Google Instant: A Long Tail Killer?

Modi Siotos

Why So Much Fuss About Google Instant?

Since Google Instant was launched on the 8th of September 2010, opinions vary about its impact on SEO and PPC alike. Some SEOs proclaimed “SEO is dead” while others more optimistic ones see it as an opportunity for new SEO challenges claiming that the SEO community will adapt again as it has always done in the past.

Google, unsurprisingly, pointed out during a press conference that it won’t have any impact on SEO:

Q: Impact on SEO?

A: Basically it stays the same. It’s still the same results, it’s just adapting to behaviour.

So, if SEO remains the same why is there so much fuss in the  whole SEO community about Google Instant? Are SEOs insane? Why so many blog posts have already been written and so many messages have been exchanged in Twitter and other social media platforms?

Google Analytics Implications

Google also announced that Google Instant will have some implications in Google Analytics via their GA blog.

What Google said is:

“With this change, you might notice some fluctuations in AdWords impression volume and in the distribution of organic keywords....Impressions may increase with Google Instant”.

It is obvious that the above statements are very contradictive and noticing fluctuations in the distribution of organic keywords doesn’t agree with the statement that SEO stays the same.

SEOs have already started coming up with ways to track Google Instant in Google Analytics so you can see exactly what term people clicked on to come to your site. There is a very good post about how to set up your analytics account in order to track it.


Testing Instant Search For Potential SEO Implications

Following Google’s example about a search for “hotels in Santa Cruz”. Let’s see what happens if someone does a search for the whole phrase:


  1. Three results from Adwords relevant to Santa Cruz
  2. Some relevant local results about Santa Cruz hotels are being displayed
  3. 10 Organic results appear with the top 3 being:




Let’s have a look at what happens with Google instant once someone types ‘hotels’:


  1. Two results from Adwords with hotels varying from London and Edinburgh to Copenhagen and Sydney. However, some people will definitely click on those.
  2. Local results aren’t being displayed. Instead there is a form that is unlikely that many people will bother to fill in. This way, local results are devalued and all those sites appearing in the previous illustrations local results will definitely lose some traffic.
  3. The top 3-4 organic results are very likely to get clicked. However, note how different those sites are compared to the ones listed in the previous search. Definitely will see the traffic soaring from users intending to search for an unfinished long tail term.

That said, I think that the impact of the instant search in SEO will be massive, especially for the medium and small-size web sites who will see their big competitors receiving a part of their traffic.

Who Will Be Affected

It seems that with Google instant there is going to be a great reduction in the overall number of keywords that drive traffic on a site as the number of long tail ones will be reduced. It is a bit early to assess the consequences of the change but SEOs have already started reporting drops in long tail searches. Undoubtedly, users will save time in their searches and hopefully receive more quality results but SEO will become more competitive as demand for a few generic terms will massively increase.

Also, in my opinion this is bad news for small and medium size businesses who were targeting less competitive and longer tail keywords. Google instant will benefit more the big players with generic sites compared to smaller and more niche ones.


Keyword Research Changes

The way Google Instant makes suggestions in a way reveals the most popular keywords according to Google. The suggestions must be based on statistics about the most popular keywords, otherwise it cannot be explained why appears first of you just type the letter 'w' and nothing else. Google Instant will be another useful tool in the SEOs arsenal as it will uncover the keywords that should be targeted. You just type a single word (or the first few characters of that ) and straight away you get suggestions based on the most popular long tail terms.

Investigating a bit further will unveil which key-phrases would be worth targeting and which wouldn't. Reviewing the keywords your site is currently ranking in order to find out if they pop up as you type would be a very good practice. For those ones your site is not ranking would be worth optimising.


What Will Change

Page titles - Will receive much more attention, especially the ones appearing in the homepage. Would you like to retain you brand name or replace it with a very generic high search volume keyword?

Meta descriptions – Will increase in importance as being written in a more advertorial style, will be more likely to get clicked.

Headers - Generic keywords will start appearing more and more and secondary terms will be used less

Top 3 Results – The need to rank in one of the top 3 positions in the SERPs will be greater than ever as these are the ones which are visible to users as they type.



Changes in Users Behaviour

Let’s see what happens trying to perform a search for ‘Santa Cruz hotels’:


As soon as ‘Santa Cruz h’ has been typed we start receiving relevant results:

  1. One Adwords result appears
  2. A few local business results are being displayed:
  3. A few organic results appear which are the same ones as if we had typed ‘Santa Cruz hotels’ and they are quite similar to the ones returned for ‘Hotels Santa Cruz’

This search has definitely saved the user time and has returned very relevant results, while at the same time being fair to local businesses and those web sites ranking organically too.


Note: All the above represent only my initial personal thoughts about Google Instant and by no means aren’t Fresh Egg’s views.

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