After the initial announcement came the usual flurry of excitement that accompanies every new Google launch. There were the predictable naysayers (from those not involved in SEO) that it meant the death of SEO. Which, by my calculations means SEO has about 42 times as many lives as a cat. The usual suspects, Matt Cutts (of Google) and Danny Sullivan (of Search Engine Land) explain why this is not the case. SEO is still alive and well, much to the chagrin of many a new media expert.
But for me, the bigger change is not so much in the way the search is delivered – Instant is really just an extention of the Search Suggest function – but the increasingly important role of personalization in results.
What this means is that Google is trying to give you more and more the kind of thing they think you will like to see. For instance, John Smith searches for ‘new york hotels’ and clicks on the websites for the Marriott, the Chelsea Hotel, the Hudson Hotel, etc, while Jane Brown searches for ‘new york hotels’ and clicks on the websites for Expedia, Travelocity and Orbitz. So Google learns about what each of them prefers, and tries to tailor the results in future to more closely match what John or Jane like.
Similarly, if you search for ‘zoo’ in San Diego, and you may see San Diego zoo as #1, but travel to Jacksonville and you’ll see it change to Jacksonville zoo. Do a lot of gourmet/food searches, and then search for java and you’ll see coffee sites, but if you search for coding and programming things and search for java you’ll see sites about the Java programming language.
We’ve talked before on here about the incredible wealth of data that Google has. And if you think of Google keeping a record of every search you’ve ever made, and multiply that by the billions of other searches done each month, you can see how the picture they build up of the best search results becomes much clearer.
Of course personalization didn’t begin last month, it’s been an ongoing process for a couple of years now, but it is more and more a factor which needs to be taken in to account. There is no longer a top 10 of search results which should really be considered authorative or definititive. Everyone’s search results will be different, and growing more different as Google tweaks and improves, so we can no longer say you are #3 for this phrase or #1 for for that one.
Instead, we suggest measuring the success of the search engine campaigns by looking more closely at the amount and quality of the search engine traffic. How many visitors came from the search engines? How many pages did they look at? How long did they stay on the site? What was the bounce rate? Did they buy/sign up for the newsletter/request more information? And so on, and so on.
One month in, I have to say we’re very happy comparing the results for our clients against the quality of traffic they were receiving this time last year. In almost every case, the important benchmarks have shown an improvement, which is what we would have thought – because of course the flipside of Google improving the relevancy of their search results is better, more qualified people arriving at the websites.
We have always said that in theory SEO should be win-win-win. If you are looking for a Charleston hotel, Google helps you find that hotel and the hotel gets the business. Everyone is happy. Hopefully this latest update to the process proves to be just another step along that same path.
Google Instant – the Bob Dylan version