The interactive experience most often starts with Google. For years Google has been the dominant search engine leader, besting competitors like Microsoft, Yahoo!, Ask, AOL and others. Even when consumers know where they want to go or know exactly what they want, they turn to Google or another search engine and type in what they’re looking for.
Search engines, by default, exist to aggregate content across the web and provide website users relevant content to explore. Years ago, the content search engines aggregated were just links to other sites. Slowly, over time, search engines broadened the type of content they’d aggregate to include photos, videos, PDFs, and even music.
Over the last few years we’ve seen companies employ different approaches to return faster –and in theory – better search results. The most popular approach is called “predictive search” and was made famous by Apple via its iTunes product. When a user starts to type “Bob” into the iTunes search engine, Apple makes an assumption that the user is looking for “Bob Dylan” amongst other popular results. And, it was only this time last year that Google, Microsoft and Yahoo! announced that they would be pulling real-time streams from sites like twitter, directly into the search results page.
Google describes Google Instant as follows:
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 obvious change is that you get to the right content much faster than before because you don’t have to finish typing your full search term, or even press “search.” Another shift is that seeing results as you type helps you formulate a better search term by providing instant feedback. You can now adapt your search on the fly until the results match exactly what you want. In time, we may wonder how search ever worked in any other way.
With “Instant” or “Real Time” search, users will see search results appear quicker and without having to hit the enter button. The key here is that the search results will update in real time as the user is typing their query. Here’s an example of what happens I type in the letter “a.”
You can see that the letter “a” is highlighted in black font. That’s the only letter I typed in. Google then does 3 things:
- It predicts my query by offering me “amazon,” “aol,” “American airlines,” and “att” as options.
- It returns results in the middle of the page for “Amazon” since that’s the most relevant search term
- It returns paid search ads in the right hand column based on the search term “Amazon”
It’s taken me some time to understand what Google Instant and the similar offerings from its competitors mean for marketers. Users, ultimately, don’t care how search engines work, they simply assume that the search engines are doing “their job” by returning relevant search results. This is a major shift, not just in how search engines work, but in how users will interact with them.
Implications And Recommendations
After a significant amount of research, consultation with leading search engine experts and exchanges with Googlers, I feel comfortable outlining the following implications and recommendations:
- If you’re currently neglecting search engine optimization; it’s time to get refocused. Whereas before you could trade SEO for paid search as a means to drive traffic, you’re going to find that SEO just became as important as paid search.
- The time and dollar investment for SEO will increase because SEO will move from a casual marketing tool that a serious one. The shift from casual to serious means SEO could be happening on a daily and weekly basis (just like paid search programs) instead of a quarterly and semi-annual time-table.
- The concept of being on the 1st page or “above the scroll” has changed. “As you continue typing and narrowing your search, the instantly changing and refreshing results below the search box will be giving you more relevant results. So if you previously looked on the second page, now those same results come to the top of the pile for you.” – Johanna Wright, director of product management for Google Insight (via AdAge).
- Websites will need to be updated more frequently with fresher content. Fresher content tells search engines that a site is current and active. With search engines prioritizing newer content over older content, even if the newer content is less accurate, the need to denote your site as one that’s fresh is critical.
- Greater emphasis needs to be paid to all Meta Tags. This includes Title, Keyword and Description tags. Meta Tags are the lifeblood of successful SEO initiatives because Google and the competition pay special attention to Meta Tags when determining the relevancy and accuracy of a site.
- Keywords for content will need to become more varied because users won’t need to completely type in a term to see their search engine results. Tools like Google Keyword Suggestion should become part of a marketer’s overall web strategy toolbox.
- Your social marketing efforts just became even more critical. Social equals fresh content to search engines. Social also generates a massive amount of links to your content and links are a major component of driving search engine visibility and relevancy.
Bottom line, what was old is now new again. All the building blocks of search engine optimization became significantly more important. SEO for years has often been a neglected area of focus for marketers because of the real-time results of paid search and the complexity of understanding the math behind making SEO work. It’s time to make SEO a key focus of your interactive marketing strategy.
These changes represent massive opportunity for outflanking your competition. Many companies will be slow to change and embrace these new changes. This leaves the door wide open for your organization to get ahead of them
For more information about Google Instant Search, please watch this short video from Google:
and this entertaining video:
showing how Bob Dylan’s song “Subterranean Homesick Blues” comes to life with Google Instant.