between keystrokes, but only 30 milliseconds (a tenth of the time!) to glance at another part of the page. This means that you can scan a results page while you type."

The most important consideration for marketers or anyone who creates content, however, is in the bullets...

"Smarter Predictions: Even when you don’t know exactly what you’re looking for, predictions help guide your search. The top prediction is shown in grey text directly in the search box, so you can stop typing as soon as you see what you need."

Here's what this means: no two people will see the same web. Once a single search would do the trick - and everyone saw the same results. That's what made search engine optimization work. Now, with this, everyone is going to start tweaking their searches in real-time. The reason this is a game changer is feedback. When you get feedback, you change your behaviors. 

Think about it. When you push a door and it doesn't open quickly, you push harder. When you try to drive a car up a hill and it doesn't go as fast as you would like, you step on the gas. Feedback changes your behavior. 

Google Instant means no one will see the same web anymore, making optimizing it virtually impossible. Real-time feedback will change and personalize people's search behaviors.

::LATER: Google is saying expect traffic fluctuations around organic keywords.

Reader Comments (216)

I'd have to disagree with the "no one will see the same web" thought. Like books, good content will always be needed, and searched for. When people find good content, they share it. Just because the search is faster doesn't mean that good content won't be indexed.

September 8, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterGabe Taviano

People haven't been seeing the same results for years - personalized search ring a bell? This in no way equals the death of SEO, it just has the potential to add another level. If you're an SEO that purely focuses on rankings then you're not doing your job properly.

September 8, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKate Reuvers

> making optimizing it virtually impossibleIt makes SEO INFINITELY more possible. SEO's are licking their chops over this. We can now rank for 'letters' instead of just words. It opens the door to a whole new type of optimization.

September 8, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterBrett Tabke

I agree in part as users will see results to partial searches. BUT the auto-complete aspect of Google Instant means that there will likely be fewer distinct searches, so more users will cluster around certain searches.For example, suppose I was going to search for mergers & acquisitions. In the past, I might have typed "merger and acquisitions", "mergers", "mergers and acquisitions", etc. Now, as I type merger, I'll see "mergers and acquisitions" pop up and I select it. So, there will be fewer variations in similar searches

September 8, 2010 | Unregistered Commentergraubart

Brett, show me!

September 8, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSteve Rubel

Disagree. The fundamentals are still the same; it's still the Google algo querying, displaying results in a different way.

September 8, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMona Nomura

Not to mention the change to Adwords. Any advertiser will now get more bang for their buck on targeted campaigns - but they'll need to cover more auto-suggest options if they want greater coverage.

September 8, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSimon Surtees

uh...Steve, you're a smart guy, but I think you're off base here. Google has previously said that about 25% of their search queries are unique, but that means more than 70% are repetitive. People search for the same stuff. Not only that, but Google has to index content and suggest it to people, and there are factors that Google will use to determine those suggestions. SEO in the old-school sense (just plug in the right Title tags, etc) has been less effective, but that's the same for any form of marketing - it evolves.As long as there are search engines, there will be professional marketers learning and adapting their strategies to follow suit. I doubt this change will even add up to anything as significant as a Florida update or similar.

September 8, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterCory Huff

Looks like Google agrees ... the Analytics blog says it may change "traffic for organic keywords." Ouch...

September 8, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMatthew

+1 on Brett Tabke's comment! With Google Instant, now there is a new way to optimize :)

September 8, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterRyan Beale

Wow! That's a huge thing to say. I wonder how development of specific niche site or optimizing topic pages will be affected by this.

September 8, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterCaleb Galaraga

For every new development is an opportunity...SEO is irrelevant don't be silly, this opens up a new whole opportunity! This shouldn't be seen as a threat but an opportunity. I imagine long tail searches will drop so if anything SEO is even more relevant!

September 8, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterRyan Dearlove

This is not the death of SEO by any means. People have been saying that for years. First when google was supposed to not be trickable by onpage content, then when universal search came out, then when caffeine, then when personalized search was auto on.This will not necessarily be less variations. I think it might actually make more as people will see what they can change and get better results. Now people are committed to a search and actually go through a few pages to find what they want with 1 or 2 words terms sometimes. This will make people better searchers. And now more than ever it will be vital to have a wide net.

September 8, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMike

I'm glad Google is changing the game in searching... now GOOD, RELEVANT content will get looked at, rather than silly keyword metatags that have nothing to do with what I'm looking for. As always, CURATION is key to making your site stay ranked.

September 8, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJason Gatewood

Interesting thoughts, Steve. I tend to disagree that this makes SEO irrelevant, though, being that it will not actually change (in the near term, at least) how people fundamentally use search. People will still search deductively. Let me elaborate.When most people go to search engines, they come in with an idea of what they want, I think. Search is a deductive refinement process where people presume a certain query will yield certain results. Yes, when they are shown results based off a query, they refine their search to a new deductive search term. However, the key difference here is that search remains a series of actions based on a person's hypothesis that a certain search term will yield certain results.Google Instant will yield faster refinement times, yes, but won't fundamentally change how SEO is done or how search is used. Similar to your door example - you still push on the door with x force. Then x+5, or whatever. If x had worked, you wouldn't have done x+5. Maybe if you'd seen the door was locked, you'd have started with x+5, right? That's the only difference here in Google Instant (to beat the analogy dea ). We'll see fewer queries "executed " (i.e. fewer pushes of the enter key) but the same end results and SEOs shouldn't panic. Not yet, at least.Interesting debate, nevertheless :)

September 8, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterredbord

#fail. Have you actually looked at the SERPs Google Instant serves up? They're still the same. The change is only that Google is showing you SERPs quicker than before by guessing what you're looking for.You still need SEO to get on those SERPs. I actually think Google Instant makes the top spot on a SERP more important than ever, which makes SEO more relevant than ever.

September 8, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterBarry Adams

I can't wait to see how spammers react. This is going to be hilarious....

September 8, 2010 | Unregistered Commenter.nate

Steve dont try to have an opinion on everything... this article is a total fail

September 8, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterjonathan

Sorry, but I don’t agree at all. This isn’t personalization. Instead it’s: 1) Increasing the number of queries people do, 2) increasing the number of terms per query, 3) reducing the amount of time people spend looking at queries with poor results. I think it’s a fantastic improvement and will help people sniff out the “right” search terms faster. But to say it’s personalization is wrong. Google does do personalization (taking into account your past searches, social graph, etc), and this isn’t it.

September 8, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterdlifson

I'm confused. I was aware of this, but won't the SERP produced as you type still contain content ranked on how it best matches the query? Won't those that are well-optimized still rise to the top? I'm not arguing, Steve; just wondering what I'm missing in my understanding of how this works.

September 8, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterShel Holtz

Alarmist! =)Most people can't even type without looking at the keys so they're not going to be looking at the ever-changing SERPs below the search term field. This is meant to speed up searching but in fact if the predictions aren't relevant (they don't seem to be for me), it is going to slow down searches only if you're paying attention to what changes are taking place on the SERP below.This doesn't kill SEO in any way shape or form. I seriously doubt it will even impact SEO in any significant way.

September 8, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterNate Schubert

I have to agree with the majority of the comments above. Search results are still search results no matter how they are acquired.

September 8, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSteph Woods

I disagree . . . if anything this means you have to get even better at optimization especially around the top keywords. If you are working around a predicted search term you'll want to be on that instant page. Challenging for any SEO firm but definitely worth the effort.

September 8, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterTeajai Kimsey Stradley

This is the same "song" we heard when Google introduced personalized search. The factors bringing the individual website in the top has not changed and SEO will be (maybe even more) needed tomorrow and next year.

September 8, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSEO-LEX

Steve, please - stick to areas you actually have expertise in. SEO is now more important than ever.

September 8, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAlanBleiweiss

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