Predicting Google Instant’s Impact on Local

Though I was at the press conference and have been using it myself since that time I’m still trying to get my “head around” Google Instant’s potential impact on SEO and SEM (and user behavior). I agree with Danny Sullivan that SEO ain’t going away. But there will be a number of impacts on both disciplines. Mostly this will be the result of:

  • The biases and preferences in the auto-complete predictive text/queries
  • The smaller “window” at the top of the page
  • Changes in user behavior that will be inevitable

I also think there will be many more impressions to clicks for ads.

Efficient Frontier’s Siddharth Shah has written a thoughtful post about the range of implications from Instant. And Mike Blumenthal weighed in early on how Instant may impact local.

Google has said there will be no changes to algorithmic ranking on the page or ad quality scoring and serving. What will definitely change is how users interact with Google and that in turn will affect SEO and paid-search strategies.

Below a search for “hotels los an . . ” This screen capture shows the “above the fold” portion of my screen minus the ads on the right.

As you can obviously see the drop-down, ads and map-pack crowd out everything else below. The eye will focus more at the top of the page than before, I’m going to speculate. That’s certainly my new behavior. This means that any publisher/vendor not in the ads or map-pack will probably not be seen at all.

As an aside I’m noticing slightly fewer map-based listings on local queries. However I haven’t done any disciplined, systematic searching on local queries to examine this.

I believe that when someone is doing a “name in mind” search he or she is not really going to be impacted. It’s the category searches where the impact may be felt.

Efficient Frontier’s Siddharth Shah argues there’s a “brand bias” in Instant’s auto-complete feature (yet auto-complete has been around for some time). If there is such a brand bias it could funnel category traffic to larger sites and marketers vs. smaller ones. That’s a question that requires an empirical answer, however.

Will Instant cut off the “long tail” or will it generate more tail searches? I don’t know. I do know that some of the quick takes and speculation that came in the first wave of reactions — especially the facile Steve Rubel post on SEO — are bound to be disproved by experience and data over time.

User reaction and behavioral changes will be both fascinating to watch and determinative of the issues discussed above. We’ll have to wait for the data to draw any thoughtful conclusions about the impact of Instant.

In the meantime, however, what do you think about Instant’s potential impact on local and its myriad practitioners and purveyors? For example do you think it forces directory publishers, even more, to find alternatives to Google traffic?

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10 Responses to “Predicting Google Instant’s Impact on Local”

  1. gene daly says at

    It’ll be interesting to see the adoption rate and behavior change by the average user. I’m a biased sample, but how often does the average searcher go to vs. using the search box in the toolbar? Any stats out there on that?

  2. Greg Sterling says at

    It’s coming to the toolbar. Yes there are data on the % of toolbar searches. I have it. I’ll just have to find it.

  3. Brigitte Cerwick-Davis says at

    I just came here to post the same question. I only use my toolbar and tried to find stats on usage with no success. In reality, I only go to Google to see some new change or Google Doodle. It is interesting that there is so much discussion around the predictive search itself. That particular influence has been around for awhile and I know marketers have been using it for optimization purposes. I will not deny that there could very well be an impact from the instant results displaying. I, myself, find it distracting and is not a feature that will push me to search at as opposed to the toolbar. I am perfectly happy if they leave it off the toolbar.

  4. Mike Blumenthal says at

    The same question came up at my blog. The answer is that Firefox does about 9% of Google searches, one presumes mostly from the search bar… not sure about others.

  5. SearchCap: The Day In Search, September 10, 2010 says at

    […] Predicting Google Instant’s Impact on Local, […]

  6. Greg Sterling says at

    I was trying to find a current number. An old number from comScore (a couple years old now) is that 11% of search queries come from toolbars.

  7. Colin @ says at

    I also start most of my searches from the search bar on Firefox, but I often will refine my searches, so that’s where I’m interacting with the new instant results primarily. I would guess many people do the same.

    Because of the new suggestive functionality (they’ve had autosuggest for a while, but the new in-line implementation w/ the light grey suggestions) seems to lead me into deeper searches than before. Whereas I may have done a 3 word search (primary term + 1-2 modifiers), now I’m going really granular and doing a 4 word search.

    My expectation is that an increase in long tail, more specific queries will result.

    The biggest ‘problem’ with Google historically, has been that if you don’t know what to search for, you can’t get the results you’re looking for (ex. you need to know the question before you can get the answer).

    That has always been one of my advantages of a power searcher – I know how to structure queries and identify the relevant information and words required to find what I want.

    With the new Google Instant, this becomes a lot easier for the average person.

    As far as the display of results goes, this new form seems to have some pros and cons (it’s definitely faster, but it feels like I’m less in control of what I’m seeing, which I don’t really like), but the overall effect for me is that I’m focusing more of my attention on the top of the page, and am scanning as I’m typing.

    I agree that this will probably make the 3 pack Adwords positions above the local listings and general search results more valuable. I will disclaim this by saying that because the results change so quickly as I type, there isn’t a whole lot of time to really pick up on what’s being advertised. I’m thinking that shorter, punchier headlines and possibly direct-match URLs may benefit from this change as they’re the two most obvious components to an ad and are most likely to create a connection with searchers.

    All-in-all, I would expect that the number one outcome of this change will not be related to speed, but instead to relevance. I have already noticed a significant difference in the way my parents are searching – they are being ‘helped along’ by Google and are getting much more specific in their search strings.

    While this is probably a good thing, it’s also a bit of an experiment in groupthink… If enough people search for a term to increase the probability of it being suggested, it could have a compounding effect, causing more people to search for something they otherwise may not have thought to search for.

    I can see this being a bad thing in the long run and creating more winner-take-all scenarios and ascribing even more influence to Google. Maybe Eric Schmidt was serious when he said that soon Google would be telling us what we want. Interesting times…

  8. Greg Sterling says at

    Excellent points Colin. It may well guide people to longer query searches. I also agree that there is a “groupthink” effect and that popular searches will reinforce themselves through auto-complete.

  9. Jean-Pascal Lion says at

    This will generate a new business…the brand optimization…the more differenciated is your brand, and the way you structure its various components, the more it will drive your position….I checked first gor Garneau Concept/Studio cycle, my bike shop then for Studio Cycle, the generic brand covering my spinning and other bike activities…in both cases, results are outstanding…However, SEO still is important. For example There are two other Garneau Concept shops operated by an other entity, Velo 2000, and I worked hard to make sure that our Garneau Concept store outranked them in free algorithmic search…I believe this is why I appear fast in Google instant, while the other entity is not even there….fascinating world…

  10. Gregg Thaler says at

    I think that it is too early for anyone to really know how Instant is going to change the way marketers succeed or fail using Google as a marketing platform.

    There simply is not a large enough sample yet for marketers themselves to know what the impact will be. That is pretty funny/ironic considering that there have been several billion searches done since Instant rolled out, but those billions of searches are only known by Google.

    As a former sales executive with a company that had been a Certified AdWords Reseller where I oversaw the opening and management of over 4,000 mostly small local service provider AdWords accounts, my POV is that this evolution of Google’s search function is a total game changer.

  11. Greg Sterling says at

    Yes . . . agree not enough data yet. But there will clearly be an impact.

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