Will Google Instant Kill Long-Tail Keywords for SEO?

Google certainly made a big splash in the news today with its implementation of “Google Instant,” a new Google search feature that instantly displays search results as you type your search query.  This was such a big story that I decided to postpone my monthly passive income update until tomorrow (or Friday).

I am by no means an SEO expert, but as someone who dabbles in website creation and affiliate marketing, I wanted to weigh in on how I think this drastic change to the way people search could effect SEO and affiliate marketing, especially with respect to long-tail keywords.

The Real Impact of Google Instant

From a user perspective, Google Instant is both good and bad.  It’s good because it may shorten the time you spend searching for a website.  For example, you may be interested in “Florida beach vacations,” however you find a relevant search result when you’ve only typed “Florida beach.”  Great, you’ve saved yourself a second (at most – unless you are an incredibly slow typer).

On the negative side, you’ve opened a whole new can of worms.  You might want “Florida beach vacations” but find yourself seeing a search result that says “Florida beaches are terrible for fishing” when you’ve only typed “Florida beach.”  It may interest you, and you’ll click it before you finish typing “Florida beach vacations.”

You could argue that this is a positive aspect of Google Instant.  After all, you came across an article that is obviously interesting or relevant to you that you otherwise would have never seen if you only saw the results for “Florida beach vacations.”  On the other hand, you’ve completely derailed your search, and may have extended the time you originally planned on your search for Florida beach vacation information.

The good and bad of this scenario is entirely debatable.  The one thing that is for sure – if you’re a business that ranked high for “Florida beach vacations,” you might notice a dip in organic traffic because of all the people who were derailed on their way to that search string.

You might be tempted to ask, “Well what about the people who only wanted to type ‘Florida beaches’ but saw the suggestion for ‘Florida beach vacation’ ?” Well, I would argue that Google’s suggestion feature already existed prior to today, so this really isn’t anything new.  Also, what if “Florida beach vacations” isn’t one of the few suggested items that appear when you begin to type “Florida beaches?”

The Impact on Long-Tail Keywords

This is where my real beef is with Google Instant, as I started to get into above.  This new search process seems like it will likely harm the many blogs, articles, and websites that rely on organic traffic from long-tail keywords.  No, it won’t be killed entirely, but I have trouble seeing how it won’t be somewhat reduced.

The bottom line is, people are now far more likely to find a search result that fits their needs before they finish typing a long-tail search keyword.  Yes, this is Google’s intention – if they’re helping the user to find something they want more quickly, then they’ve enhanced the user’s experience.

I’ll go one step further and say that certain long-tail keywords that once brought in a reasonable amount of organic traffic will see a huge decline in that traffic.  Let’s take a look at an example:

You want to set up a niche affiliate site for selling kitchen appliances, that you plan to use in conjunction with Amazon’s affiliate program.  You notice there’s one keyword that has some reasonable traffic – “kitchen appliances online.”

Your next check is to see if KitchenAppliancesOnline.com is available – after all, this is how you’re going to get a big boost in the search engine results.  Viola, is it! (It actually isn’t, but assume it is.)

Enter Google Instant. If someone is looking for kitchen appliances online, guess what?  As soon as they have typed kitchen appliances, they will already see incredibly relevant results.  Sure, some will still finish it by typing the “online” part, but I would predict that many will not.

So What Can We Do Now?

Time and data are our friends.  As with any change Google makes, people will adjust their optimization techniques.  Furthermore, we need to wait and see how the traffic changes for long-tail keywords by monitoring the Google Keyword Tool.  I’m not sure how often they update their search statistics.

SEO isn’t dead (obviously), but it’s changing for sure.  Those who rely completely on long-tail keywords will suffer a bit (my prediction), and those who were strong for more competitive keywords may get even stronger.  Being near the top of page 1 on Google also just became more important.  Try a search with Google Instant and you’ll see what I’m talking about – you now need to scroll down to see results that you could previously see without scrolling down.

All we can do now is wait and see.  I’m interested in what you think, so please leave a comment.

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  1. “Being near the top of page 1 on Google also just became more important.”

    You’re definitely right about that one. Like most people, I search Google numerous times throughout the day. And after reading your article, I realized that not once in my searches did I click over to the second page of the results. It’ll be interesting to see how traffic trends change thanks to faster searching.


    Eric G. Reply:

    Thanks for the comment! It’s absolutely true – rarely do people click to the second page, unless nothing on the first page contains what they’re looking for. If long-tail keyword searches become less frequent, this becomes an even larger issue for those who target the keywords with their websites.


  2. I’m glad to see somebody in the SEO business respond to this. So far, the only reaction I’ve seen has been TechCrunch interviewing Marissa Meyer saying “no it won’t affect SEO much”. I completely agree with your analysis. As somebody who was just beginning to learn the ropes of SEO, I’m a bit hesitant to devote as much time to learning it as I had been. I have a feeling the majority of the advice out there right now will be changing drastically over the next few months.


    Eric G. Reply:

    Thanks for the comment, Thomas, and I definitely sympathize with your concerns. I would still advise you to learn as much about SEO as you can – one key thing to keep in mind is that Google did not change the way they rank websites in their search results. All they did was change the way people search. Therefore, the primary concern is how people’s searching behavior will be affected by this new feature (i.e. my prediction that long-tail keyword searches will decline in volume).

    The optimist in me wants to say: Every time the internet world changes, there are new opportunities. If you’ve been one step behind in the SEO/SEM game, now is your chance to step up, become familiar with the changes, and learn how to work in the “new” environment. While this change may seem negative right now, those of us who do our research and monitor data as it comes out will be better positioned to succeed under these new circumstances.


  3. I tend to disagree on this point. I think it may actually enhance long tail searches.

    Firstly, Google Instant seems a bit distracting for users and many may just turn it off.

    Secondly, for the blog or website owner, it means that they will probably get more targeted traffic and better click through rates.

    It will also enable the searcher to use possible key word combinations in order to get what they are looking for in the first place instead of shooting in the dark.

    In general, it means more targeted searches, results and higher click through rates.


    Eric G. Reply:

    Hey David, thanks for giving your thoughts. I certainly hope you’re right about enhancing long-tail search – that would be great! Longer-tail searches would mean more targeted traffic (because the search is more specific), however for anyone who gets distracted by the instant results before completely typing the long-tail keywords, they may generate less targeted traffic.

    I honestly think click-through rates will go down primarily due to the fact that impressions will go up. Because the user is faced with multiple sets of results as he or she types (vs. the one set of results that would have been present in the past), there are more impressions (a 3-second pause counts as an impression, per Google). I do agree that the user may come across keyword combinations that he or she wouldn’t have otherwise seen before, but this was already a feature of Google prior to Google Instant (the ability to see a drop-down menu of “suggested” search queries).

    I guess we’ll have to wait and see how it all shakes out!


  4. Completely agree that long tail keywords will suffer. Our website is ranked in the 1st page of google for our most imp keyphrase “virtual personal assistant”. We get lot of traffic from here. Now with google instant I don’t quite see it being the same way.


    Eric G. Reply:

    Hopefully with that keyword, you will still be okay. If anything, when someone starts typing “virtual personal…” they will be suggested “virtual personal assistant.” I think your targeted keyword is short enough to where Google Instant will either have no impact or might actually help. Thanks for the comment, Robert!


  5. It definitely appears to create a scenario where the top 3-4 spots of the SERP’s are much more relevant (read: will get even more traffic) now and anything below that are much less relevant (read: will get even less traffic).

    “Making page 1 of the SERP’s” just changed to “making the top 4 of page 1 of the SERPS”. While it may not have functionally changed SEO it’s definitely changed what is considered “prime real estate” as far as the SERP’s go.

    I guess in the end, it just makes your job of ranking that much more important and that much more harder to achieve.


    Eric G. Reply:

    I agree 100%, Kevin. SEO may be more important now than ever.


    dinesh Reply:

    Absolutely agree Kevin.

    I think this is the last point you make in your post Eric, but I’d actually view this one as the most important.

    I know I’ve got a bunch of keywords that I’m ranking 10-6 on and now I’m definitely concerned that I’m going to lose most of those clicks.

    As you say Kevin “making page 1” definitely just went to “making the top 4”.



    Eric G. Reply:

    My gut instinct is to sort of panic about this too, Dinesh, but I think we need to wait and see. After we monitor traffic for a month or so, we should be able to determine how large of an effect (good or bad) this will have on our sites.


  6. Hi Eric,

    I agree with your idea in principle, but I’m not sure there will actually be a huge drop in long tail traffic. My reason is simple: because Google Instant is the most (explicative) annoying thing I’ve had to deal with from search engines in years. I hate it, and I know a lot of people who have said the same. I ignore it and type in my full search query, and it sounds like there’s a way to turn it off, so I’ll be looking to do that next. While it’s almost certain there will be a dip, part of Google’s beauty was simplicity and Instant is going in the wrong direction with that. If Yahoo wasn’t so muddled up I would seriously consider switching search engines: it’s that annoying to me.


    Eric G. Reply:

    Hey Master Dayton – I’m beginning to think that you’re right. The people who are annoyed will definitely turn it off. So far, it doesn’t seem like my long-tail traffic has declined much on my websites and articles. It’s probably still too early to tell, however.

    I like Yahoo and I wonder how things will change once Yahoo finally merges its search engine with Bing (i.e. I believe Yahoo will be using Bing’s search engine and index at some point in the coming months).

    Thanks for the comment!


  7. At the moment Google Instant may not have a huge impact because it’s only available to those with modern browsers who use Google home page as their default search method. Most people tend to us the integrated search boxes within the browser, although I’m sure that will change soon.


    Eric G. Reply:

    Thanks for the comment, Lean. I agree with you that it may be awhile before we see the true impact of Google Instant. I know Google has plans to eventually integrate Google Instant into browsers and most other search platforms. I guess we’ll see!


  8. Hi Eric,

    Just found your site and love what you’ve written. I’m going to have to disagree with you on this topic though.

    I think that long tail keywords will get more searches than they used to and as long as you jump over to google and work your seo around the long tail keywords that google suggests then you’ll be above anyone targeting the shorter keywords.

    In your example, jumping over to google and typing in “kitchen appliances ” you could target reviews or packages. go one step further though and type “kitchen appliances o” and you can see you should be targeting online + on sale.

    If i was looking to buy appliances online I would probably click on the “on sale” option. So google is also kind of helping us know what long tail keywords to go after.

    I see this as a bonus for the little guys who are more likely to target the long tail keywords. It is a great opportunity to try and beat the big guys.

    Whatever happens the only sure thing about making a living on the internet is that it is always going to evolve and change and if you complain about it changing and wish it would just stay the same then you’ll be left in the dust.

    Not that I think this will happen to you Eric, you seem to be pretty switched on to the pulse. Keep up the awesome work.


    Eric G. Reply:

    Hey Iain,

    After having a bit of time to think about this ever since I wrote this post a couple weeks ago, I do think you’re right. Based on what you’re saying, I can definitely see how long-tail keywords may not suffer, and in fact, they could become more valuable to target (provided you’re targeting the right ones of course). The thing I like most about what you said is that we need to evolve with the internet, rather than try to fight or complain about changes. I think this is a key success factor that definitely separates the winners from the losers.

    Thanks for the comment!