Google: They’re reading your mind and upstaging the Moon

September 1, 2010

September’s newsletter is 2 days late. But don’t hold that against me. This is important info about the future of Google Search.

Google Instant Steps Two events happened this September that I want you to know about.  The first event is an unusual celestial happening that won’t occur again until 2029. I want you to know about it because I find these things fascinating and because you’ll have some new trivia to drop on friends and family.  This year’s Harvest Moon just appeared to us on September 23rd. The Harvest Moon is the full moon that appears closest to the Autumnal Equinox. Also known as the Corn Moon, the Harvest Moon brightly marks the seasonal slide into Fall.  The Harvest Moon was so named because it allowed farmers to continue work into the night during the harvest season. For geeks like me, this year was especially cool because, in a rare occurrence, the Harvest Moon actual appeared in the sky on the exact same day at the Autumnal Equinox. If we are all still around in 2029, I will get this
newsletter out a little earlier (don’t laugh, Market Hardware headquarters, I’ll try and be on time) and give you a heads up.

The second event of September was created by Google in a blatant attempt to highjack the Harvest Moon’s buzz. On September 8, Google, not content to let the moon have its special once-every-couple of-decades moment in the sky, launched Google Instant, a new technology that attempts to predict what you are searching for online. It works like this: instead of waiting for you to finishing typing ‘electrician for kitchen remodel Jacksonville,’ Google Instant starts presenting options that it predicts you are looking for as soon as you type the letter ‘E’.  Those predicted search results appear in a drop-down menu below the space where you are typing.

Google figured that if it could find a way to communicate with the Google super computer brain after every keystroke, instead of waiting an extra 5-30 seconds for you to finish typing, it could predict what you were looking for, present those results and repeat that process, refining the predictions with every new letter you type. The result of this launch?

  • Google can now save you seconds per search because it ‘knows’ what you’re going to type.
  • Web marketers across the U.S. had a collective meltdown trying to predict the impact of Google Instant on search engine optimization and Pay-Per-Click campaigns.

While I want you see me as your calm, stable Web Marketing advisor, I have to admit when I read the news that morning, my head did spin a bit.  About 65% of all search queries go through Google. By rewiring their search algorithm  (the formula that matches search queries with paid and organic links to websites) to make Google Instant possible, they have introduced an X-factor with the potential of upsetting a huge number of apple carts that have been filled with carefully selected keyword purchases and optimized websites. Here are a few ways your Web Marketing might be affected:

  • Organic search returns might get fewer clicks than before. The way Google Instant displays search return options as users type makes paid advertising more visually prominent than organic listings in some cases. Also, the ranking system Google uses to decide in which order it will display organic (non-paying) results may have been significantly tweaked for the sake of making better predictions.
  • Some SEO strategists are betting that users will be less likely to click through to the second page of search engine results because Google Instant’s prediction engine will be better at displaying highly relevant possibilities on the first page. In other words, if you don’t appear on page one, click throughs to your site might suffer.
  • There may be an increase in the cost of keyword phrases.  Because Google’s predictions yield targeted results from single words or even partial words, more businesses will bid on the very top keywords in each category, driving prices up. Here’s a more simple explanation:

Google Instant knows roughly where a web-searching consumer lives. If a consumer lives in Jacksonville and starts typing ‘electrician’, he will start seeing results for electricians in Jacksonville by the time he types ‘electrici’.’ Now if you bought the key phrase ‘Jacksonville electrician remodeling’, consumers — even ones looking for an electrician specializing in kitchen remodels — may see an attractive search return displayed right below the box they are typing in well before they ever complete that long key phrase. That electrician may be motivated to start buying “electrician” rather than his original key phrase.

But after doing some tests myself and reading (by the light of the Harvest Moon) the reactions of several different search engine experts, I have reached the conclusion that the sky is not falling.  And further, besides following some basic, healthy guidelines, I don’t recommend rushing out to make any sweeping changes in how you approach search engine optimization or your Pay-Per-Click campaigns.  We need to take some time and examine what, if any, major effects Google Instant actually creates. By early 2011, there will be sufficient real world testing (you and me are the unpaid guinea pigs) and a few months of monitoring by nerds from Market Hardware and other smart geeks to really understand what Web Marketing moves make sense to keep you in the web clover.

In the meantime, here are my suggestions:

  • Be wary of any web huckster who tells you to work with him or her because they have the inside track on Google Instant.  Google is coy as usual on exactly what drives their prediction engine and they are known for making significant ongoing tweaks after rolling out an innovation like this. I don’t believe anyone can craft a coherent Web Marketing plan right now to ‘crack’ the Google Instant code.
  • Do review your website and your local listing in online directories like Google Maps, Yahoo! Local and CitySearch. Update your site and listings with any seasonal or new offerings and make sure you clearly list your top services and explicitly define your service area by listing the neighborhoods, counties, cities or city sectors (South Austin, Upper East Side) you serve.  This will help Google match you up with your target consumers.

Power Stat: 

“OUR key technical insight was that people type slowly, but read quickly, typically taking 300 milliseconds between keystrokes, but only 30 milliseconds to glance at another part of the page. This means that you can scan a results page while you type.”

Source:  Google, September 2010. From their Google Instant webpage.


“Look not mournfully into the Past. It comes not back again. Wisely improve the Present. It is thine. Go forth to meet the shadowy Future, without fear, and a manly heart.”

~ Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Griff’s Last Stand 

I already know that the next time the Harvest Moon will appear on the same day as the Autumnal Equinox is in 2029. I like having that certainty about a future event.  I find it satisfying and somehow reassuring. But I can’t predict the inevitable major changes that take place in the more earthly realm of Web Marketing.  Its dynamic world swept by constant innovation.  Google Instant is not the last change we will ever see in Web Marketing.  As long as we accept the fact that being successful at Web Marketing often means letting go of the familiar and embracing something new, we’ll be okay in the present and the shadowy future.

This article was written by Market Hardware’s Griffin Davis. Reach Griffin at [email protected] or reach anyone on his web expert team at (888) 381-6925.

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