Last Wednesday Google introduced us to a new way of searching, Google Instant. Google will now suggest pages of results to us before we even complete typing our search terms… but what does that mean for SEO?

The idea behind the changes Google has introduced is simple. They want to speed search up and the quickest way to do that is to reduce the time spent actually entering your search term. For example if you were searching for a web design you would have to type “web design” and you would receive your results. But when instant is rolled out you will see this:

I have only got as far as typing “web d” and Google is not only predicting that I am searching for “web design” (see the greyed out ‘esign’ in the search box) but it has also displayed the indexed results for that key phrase.

It’s a big change to the search experience people are used to, but in terms of actual SEO nothing has changed. The algorithms that Google employ have not changed. If I were to keep my head down and continue entering “web design” before hitting the enter key, the results displayed would not have changed.

What I do find interesting however is that Google Instant is favouring the more competitive national keywords by nature of their length. For example someone who intended to search for ‘web design Bristol’ would be getting the results for ‘web design’ first, before even getting to type Bristol. Presented with some relevant results, they may well cease typing the search term and click through to a ‘web design’ result instead. Thus, the firms listed for ‘web design Bristol’ in this case lose out.

So for me these changes are not about SEO, but more about user behaviour. As peoples habits shift from entering full search terms to using Google’s suggestions based on partial queries local search may become less effective at providing clicks for websites. Consequently, the broader national terms will become even more competitive.

The cynic in me is saying that this is a master stroke from Google to push people towards pay-per-click AdWords. If that is the truth then it is a pretty shrewd move. But even if that is the case you can’t take away from the fact that this is going to improve the search experience for the user.