Google’s big news last week was the launch of Google Instant, a new search experience on Google.com. Now, when you begin to enter text into the search field, results are delivered as you type. Looking for new carpets? Type the “c”, and Google will suggest a search of “craigslist.” Type “ca”, and Google will switch to a search for “cape cod” (at least in New England). Type “car”, and you’ll predictably get a search for “cars.”
Try it out for yourself. Google Instant does a pretty good job of returning relevant results faster, which is Google’s #1 stated objective. But some SEO-minded people are worrying over the impact this change will have over long tail searches (longer, less popular search phrases). These people fear that user who two weeks ago would have searched for “best credit cards for students” will now get to “best cred,” see relevant (or semi-relevant) results, and click away. Those who optimized their site for college students will lose out on the long tail.
Another strategy that Google Instant seems to threaten is local search optimization. Local businesses rely on location keywords to be successful. The pizza shop around the corner will never compete with Domino's and Pizza Hut for the top result in the search “pizza.” However, it would be relatively easy to rank for that pizza shop to rank highly for “pizza portsmouth nh” if their website is well-optimized for that location keyword.
Personally, I regularly do Google searches with a location added to find local businesses such as restaurants, car repair shops, bookstores, and other small businesses. However, now when I search for a local pizza place, once I get to “pizza”, Pizza Hut will automatically appear as the top result. Perhaps I will continue to type in the search bar, adding a specific location. But it also possible that I spot Pizza Hut’s appearance in the search results, and think to myself, “Hmmm…that sounds pretty good.” In this case, Google Instant has essentially given Pizza Hut a free advertisement. If it’s effective, I may never find the local hole-in-the-wall that I would have found two weeks prior.
Strikingly, this change by Google seems to be the second “win” for big brands in less than a month. In late August, Google announced a change that more results from a single domain could now appear in a single search results page. As an example, Apple.com appeared twice in the first page of Google results for the search “Apple” before this change (this was the previous limit) – now it appears seven times. For Apple, this was a windfall, and meant a far more dominant position in Google search results. As I suggested in the example above, Google Instant might be a big win for big brands like Pizza Hut. Taken together, these two moves by Google seem to represent a lot less concern for the little guy.