Google Instant and Its Potential Impact on User Behavior (and SEO) – Part I

Jessica Shieh, Digital Strategist


When Google announced Google Instant in early September, tech blogs, forums and social media channels exploded with buzz about this change to the popular search engine.

If you’re looking for a basic primer, Matt McGee provides a great overview on the Search Engine Land blog, but in this two-part blog series, I’m going to skip over the basics and talk about Google Instant’s potential impact on user behavior and consequently, how it changes the SEO game.

How Will Google Instant Change User Behavior?

Search experience used to be like this: you come up with a search term, type it in, click on the search button (or press “enter”, etc.), scroll through the search results, click a few of them, modify your search terms, then repeat. Unless you’re lucky enough to find exactly what you’re looking for the first time, you go through this trial-and-error cycle until you finally land on a page that provides you with what you want.

Will Google Instant change that?

For me, one week into using Google Instant, I am already seeing some behavioral changes and former Google PM Avichael Garg is predicting several more, including:

  • Query construction patterns – being prone to typos myself, I’ve now learned to type in the first few letters and expect Google to spell the search term correctly for me; I also tend to wait for recommended results when I’m not sure how to define my search terms.
  • Page scanning behavior – it is hard to not pay attention to the dynamic search results display under the search bar. As a result, users will likely do more content “skimming” than actual reading, and will abandon clicking through to individual pages in favor of scanning titles and moving on when they don’t find what they need. I’ve  also found myself paying more attention to the top two search results, color-coded text blocks (which are often sponsored links) and images.
  • “Re-search” behavior (searching again if you didn’t find what you want) – I look at the suggestions and make little tweaks as I type. Sometimes I even completely abandon what I was looking for, simply because I found a suggestion that was particularly intriguing.

Tomorrow I’ll cover how Google Instant will change the SEO game and what that means for your site.

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