Google Instant: Tradeoffs Include Less Implied Local Results?

[Added 10:53 pm (edt) - Make sure to check the comments for somewhat of an amendment on the observation that starts this post... Now you may have to save a location with Google (via the "remember this location" or "change location") like you also see when checking movie times or weather, to see local map results in a query which doesn't include a geographic location... I don't believe that was true before Google Instant was turned on.]

Not long ago, when you typed “pizza” into Google, you would see a map and a number of local pizza places listed in your search results. Have you noticed that no local maps show up anymore when you type “pizza” or “plumber” or “toy store” into Google these days? Those maps may be a victim of the caching needed to save bandwidth for Google Instant…

Last week, Google made a change to their search interface that has drawn a lot of attention and discussion across the Web. Google refers to the change as Google Instant, and the impact of the change is that when you type into Google’s search box, in addition to seeing a dropdown box offering query suggestions, the search results that you see update as you type. Those instant results were described in a patent filing from Google more than five years ago – see my 2005 post: Can Google Read Your Mind? Processing Predictive Queries.

In the patent filing described in that post, Anticipated query generation and processing in a search engine, the results that might have been shown to searchers as they typed would have been based upon one of the predicted results in the dropdown rather than the characters typed so far in the search box.

Here’s the claim from the patent filing that describes those instant results:

A computer-implemented method for processing a search query, comprising:

  • creating a dictionary from a community of users;
  • receiving a portion of the search query from a search requester;
  • identifying entries in the dictionary which match the portion of the search query;
  • selecting one or more of the matching entries in the dictionary;
  • ordering the one or more matching entries to create a set of predicted queries;
  • transmitting the set of predicted queries to the search requestor;
  • obtaining search results for at least one of the predicted queries*;
  • caching the search results; and
  • transmitting at least a portion of the search results to the search requestor.

*Emphasis added

I’ve been wondering over the past 5 years if and when we might see immediate search results like that. I think there would have been a serious uproar from searchers if the instant search results reflected one of the dropdown query suggestions rather than just the letters typed into the search box.

Google Suggest

I’m also wondering how many people are looking at the predictive dropdown query suggestions as if they’ve just sprung out of nowhere, or are part of Google Instant.

More than one person has recently contacted me concerning those query suggestions, asking about how to change them for one reason or another. A number of those questioners had been in touch with large and small marketing companies and digital agencies, and were told that the predictive suggestions were less than a year old and that they didn’t really know how Google determined what to show as dropdown queries.

The Google predictive queries first became available on the Google home page in August of 2008.

But Google has been showing predictive queries much longer, displaying dropdown suggested queries at least 5 years ago, with the introduction of Google Suggest. The term AJAX was coined by Jesse James Garrett in February of 2005 to describe the use of javascript and XML to update query suggestions in Google Suggest and to zoom in and out and move around on maps in Google Maps without refreshing a web page.

Google Suggest wasn’t initially available on the Google homepage, but Google did have a separate page where people could try it out. Google also started showing predictive query suggestions with the Firefox version of the Google Toolbar when that version was first released on September 22, 2005.

Google had filed at least a couple of patents in 2004, which provide some ideas of how they might identify suggestions to show to searchers. There’s the one that I mention above, which hasn’t been granted (yet), and another filed in November of 2004, which has been granted – Method and system for autocompletion using ranked results

Google also started showing predictive query suggestions to web enabled phone users a few years ago as well, because they believed that it would be easier for people who used stylises or phone keyboards. They released a usability study in 2008 on the topic – Query Suggestions for Mobile Search: Understanding Usage Patterns (pdf).

I’ve written a few blog posts on Google suggest in the past five years, including one in May of 2009, which focused upon some of the sources where Google might take suggestions from to show to searchers. Google also has a page which provides more details on how Google Suggest works, which they seem to have changed recently to describe how their auto complete algorithm works.

Google has also added more “local search” type features and “universal search” type features to Google suggest in the past year as well, showing things like maps and weather results in the dropdowns.

Google on Google Instant

The Google help forums are filled with opinions, suggestions, and bugs associated with the new interface. At least one computer department received multiple reports of spyware/viruses/computer malfunctions from the users they supported in response to the launch of Google Instant. Pages from Google sprung up immediately after the launch providing more details on Google Instant and its impact on search, advertising, and analytics.

What Tradeoffs Did Google Instant Bring?

In the first of those Google blog posts and articles, we’re told the following:

To bring Google Instant to life, we needed a host of new technologies including new caching systems, the ability to adaptively control the rate at which we show results pages and an optimization of page-rendering JavaScript to help web browsers keep up with the rest of the system.

So why did Google decide to do all this work, and move forward with Google Instant?

The Anticipated query generation patent application I linked to above provides a hint at why Google might have started showing updated search results as someone types:

[0022] If it is desired that the search results be returned to the user, then results are transmitted to the client system 120 (stage 260), and may be presented to the user while the user is still entering the complete query. It may be that one of the search results for the predicted query satisfies the user’s intended query. If so, the search engine 130 has, in effect, reduced the latency of a search from a user’s perspective to zero.

It seems to boil down to creating the perception in a searcher that the amount of time to process a query has been reduced significantly.

I’ve heard mixed opinions regarding Google Instant, and one that I’ve heard often is that Google Instant is too responsive. It’s a little like having a conversation with someone where they keep interrupting and finishing your sentences for you. But, have other things changed in how Google ranks and displays results?

The bandwidth involved in presenting instant search results has been addressed by doing things like only showing “10″ results per page. If you have your Google search preferences set at 100 results, and you perform a Google Instant search, you only see 10 results (plus ads, and some inserted universal results). If you turn Google Instant off, you can reset your search preferences to 100 results, and actually see 100 results.

A bigger difference seems to involve how Google may infer a local intent regarding some queries. If the Google Instant results are cached to save bandwidth, then it’s possible that we may not be seeing some of the same kind of results that we were seeing before because of those cached pages.

In recent years, if you searched for “pizza” from the home page of Google, chances were good that you might see a onebox or a seven box result with a map showing local pizza places. If you searched for something like “Toy Store” or “car Dealers” or “Plumber,” you might see a similar local search result even though you didn’t include a zip code or town name or other geographic information in your query. That seems to have been turned off with Google Instant.

Now when I search for Pizza at Google, regardless of whether Google Instant is on or off, I see big brand pizza results, the wikipedia entry, news about pizza, and books about pizza. But I don’t see a map with local pizza places – Google no longer seems to infer that when I search for pizza without a geographic term in my query that I am looking for a place to eat lunch.

The first page of search results on a search for pizza on September 16, 2010, which doesn't show a local map result anymore.

I’m also not seeing a map result on a search for “plumber” like I used to in the past:

The first page of search results on a search for plumber on September 16, 2010, which doesn't show a local map result anymore.

Google will sometimes also customize search results based upon things like where it believes that you were located, and I’ve been seeing a number of search results over at least the past couple of years where the fourth result of a set of search results for some terms might involve a nearby location. Those local results in the fourth result slot have also seemed to have gone AWOL.

Conclusion

There have been a number of blog posts and news articles claiming that Google Instant is a milestone in the evolution of search engines, that it has singlehandedly destroyed search engine optimization, that it has heavily impacted the length of queries and halted searchers from finishing typing long tail queries they may have been typing, and that amongst other things, that it significantly reduces the amount of time it takes for someone to type in a query.

Actually, a few of those changes could be attributed to Google Suggest – the dropdown suggestions that have been around for more than five years, aiming to autocomplete people’s queries for them and reduce the amount of time that it takes to search for something.

By showing search results immediately during searches, people searching are presented with a set of search results that may have very little to do with the intent behind their search at least for the first few letters of their queries.

It’s possible that recent news articles, advertisements, and search results may cause searchers to sometimes take a detour to what they originally intended to search for, but it’s possible that many searchers set off searching with a specific informational or transactional task in mind as they began their queries, and most of them will likely return to their search.

For a good number of searchers, the dropdown suggestions and the display of instant search results may lead those searchers to information that is relevant to what they are looking for before they complete typing in their intended queries.

But there have been some tradeoffs in what Google displays with the launch of Google Instant, like the loss of the display of maps and some customized local results when a local intent might be inferred from a query which doesn’t include a geographic reference of some type.

Have you noticed any other possible tradeoffs?

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63 thoughts on “Google Instant: Tradeoffs Include Less Implied Local Results?”

  1. Hi Michael,

    There are often a lot of prognostications regarding highly visible changes like Google Instant, and to a degree I’m trying to avoid making any myself. I am trying to make observations of things that have clearly changed, at least at present, though.

    As you can see from my screen shots above, the maps that used to show up on searches for terms like “Pizza” and “Plumber” are missing in action. It’s possible that they may return in the future, and it’s possible that they might even start showing up today. But for right now, they aren’t there, at least for me.

    The other local issue is one that I’m monitoring with a high level of interest is where some pages were showing up for some searchers as part of a local customization approach, ranking fairly well for some very competitive terms based primarily upon their location. That seems to have changed as well, and may or may not return either.

  2. I am getting the same local results with mapping for Google Instant as with non-Instant searches for those broad terms.

    These local/mapping results will be even more prominent as Instant is pushed to mobile devices as I saw when it was briefly available for Android devices via an unpublicized URL that was quickly shut down.

  3. Hey Bill,

    I think much of what is returned by way of local results depends on, well, however many factors that might affect it.

    For most local searches my results are hyper-local, even bringing up the “New York Style Pizza” page from Wikipedia. I have noticed a few small inconsistencies here and there, but not enough to get a handle on what’s what.

  4. Hi Ken,

    I tried the search for those broad terms with Google Instant on, Google Instant off, personalization on and personalization off. But there was something else that I hadn’t tried.

    If I do a search for “movie times” (signed in or signed out) which gives me a “Change location” link to insert a zip code, and change my location to Beverly Hills, and then do a search for Pizza, I do get a local map in search results for Pizza (in Beverly Hills). If I then change it to my local zip code, Google also shows me local map results (for my local area). If I remove my location by leaving the field for zip code blank, then Google doesn’t show me map results. So the issue looks like it does involve where Google thinks you’re located, and it’s not trying to guess – no specific location specified with Google, no maps. Enter a location preference, and you do get maps.

    I also mentioned that I am not seeing some of the local customizations that I’ve been seeing consistently in the past for more than a year, I’ve talked to people who have seen those in different parts of the country who are no longer seeing them as well, and I’ve checked Google Analytics for one site which used to receive a number of visits based upon those local optimizations who seem to have stopped receiving them after September 8th.

  5. Hi Michael,

    Thanks. I think you’re right that those results will become more prominent with mobile devices tied to a mobile location.

    I do believe that Google would show local results in the past without a searcher having to set a specific location with Google, but I have no idea when that changed. It’s possible that it may have happened when they made changes to implement Google Instant, but I can’t be sure.

    On the local customization issue that I’ve described, it may be coincidence that visits stopped coming from what appeared to be high rankings based on local customization on September 8th. Anyone else seeing something similar?

  6. Hi Jim,

    Thanks. I have been paying a lot of attention to local search over the past few years.

    One of the areas that I’m fascinated with is when a search engine attempts to identify a geographical intent when a query doesn’t contain a geographical element to it.

    Or when a search engine should understand that there isn’t a geographical intent when a query does include a geographical element to it, like “New York Style Pizza.” Something seems to have changed with that as well. A couple of weeks ago, on a search for “new york style pizza near mountain view” (without the quotation marks) I was receving local map results in California. Today, I’m seeing a local map for New York pizzerias.

  7. I tried this and got maps for “pizza.” Just because it happened for you doesn’t mean it’s happening for all searchers. Don’t forget about personalization.

    Before you say it… yes, I’m logged out and have search history disabled.

  8. Hi Ken,

    Thanks.

    It is odd though that when I set a location preference I get maps for that location, whether it’s on the West Coast or the East Coast. When I remove that location preference, I no longer see local maps. I don’t remember being required to do that before.

  9. Hi Robert,

    Thanks. It does look like others are reporting in the Google Help forums that they are having problems with Google Instant when using IE9:

    http://www.google.com/support/forum/p/Web%20Search/thread?tid=0aa77f770ced4e25&hl=en

    http://www.google.com/support/forum/p/Web+Search/thread?tid=2133df2fd70b6658&hl=en

    http://www.google.com/support/forum/p/Web+Search/thread?tid=429a92076bee810b&hl=en

    Look forward to hearing the results of your testing if you want to share them.

  10. I understand what you’re saying Bill. I’m just saying that I gave Google no indication of where I’m at…and I got maps. That’s all I’m sayin’.

  11. Good article. I went to do my own testing and Google Instant isn’t working for me. I just installed and am now using IE 9 Beta. It works in Firefox. Anyone else noticing this in IE9?

  12. I’m not much of a techie but I do spend a lot of time searching and doing research. I had noticed a difference the past few days and couldn’t quite put my finger on what was happening. I can’t help but feel its going to have an impact on keywords as people start out searching for one thing and change their minds based on what is suggested. I know I can get side tracked easily and I’ll bet I’m not the only one. Thanks for letting me know I’m not crazy though and there really is something different happening on google.

  13. We had the most entertaining email too and fro over the wider implications for search engine marketing and I made the point that the issue of online brand management is going to come to the fore even more as there is now a very real danger of suggestions like “complains”, “scam” or “rip off” popping up instantly as a customer or potential customer searches for a brand online via Google.

  14. Well, there are the pros and the cons regarding this Google Instant however personally, I think it’s most useful to those who’s not sure about what they’re looking for but for those who really knows what they want to search for makes them get a little distracted with all those things dropping down. I’m just wondering if there’s like a trial period set for this Google instant thingy and if there is, then that’s good. people can voice out their opinion regarding it and hopefully Google will hear it out.

  15. I’ve heard quite a few mixed reactions by people having tested Google Instant (unavailable at my current location) and quite a few do feel that it will drive users to Bing. That remains to be seen.
    I do feel that long tail keyword optimisation might loose some importance to the advantage of short keywords (especially those that are the beginning string of a keyword), i.e. “pizz” instead of “pizza”. This could benefit smaller companies who cannot compete on “pizza”. Still, not being an expert on the topic, I might be wrong.

  16. Thanks for the post. I’ve been reading a lot about Instant the last couple weeks, and I think there will likely be a lot of changes made to it before all is said and done. I hadn’t known this about the local search results, though. Before this, I’d been hearing more and more about the importance of local search optimization, but now I wonder if that idea will disappear with these new search results.

  17. I strongly disagree about the statements concerning the diminished importance of long tail searches. Just because you can type in “pizz” and get a suggestion of “pizza in chicago” or see a map of pizza places right away is not reason enough to dismiss long tail. Here’s why…

    If you start typing in a long tail search phrase like “deep dish pizza places that deliver” you’re not going to get the same suggestions as the “pizz” search. Long tail hasn’t changed AT ALL. People are still going to type in those phrases. There’s still a long tail to take advantage of.

    A short tail search like “pizza” is going to yield short tail suggestions. A long tail search like “deep dish pizza places that deliver” is going to yield long tail suggestions.

  18. I’m really sorry but google instant is just down right annoying. i think that the results that appear while i am typing (as a consumer and not a ruthless seo’er) will sway the next few letters/words i am typing in.

    prediction: multiple keywords will rule. just because shorter keywords rank higher, does not mean that will be the norm. trust me.

  19. This is an interesting post.

    I’ve read a lot about Google Instant but not able to experience it here in Auckland, NZ, even by switching to a US search tool. So it’s interesting to see how people are reacting to it.

    Thanks

  20. Not sure if this worked as I tried this and got maps for “pizza.” I imagine this shows that every user gets a different response…..

  21. Hi Gwen,

    It’s likely that Google has been making changes to their ranking algorithms on a daily basis, some of which might be related to Google Instant, and some which are independent of those updated results. We’ve had statements from Google’s Matt Cutts and others that they have been making updates and changes to their core ranking algorithms everyday, or almost everyday.

  22. Hi Matt,

    Even before Google introduced Google Instant, the dropdown suggestions that Google has been showing for a few years now have created the possibility of reputation management issues. It’s also not uncommon for people to search for competitors or alternatives to products or services, and suggestions that might lead people to those have been showing up in suggestions. Google Instant might make those a little more visible, but it’s hard to say how much the immediately updated search results might influence searchers to choose those alternative query suggestions over just their inclusion in a dropdown.

  23. Hi Andrew,

    It’s hard to say whether or not this is a permanent change or one that might be turned off sometime in the future. That’s a decision that Google would probably make based upon how the new feature might influence traffic to Google, feedback that they receive, use of their site, and if there are changes to the revenues that they are receiving.

    The dropdown suggestions, and suggestions that appear on search results pages themselves do offer people alternatives that might be helpful in searches – so one question I have is if also updating the search results as people type are even more helpful to searchers, or if they tend to prove distracting.

  24. Hi Lisa,

    I’m not sure that this will influence the amount of long tail terms that people search for, but there is some possibility that people might see something in the search results or suggestions that may influence them to not type as many words into the search box as they may have originally intended.

    I don’t think that most initial search results for the first letter or two of most queries are really going to be helpful to most searchers

  25. Hi Michael,

    I think you’re probably right – we will most likely see more changes as Google and searchers explore Google Instant. It’s possible that Google may start seeing some unintended consequencies of the change that force them to modify the way search is working.

    The changes to implied local searches that I’ve mentioned in my post could possibly be one of those things that gets looked at carefully – I image that there are a lot of people at Google looking at a lot of data about how people are searching right now.

  26. Hi Ken,

    I think that’s a very good point. Google’s Udi Manber stated in a presentation in 2007 that 20-25 percent of the queries that Google sees everyday tend to be new, and ones that they’ve never seen before. Predictive queries may sometimes help some searchers autocomplete queries they were already going to type into their search box, and they might sidetrack some searchers from other query terms that they may have originally intended, but there are likely still very many people who will go ahead with the query that they intended to type without being influenced by the dropdown suggestions or the immediate results. I don’t think longtail queries will suffer much from Google Instant.

  27. Hi Shawn,

    I really don’t look too much at the search results as I’m typing in a query. I don’t see the search results for the first few letters, or possibly even the first word of query results having that much of an influence on the rest of what I might type as a query.

  28. Hi Andrew,

    If you get the chance to experience it sometime in the near future, it would be great if you returned here and gave us your thoughts on Google Instant. Thanks.

  29. Hi Ash,

    I thought it was odd that I wasn’t seeing maps anymore for terms like pizza or plumber when I searched for them. I thought it was even odder that other people were.

    After investigating, I noticed that you now have to have a location associated with your browser, either via cookie or possibly by being logged into Google before you see map results where you type in a term that doesn’t include location information.

    If you do a search for “movie times” in Google, or weather, the search engine allows you the change to either set a location or change your location by entering a zip code into a form. I’ve noticed that if I have a zip code entered, I see maps on searches for terms like pizza or plumber, that are associated with the zip code that I’ve entered. If I remove that zip code, leaving it blank and hitting enter, I no longer see maps for terms like Pizza or plumber when I don’t include location information in my query.

    At some point in time in the past, you didn’t need to have a zip code or location saved with Google for them to show you maps and local results when you searched for a term like “pizza” or “plumber” by itself. It seems that Google now requires you to have that location set before they do. Is this a change that happened when Google Instant went live? I’m not sure, but I think both changes may have come about around the same time.

  30. Where I see a different approach would be around non-classified targeting i.e. what happens if I target “pizza s” as opposed to “pizza sauce” – where does ranking prioritise? It seems at the moment that Google has taken popularity of term above keyword meaning – this is the opposite of local search targeting in recent years. Forcing iGoogle profile location selection would generally improve accuracy in this area.

    One thing is clear – it is very dangerous for any SEO to switch it off as 99% of searcher audience won’t.

    p.s. Best post I’ve read on this Bill.

  31. “One thing is clear – it is very dangerous for any SEO to switch it off as 99% of searcher audience won’t”

    If the SEOs don’t stop fussing over changes in search results, how are they supposed to do their jobs? There are other, far more important metrics (such as number of referrals received from search) that demand our attention.

    I have sites that gained traffic and sites that lost traffic. Looking at Google Instant’s strobe light isn’t going to help me figure out what to do next.

  32. Hi Tim,

    Thanks.

    I don’t think that targeting “pizza s” in your optimization efforts is going to be helpful. When you finish typing in “p-i-z-z-a- -s” into Google, Google shows a grayed out “auce” in the search box and search results for “pizza sauce.” Google isn’t looking for the top ranking pages for “pizza s,” but rather is showing results for the query that they are suggesting at that point.

  33. Hi Michael,

    One of the changes that I’m seeing that appears to be attributable to Google Instant, of results for local customizations disappearing, is something that I can link directly to a change in referrals received from search. A page that was ranking 4th in search results for a very general term was doing so because Google had been inserting that result as a local customization – visitors to that page at the 4th position in search results were coming from a geographic area where the business behind that site was located. After Google Instant was turned on, the page no longer ranks well for that term for local visitors.

    Google Instant doesn’t just involve the way that search results are displayed, but also required some caching changes, and some changes that involve the amount of bandwidth used by the search engine. Removing the local customized results (not the maps, but rather results from local pages) appears to be a step towards showing more of the same “cached” results pages to a wider audience, saving Google bandwidth.

  34. Michael – Certainly there must be an injection of reality into any hysteria – but as long as Google remains so fundamental to clients’ success then there is going to be a fair amount of fussing over fairly major changes to result delivery. Perhaps more so here in the UK as Google has (very roughly and combining .co.uk and .com) 90% compared to (very roughly) 70% in the States. It has to be dangerous to be switch it off because at that point you stop viewing results from your customers point of view. The main impact I can see at the moment is on sites which rank well for single word keywords and for domain names containing keywords. For example – a search for ‘travel’ will pull up expedia, tripadvisor and the bbc on normal search – and on instant, almost all the results are related to travelodge (budget hotel chain in the UK. In this example almost nobody who searched for ‘travel’ plus any other keyword would have previously returned results for ‘travelodge’ (and clearly, none of the major sites would have optimised for ‘travelodge’). Add the impact on keyword popularity (and the channelling effect) and there is potential for significant impact on traffic.

    Bill – I was thinking possible potential for hijack by creating intercept terms. On the local customisations side – I feel they enhance ability to compete for local business – cached results shifts power to bigger name association.

  35. I tried it and I also don’t get the same local listings as I used to, that is on the UK version of instant search. I also don’t have an option to associate a locale with my browser as you suggested in your comment, any ideas?

  36. Just to add my two cents: the more specific my phrase when typing a query will play a factor in Google Maps showing up. The basic keyword leads to other options being added in the results, such as images, videos, and news (while I will see “results from my network” when typing keyphrases). I have not paid attention: has Google rolled out the sponsored/enhanced listings on Google maps outside of Houston and San Diego yet? Search queries which bring up the ten pack do not seem to have any changes based upon these enhanced listings.

  37. “It has to be dangerous to be switch it off because at that point you stop viewing results from your customers point of view”

    That’s a data point in a stream of information. Turning off the strobe light doesn’t mean I’m going to lose touch with the customer’s point of view. There is no need to look at Google Instant results for sites that have seen an increase in traffic.

    Bill’s point about analyzing traffic loss is common sense. Anyone should do that. But I’m not going to subject myself to this flashing nonsense just because some client somewhere might be seeing something alarming.

    My first priority is what is actually happening with the referrals.

  38. I’m currently far more interested in the impact of my client’s PPC campaigns. I run a lot of them and haven’t yet completely figured out what will happen to my CTR and other metrics. Need to wait and see as well as managing my clients expectations

  39. Initially when Google Instant was released I had seen the difference what you are talking about Maps, later I had seen Google displayed a search field with a label ‘Looking for local results for pizza?’. Of course I noticed this search field even before but now it has turned to be constant. And I noticed these things only on a Google.com page but when I tried using my local Google domain, the Maps appears in the fourth link area. Whatever may be the changes happening, I think its now the time for local search marketers to re-invent strategies that will ensure to list out on Google.

  40. I’ve followed this conversation, experimented with “Instant Search”, queried my clients and friends on their thoughts. At the moment I’m thinking this. First: at the moment I’m not seeing much of an impact on localized searches. I am seeing that it is much easier and faster to drill down with my search query. I think as people use the interface, they will figure out how to get the best results. Below the fold and 2nd and 3rd page results will be diminished. But I think the real benefit for Google here is the PPC. PPC ads will tend to stay on screen longer. Good SEO is now much more important and PPC, well, Google is going to make more money.

  41. I guess the surefire way to list a business is to click “maps”, enter a business or type “pizza” and it displays businesses.

  42. I have noticed on my Android phone Google has been able to locate me based on my wifi signal or so it seems. When I am connected via wifi with mobile network turned off Google Maps is still able to locate the city I am in with no GPS signal (Maybe it is sending my information before I turn it off). I wonder if that is what they are doing with local searches. Sending ISP information to find the city or something similar.

  43. In my limited experience of using the new Google instant search, I believe it has impacted my keywords with 3+ words in keyword phrases. This is because people are naturally lazy and suggestible and the web maze easily diverts people attention to different areas. I having to will have to draw up a new SEO strategy if instant search becomes popular.

  44. Hi Tim,

    Bill – I was thinking possible potential for hijack by creating intercept terms. On the local customisations side – I feel they enhance ability to compete for local business – cached results shifts power to bigger name association.

    It’s possible that some ideas for terms to consider optimizing for might present themselves by looking at terms that show up in the instant search results, and that’s something that wasn’t a bad idea in the past, looking at the dropdown suggestions under the search box, and the suggested query refinements that would show up either above or under search results. Some of those “intercept” terms might be difficult to rank well for, especially competitive ones, by smaller businesses.

    I’m wondering how many people are actually stopping typing in mid query, and choosing one of the instant search results. I suspect that Google is watching carefully. I suspect that it’s unlikely that they would share data like that with us.

  45. Hi Stephen,

    Interesting that you aren’t seeing the same kinds of local results that you were before.

    There are a few different ways that you can set a preferred location with Google.

    One of them is to search for something like “movie times” or “weather.” If you search for those, you should see a onebox result at the top of the search results, which includes a link to either set a location or change your location. If you click on that link, you should see a spot to add a postal code or some other geographic information.

    Alternatively, you could click on the “more” link in the left Google navigation after a search (and then possibly the “more search tools” link, and click on the “custom location” link, which would open and allow you to enter location information. That might help to associate a location with your queries.

  46. Hi Frank,

    Yes – adding more terms in your query, especially geographic terms, does seem to trigger the appearance of maps in the search results under Google Instant. The non-geographic terms that used to show maps, like pizza or plumber still aren’t if you don’t have a location associated with your browser.

    I’m not seeing any “sponsored/enhanced listings” in the seven box results that do show up when I add a zip code or a number of different locations to a pizza query, but I only performed a handful of those.

  47. Hi Michael,

    I’ve seen a lot of blog posts and articles sewing panic about the impacts of Google Instant, and I agree with you that people should be more concerned about the bottom line – has their traffic been affected.

    I am really happy that this post has generated a good amount of discussion about the instant results, and I’d love to hear from more people, especially those who have seen changes in the traffic that they receive that might be attributable to instant search results. I know I’ll be spending more time going through analytics and log files…

  48. Hi Matt,

    I tend to focus on the organic side of things here, but if there is an impact upon PPC based upon Google Instant, that’s something important to know. I did include a couple of links in the main post to statements from the Google Analytics blog and the Adwords help page, but haven’t heard too much yet from people who track their PPC campaigns very closely as to the impacts that they may have seen.

    A highly visible change like this, to the basic search interface, is something that clients tend to be very concerned about. Michael refers to it as a strobe light, and I think that’s a fair analogy because it is distracting that way. But is it having an actual impact upon how people interact with search results? I guess that’s something that we will learn over time.

  49. Hi Ash,

    I haven’t seen a message like that in my searches, but there do seem to be some changes taking place when it comes to local results and how they are displayed in Google Web search.

    I also noticed a “view customizations” at the bottom of my latest search, under the “Gooooooooogle” and pagination, and I don’t recall seeing it there before. Google had been displaying a “these search results have been customized” at the top of the results in the past. Don’t know when they started displaying that message at the bottom of results. clicking upon it, I was told that my results were customized based upon my past searching history. In the past I’ve also seen a message that results might be customized based upon location – I’ll be keeping an eye out for the “view customizations” message in the future to see if there are still customizations based upon location.

  50. Hi Donnie Lee,

    Interesting thought that more people will refine their search results, and less people will visit the second and third pages of results.

    When you have Google Instant turned on, you only see 10 results per page. You have to turn it off in order to have your preferences set for more than ten results per page. Will that also mean that less people see results that are greater than 10? I’m not sure.

  51. Hi cARL,

    True, but one of the reasons that Google introduced Universal Search, and included non-web page results into their web search was because people tended not to click on alternative search tabs/types such as Maps or images or news. That was before Google displayed links to those types of results as prominently as they do now in the left sidebar – maybe more people are now doing Maps searches – I don’t know.

  52. Hi Jerry,

    There seem to be a few different ways that Google might be able to identify a location of a mobile device that go beyond looking at IP addresses. GPS is one method, but they can also do things like cell tower triangulation – see the “My Location” video on the Google Maps for Local page for a description of how that works.

  53. Hi Gary,

    With Google Suggest (the dropdown query suggestions under your search box), the posibility that more people might choose query suggestions from Google rather that typing in 3+ word queries has existed for a while, and it’s possible that Instant results might lead to more people choosing those as well. As more people search from mobile devices, with small keyboards, we may see even more people choosing and using suggested queries.

    Google did an interesting study a while back about differences between queries from people using desktop search, mobile phone search, and iphone searches that’s worth a look:

    Computers and iPhones and Mobile Phones, oh my! A logs-based comparison of search users on different devices (pdf).

    It seems that people using iphones conducted searches that were more like those from people using desktop computers than people using mobile phones with more constrained keyboards.

    Hopefully Google will update this research in the future with information about Android phone users, and the use of query suggestions and Instant search results.

    Anyway, it’s always a good idea to let your SEO strategy evolve over time as searchers and search engines change they way they do what they do. :)

  54. Hi Bill,

    I actually continue to turn off “instant”. I find it extremely annoying, actually, and when it is on, one’s ability to access the wondrous wonder wheel disappears. I haven’t noticed a change in local “serve-ups” as you mentioned, since maps keep showing up for all but the most generic search terms.

    One other thing. Thanks goodness I didn’t build my business on the long tail. Phew.

  55. Hi Jason,

    Fortunately Google has left us the option of turning Google Instant off. I imagine that the people at Google are watching carefully to see how many people use it as it is, or disable it.

    I’ve seen a few articles written by people who insist that Google has harmed longtail searches, but I’m not sure how much it’s really impacted those.

  56. Hi Borisb,

    No, one of the initial effects of Google Instant was that Local, or Place Page results weren’t showing up in search results for queries such as [pizza] the way that they did before Google Instant, if you didn’t have a specific location set in Google.

    So, less of Google’s products were appearing in results.

  57. Do the Google drop down suggestions actaually refer back to your previous searches? If I’m trying to make a search to see where our website comes for certain keywords I’m never sure if I get a true result or whether it’s based on my previous searches. i.e. Does our website come up higher just on my compputer because I’ve looked for it before?? My search results seem to place us on a higher page than using SEOMOZ tools – but I don’t know which is an accurate reflection of our true position. Can anyone help??
    thanks
    Mary

  58. Hi Mary,

    Some of the suggestions that show up in the dropdown are from your search history, and they are labeled as “history” when you’re searching in the toolbar. When you’re searching on the front page of Google, the suggestions based upon your previous queries have a “remove” next to them.

    Your website might come up higher on your computer because you’ve visited a page before if you are logged into your Google Account and you’re seeing personalized results. Even if you’re not logged in, Google may be looking at a cookie on your computer to see some of your past search history, and may move your site up in search results because of that as well.

  59. Hi Gwen,

    Google Instant has been around for a while now, and if you’re interested in the SEO implications of it, one of them is that people might follow some of the suggestions offered rather than complete typing in their original queries. That could possibly be a good thing for you if you pay attention.

  60. Do you know, I never even noticed that google started showing things before I was done typing? I type so fast, it doesn’t make much of a difference. And I still hit ‘enter’ when I’m done. Any chance that a lot of folks like me just won’t care how much google tries to read our minds? I’d like to hope so… just spent three weeks working on SEO optimization based on old rules.

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