SEO panic over Google Instant is overblown

Since Google debuted its new Instant search feature that starts returning results as you type, search engine optimization (SEO) experts have been in a tizzy.

You’d think Google had replaced its organic results with its paid-for advertisements, the way some are making doomsday proclamations about the SEO industry. Although Google Instant does represent an important change that SEO practitioners should pay attention too, it certainly hasn’t had an earth-shattering effect.

I even wonder if it’s that useful, as it hasn’t changed the way I search. I find that most of the time I type my results too fast for Google to start returning results before I hit “Enter” (it’s a habit that’s hard to kick). Most of the time I search from my browser’s search bar, where Instant doesn’t factor into the results.

Greenlight Search has been one firm expressing anxiety over Google’s speedy new approach to returning results. A press release issued Oct. 1 voices concerns about keyboard navigation being added to Google Insight, saying it gives preference to the first result returned on a page.

Google's keyboard navigation
New Google feature places a blue arrow beside first search result.

“The first result in the search engine results pages (SERPs) now has a blue arrow next to it. The user can move up and down the listings with the arrow keys on their keyboard and press enter to get to the result they want,” the release states. “It almost endorses the first result potentially stealing clicks away from natural results.”

I find that notion silly. While a little blue triangle appearing next to the first search result may trigger some distant subliminal “thumbs up” for searchers, the fact that it is the first result returned anyway is the real, more powerful endorsement.

Greenlight continues to worry that users won’t realize they can control the arrow with their keys. This is akin to arguing that users might not realize they can move their mouse pointer to click on a link.

Cameron Wilson from has a more balanced approach to Google’s changes. He points out his firm hasn’t seen any significant change in search traffic yet. Probably because most searches are short and Instant isn’t fast enough to load results (not really instant). Also, the auto-complete function is already choosing the most popular searches.

“I think where Instant really shines is after a user has completed an initial search but is unhappy with the results.  The user is much more likely to alter their search query than to check page two.  In terms of impact for SEO, it has two major impacts.  The main keywords for any industry will become more important, and even fewer people will be searching past the first page, so top ten rankings will matter more than ever,” he writes in an e-mail.

To adapt to the changes, Wilson recommends making your Web site title tag and meta description as compelling as possible. If you grab a searcher’s attention, they will stop searching. Try offering up a coupon or other information that will compel a click.

So if anything, Google Instant hasn’t detracted from the SEO industry. It’s made it more critical than ever.

Brian Jackson
Brian Jackson
Editorial director of IT World Canada. Covering technology as it applies to business users. Multiple COPA award winner and now judge. Paddles a canoe as much as possible.

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