Keystroke Optimization For Google Instant

Lots of rash statements get written by new media types after a press conference by Google, as an attempt to grab attention or to validate their business model by detrimenting that of others.
I am glad Matt Cutts, Marissa Mayer and many other Googlers have been fairly quick to defend the continued need for some kind of Search Engine Optimization, because ultimately a lot of what is SEO helps Google index content and find relevance.

Google Instant Video – Marissa Mayer

p.s. For those who think SEO still has no purpose, you would think between all the millions Ooyala have invested and a top tier user like Techcrunch they would somehow get their video optimization and embed code perfected for syndication.
Then again – Google must have a huge budget and that video won’t appear in a feed reader.

With the launch of Google Instant there has been a lot of chatter and I am joining the “me to” chatter with a few thoughts.

The Long Tail & Pareto

A lot gets written about the Long Tail… of anything and there are so many diagrams trying to explain the long tail in various scenarios. The long tail is very similar to Pareto’s 80:20 when applied to search marketing – what is worthy and provides measurable task ROI.

Long Tail - LongTail diagrams
From Google Image Search

There are 2 ways people look on Long Tail search queries

  • The likelyhood that someone will enter a particular search query
  • The number of keywords in the search query

With the increased emphasis on the use of search suggestions, for some users that is going to change significantly.

I say some users, because it will be interesting what happens when people who can’t type effectively use Google Instant – they are constantly looking at their keyboard rather than what is appearing on their screen.
They might have an incresed incentive to learn how to touch type because with every keystroke something changes on their screen in a very visible manner, but it will also encourage lots of pausing – not because what is on the screen is relevant to what they are looking for, but becasue it takes time to look up, see what has changed, look down again and find the next key.

Such a scenario of course is only going to happen with familiarity – eye tracking data currently suggests that regular Google users just bash out their queries ignoring the instant suggestions.

The thought is that what people typed was what was appearing as a suggestion anyway, but people still typed. It is impossible to tell if what appeared as a suggestion might have guided their typing in some cases, especially with slower typers.
Google suggest (now Instant) could be subliminal too.

I know people who take 3 seconds to find each key on the keyboard. I am sure you do too.

That rubberneck effect will skew search data in some way.

Google themselves state that for both Organic search (the impression data in Webmaster Tools) and for Adwords Impressions, things are calculated in the same way.

Impressions are measured in three ways with Google Instant:

  1. Your site is displayed in search results as a response to a user’s completed query (e.g. by pressing “enter” or selecting a term from autocomplete). This is the traditional model.With Google Instant, we also measure impressions in these new cases:
  2. The user begins to type a term on Google and clicks on a link on the page, such as a search result, ad, or a related search.
  3. The user stops typing, and the results are displayed for a minimum of 3 seconds.

Google Revenue

Regarding total revenue for Google, I think Greg Boser said it best

The only real game changing aspect of Instant is the additional money G will make by attaching adwords to the Suggest tool.


I mentioned to Laurie that Google Instant wouldn’t change search at all for 20% of searches. That seems to be highlighted by the number of filtered words and the ability of Google to adequately cope with the naughty word vocabulary of modern society.

Just a note if anyone from Google reads this, image search universal results do not give a warning for sites that may harm your computer from the main search index – do all browsers now have safe browsing protection?

Keystroke Optimization

  • Is your website on speed dial?
  • Does your domain name or brand trigger a competitor first?
  • Should you go for brand or topical keyword?
  • How many keystrokes is too many?

Just to highlight this, I have an “issue” with online reputation expert Andy Beal.

andy b

Andy Beal (marketing guy) has a problem to overcome.. Andy Beal (Billionaire) in Wikipedia, but I am sure he will eventually overcome that hurdle. $1B would however buy a lot of links encourage lots of university benefactor links to a Wikipedia article.

That reminds me, I should have a chat with Jann about my image links.


I obviously need to rebrand as “Andy B” – don’t think that isn’t possible, and it could influence search traffic.

How many keystrokes are needed to bring up your site in the SERPs?

Rooting around the SEO blogosphere 6 or 7 seems to be very good – some sites it was as many as 14 keystrokes. That is a lot, with tons of competitors for attention in between.

We Have Seen It All Before?

I realise we have had Google suggest for a fairly long time in internet years but different brains work in different ways – and different searchers are looking for different content in their results, which is why visual search results with various forms of multimedia elements become more prevalent.

Googlers were claiming that Google Instant changed the way they internally performed queries – you can probably assume a high percentage of Googlers can touch type. They did beta test this for a while and rolled it out for everyone. If they hadn’t seem some positive gains from a general audience I doubt they would have launched it.

Google’s business is search.. the one area they can’t really afford total failures.

Oh and SEO Is Not Dead!

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  1. says

    Personally, my biggest concern with Google Instant is how it is going to affect our AdWords clients. I agree with you that many searchers can take forever to type in their queries since they are hunt-and-peck typists. If Google is counting an “impression” as any 3-second display, I’m concerned that many AdWords advertisers who are “charged” with these impressions will see their CPC increase due to poor click-through rates.

    • says

      I partially agree with that, but anyone bidding on a particular search term will be in the same boat so even if it does change impressions, the change will be the same for everyone and Google will have to compensate.

  2. says

    Cool article … I agree that Google would not change things up this much if they didn’t run tests on whether or not their users would like or dislike it. Their core business is search, if they change too drastically they risk alienating their users, and Google has always been a user-focused company and I doubt that would ever change, given their continued success.

  3. Utah Graphic Designer says

    I think Google does research what they do before they make a change – they have come out with a lot of products that I’ve never used but would like to try out.

  4. says

    Hey Andy, thanks for the hat tip. I utterly agree. As I mentioned, while average users don’t tend to be noticing the Instant results appearing as they type their search query, I doubt this is a surprise for Google. If the goal of this update was to increase clicks to ads by even a mere 5% (which would still be a whole heap of $$$), without adversely affecting the user experience, then they done good.

  5. says

    I agree, Google have an incredible audience base to test new idea’s on. This latest modification to the way we search will of been thoroughly tested I’m sure. As far as SEO is concerned I think a lot of people are over reacting, contrary to what many SEO companies believe, SEO is only about helping Google index the correct pages under the correct search terms. This is always going to be a part of any search engine.

    It also appears Google is sending through both the partially “typed” phrase and the full “suggested” phrase in it’s URL for analytical data. Should make for an interesting read :)

  6. says

    Google does definitely nothing to insecure their users. Serching is their heart also if they try to enter in other lines of buisiness. Doubful is the fakt how is gonig on with the CTR by Adwords

  7. says

    I think most of the concerns of SEO’s are unwarranted with Google Instant. The rules have subtly shifted, but the game remains the same. It will be interesting to see what impact it does have on PPC which is heavily reliant on targeting long tail searchers.

    Great blog by the way

    • says

      Most changes are incremental.

      I would probably rate the impact similar to Caffeine which wasn’t really an algo change but infrastructure and the way things get indexed… which does have an effect on what ranks in subtle ways that can be quite catastrophic for some sites.
      Who in English speaking territories is going to do anything other than type “w” now for weather? People will use shortcuts even if the result is suboptimal.

  8. Josefina Agüello says

    As always, a thoughtful and well researched article. It’s best I think with SEO strategies to stay focused on the long term and deliver good content. There will be changes along the way–changes to help improve Google’s users experience with search!

    Josefina Argüello