What Does Google Instant Mean for Health Searches?
24 hours after Google’s new Instant search has gone live, Internet gurus have established that Instant will have an effect on search that falls somewhere between apocalyptic and negligible. Some initial findings include the fact that:
SEO is dead
SEO is not dead
Instant will kill the longtail of search
Instant will lengthen the longtail
Thanks for the help, Internet experts.
Clearly, the hype has outpaced rational thinking. So let’s take a step back and look what’s changed, what hasn’t, and how Google Instant will affect the way that we search for health information.
How does Instant affect search ranking or SEO?
In short, it doesn’t. The Google algorithm still functions exactly the same way, and will still return the same results. It’s just doing so now at an incredible speed.
There has been some talk that Google Instant will feature more personalized search – that is, the results you see will be influenced by previous searches you’ve done, your location, and other creepy info Google has gathered about you. In reality though, personalized search has been increasing in prominence since at least 2007. Try it for yourself – whether Instant is turned on or off, you’re logged in our out, the results you see will be affected, at minimum, by your location.
How will this affect searcher behavior?
This is the more important question. Will people start using Google differently once they get used to Instant search? In the short term, people will probably continue doing what they’ve been doing, if only because it’s confusing and distracting to watch results stream by for queries that you’re not trying to type in. But over the longer term, Google Instant will pull people in two directions:
- Longer- tail: if someone was going to type in a 1-2 word phrase, they’ll now see all the other options popping up for more specific searches. Google Instant will train people to expect that if they type in one more word, their results can get a little bit better and more specific.
- Shorter tail: if someone was going to type in a highly-specific eight-word phrase, they’ll start looking at results after just the first couple words. They might get distracted by what is popping up, and abandon their longtail query half-way through.
Here’s an example. Say you’re a non-savvy, top-down searcher. You start off thinking you’ll search about “migraine”:
But seeing that you can get more specific results by adding to the query, you try “migraine triggers”
And then “migraine trigger foods”
And then “migraine trigger foods list”
Of course, the opposite might be true as well. You might be planning to search for “migraine trigger foods list,” but you notice a good result after just typing “migraine trigger,” and end up clicking on one of those links…
Overall, my expectation is that this might shift more searches to the mid-tail – searches somewhere in the 3-6 word range. Because HealthCentral has such deep and varied content, we might see some audience gains as searchers get more specific. If long tail searchers get distracted by short tail results, however, the results might be more of a mixed bag.
How important is Instant?
So far, very little of the Google Instant coverage has explored how many people will actually get to (or want to) use Instant search. Consider for a moment all the restrictions. To see Instant results, you must:
- Use Google (35% of searchers aren’t)
- Be on Google.com (not using a browser search bar, iGoogle, etc… which a very large percentage of users are)
- Use a non-mobile device
- Use a fast computer with a fast internet connection (lack of broadband access / use is still shockingly high)
- Look at the screen (not the keyboard) as you type. We know your terrible hunt-and-peck secret, older generation.
- Use firefox 3, IE 8, chrome 5, safari 5 or later-version browser (around 33% of users aren’t)
Lastly, you’d have to keep Google Instant turned on. I suspect a non-trivial percentage of people will switch it off in an attempt to cut down on the dizzying torrent of images and words flashing across the screen every time they Google something.
How do YOU think Google Instant will affect health search? I’d love to see some thoughts in the comments.
We’ll check back here in another week when we have some hard data to explore.
Update: We’ve got some hard data gathered posted a case study of How Google Instant affects the Longtail. Check it out!