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Google Instant Is Not The Terminator

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Google made a change. People are outraged. They have too much data already, your information will never be private again, they’re a monopoly, they’re closer to being self-aware!

You know, just like every other time Google makes a change.

Or every time Facebook makes a change.

Or any time Windows gets updated.

The potential for how Google Instant affects analytics software is the same as when Google introduced Ajax Search. Theoretically, after Ajax Search was live, the browser would not send any query information because the query string on the search results would change from to

The hypothesis was that the browser would strip out everything after the #, leaving the referring URL to be Only Google Analytics would be able to report referring keyword information from The Google. It would drive large data collection platforms like Omniture, Coremetrics and Web Trends out of business.

Thousands of SEOs would starve in the streets because none of them would be able to prove ROI from a keyword search on Google.

And the unthinkable happened. Crickets chirped.

Like Y2K, nothing happened. Google wasn’t trying to destroy any and all competing business.

With the announcement of Google Instant, SEOs and third-party analytics platforms are shouting the same dire predictions:

Google Instant does not load a URL into a browser during query. The user will click on the link and because they don’t see the URL string from an actual SERP, they assume none is passing to the server logs, and therefore nothing to third-party analytics platforms. Google is once again out to kill any competition and doesn’t want anyone to use any tracking software other than Google Analytics. SEO will die because no one can prove traffic came from highly targeted keywords! IT’S ALL COMING TO AN END!

Until Raven Tools’ Jason Tan did some careful investigating.

He queried “Raven Tools” using Google Instant, a normal Google search and a Google search with Javascript turned off.

Using Instant search, he typed “Raven To,” which autocompleted to “Raven Tools” and loaded the SERPs, of which the first result was

Using Javascript, Google sends you to:[string1]&[string2]&usg=[string3]&sig2=[string4]

The important part is “q=raven%20tools.” The query parameter is being passed by the browser!

With a normal search (,
he got a similar URL:[string1]&[string5]&usg=[string3]&sig2=[string6]

And searching with Javascript turned off, the referrer is:

So, wait? Referring URLs are still passed by the browser? SEO isn’t dead? Third-party analytics tools won’t go bankrupt?*


Then Google must be trying to drive up revenue by making AdWords click-through-rates suffer with extraneous impressions causing quality scores plummet, thus causing advertisers to increase all their maximum bids to $10.

I’ll be back later with why Google isn’t trying to drive up revenue by making AdWords click-through-rates suffer with extraneous impressions…

Jason’s Caveat

*Jason, ever a stickler for detail in our blog posts, had this to say: “I should point out that this only removes the fear of losing Google search referral information from any non-Google analytics software. I think this will still impact SEO, not from the SERPs perspective, but from keyword targeting. Short tail keywords are going to be much more important, since relevant results will start to show up before someone finishes typing a long-tail keyword.”

My thoughts on that coming soon, too…

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8 Responses to “Google Instant Is Not The Terminator”

  1. Chris Carroll

    It’s good to know that referring data is still being passed, and while I agree this in no way signifies the end of SEO, I’m still waiting to see how things change.
    It does seem that small, local businesses may be affected, since once you have the 5 suggestions, 3 PPC ads, and the map pack, little to no organic listings display above the fold.

    Looking forward to the rest of Raven’s insight on instant.

  2. Eryck Dzotsi

    @ravennate LOL “Crickets chirped.” Jason Caveat is dead on the money. I was explaining to people yesterday that all it does is to not kill SEO but up the ante for the game. Only the very good ones will survive because the short tale, very competitive keywords are not more precious than ever, whereas previously, an SEOposer could go after longtail and claim expertise. Awating the rest of the posts.

  3. Good insight. I like the additional caveat by Jason, it seems more likely than “SEO is dead, the world is coming to an end, everyone get out their orange safety vests and cardboard signs for begging on the streets.”

    I look forward to the next installments from you guys on what Google Instant may mean.


  4. Nate, very good post.

    On a separate note, I too have been thinking a lot about how Google Instant affects AdWords campaigns, and there are multiple levels on which it does/may… Very much looking forward to your post on how they aren’t “trying to drive up revenue” by deflating CTRs

  5. I LOL hard at the “Crickets chirped.” So true, people don’t learn or maybe because it’s just so easy to ride the wave when something new comes out…well the later might be more appropriate with “seo is dead” post and tweets all over the place.

    As for the short tail prevalence, I also think it’s gonna be an impact of GI, I could also see a rise on long tail queries as users could easily type-in longer query without the needs to do an action (enter).

  6. European Internet Marketing

    Funny, I’ve just started a very similar Google Instant series on my own blog.

    My first impressions of Instant were, “ugh! that’s annoying!”
    Before I passed any judgement on it, though, I decided I’d test it first then wait a while before commenting about it on my blog.

    I came to the exact same conclusion – that there’s absolutely no difference in search results. All Instant is, for all intents and purposes, is like a mod or add-on for regular Google search that extends the pre-existing autocomplete function throughout the results page. That’s all.

    The other one, other than the “death of SEO” routine that really got to me, was that people were complaining that Google were deliberately “pushing” big brands and conspiracies abounded that big companies like Amazon or Best Buy were somehow paying for results. That too, is a total crock.