What’s been the Impact of Google Instant on Searcher Behavior? So far Not Much.

Somebody stop the Google Instant SEO is dead/crippled/forever changed hysteria train, I’d like to get off.

In the days following Google’s Instant announcement on September 8th the pronouncements in the tech press/blogosphere ranged from “SEO is dead” to the long tail is going to dominate to everything in between.

In the hours after the announcement we posted some early thoughts on the fundamentals of Instant and the changes you can expect to see in the near term.  With much of the conjecture about the impact Instant will have, both on the way we will search and on the SEO profession continuing in the week following the announcement, we crunched the data to see what impact, if any Instant was having on searcher behavior.

We analyzed the search traffic for ten high traffic websites across multiple verticals for the week prior to Google Instant and compared it to the week immediately following the launch.  We looked at more than 880,000 visits, 440,000 per week, and grouped the traffic into length of search term.

As you can see below, the distribution of traffic is virtually identical week over week, with three quarters of traffic coming from search terms 3 words or less.  Long tail visits (4 words or more) did not increase significantly post launch.

Google Instant - Visits by Search Term Length

Long tail visits did not increase significantly in the week after the launch of Google Instant.

It’s still early and users are still getting used to the new search user experience (although many seem to find Instant distracting and are turning it off) but a little more than a week in it doesn’t appear to be having a significant impact on how users search.  We’ll continue to keep a close eye as things develop and will post our findings here.

Are you seeing anything different in the impact Instant has had in your search traffic?  Sound off in the comments.

-Nathan Safran
Senior Research Analyst

24 Responses to What’s been the Impact of Google Instant on Searcher Behavior? So far Not Much.

  1. Jun says:

    I have the same data from one of the websites that I work on, not as much traffic as you’ve got there, just around 4k daily. Glad to know it’s not just me who have seen the same thing. Business as usual for SEO. 🙂


  2. Mitchel says:

    Thanks for an actual quantitative analysis!

    Google suggest is the bigger change than Google instant. Google is trying to steer searchers towards more pre-defined queries, which it can then better sell Adwords clicks against.

    Your limited data set may show that queries are migrating towards Google’s more structured recommendations. Not the end of the world, but certainly a trend to continue to watch!

  3. Tyler Fraser says:

    It’s definitely distracting.

    I am a LITTLE more interested in singular terms. People need to type less to see results. Singular phrases will show results more than before instant. If you search blue widget, you’ll see the results – when you might have (in the past) typed blue widgets.

  4. David Cohen @dwynot says:

    Did anybody ask the central question :
    what is the rate of GG connected searcher ??


  5. Doc Sheldon says:

    Thank you, Nathan! Thanks for taking the time to do it right, and thanks for shedding more light than heat, on a topic-gone-mad!

    Frankly, I’m surprised the impact seems to be negligent. Never one to think that SEO was “dead”, or even likely to be significantly impacted, I still did expect to see more difference than your numbers indicate.

    Commendable effort!

  6. Rosenstand says:

    Thank you for sharing. I’m quite surprised that the impact is so small. Any idea of how many users actually switched off the Instant function?

  7. Nathan Safran says:

    Hi Rosenstand, only anecdotally, but from what I’ve read it seems like a not insignificant representation of the tech blogger/press community have turned it off. Mashable did a reader poll that showed 37% of readers prefer the original Google:

  8. Brett says:

    Again, thanks for the providing us with some real data. I haven’t noticed much of a change in search traffic either as a result of this update.

    @Nathan Safran – I think when a really noticeable update like this is released just takes time for people to get used to the changes. If you poll users in another 3 months I bet you’d have some very different numbers.

    No actual data here, but I doubt users are actually turning off their “Instant” results. An average user: 1.) wouldn’t know how to do that 2.) wouldn’t go through the trouble of changing that setting.

  9. Nathan Safran says:

    Brett: good point-I agree most users would not go through the trouble/know how to turn it off. We’ll definitely redo the excersize once some more time has passed-will be interesting to see if little changes because users learn to tune out Instant (like a buzzing fly?) or get used to it and start to find value…

  10. Craig Danuloff says:

    Question: How do you know this? The referrer is still passing the assumed suggestion, regardless of how many characters the user typed. I don’t think you have any way of knowing the influence of Instant because you don’t know if they would have finished the query that way or if the accepted the then default suggestion.

    Anxious to here your reply.

    • Craig – not sure that I understand. When the user stops typing, the results that are displayed are for the suggested keyword.

      While we’re not sure if the intent changed to different keywords (more of a suggest than instant question) – we do know that they’re not stopping after a shorter phrase.

  11. Nathan Safran says:

    Craig: we know it insofar that the overall distribution of queries remains relatively unchanged post launch. If it skewed long tail or the other way (more shorter queries) we could reasonably conclude something had changed in user behavior as a result of Instant.

    Either way we’ll keep an eye on things and report back what we find as more time elapses.

  12. andrea says:

    this is what to expect from Instant behaviour, thank you for sharing anyway

  13. Rahul says:

    I don’t understand why Google shows quick results while user searching? As it is Google suggested keywords before launching “Google instant”.

    The impact of “Google instant” is not that much high on user experience. Reducing query time is not mean to get most relevant results, user will go for mostly 3 word keyword for getting most related information.

  14. MEC Manchester says:

    Hi Nathan,
    You just beat us to it! :-p

    We’ve just done some similar analysis of UK data. The only change of note that we spotted was in the 7+ keyword category where there was a noticeable increase. We’re going to do a follow up in a couple of months when we get full roll out to none logged in users and peoples habits have changed. I think its a bit too early to deduced anything concrete.

    • Nathan Safran says:

      Nice–interesting that you found an increase in 7+–we went up to 6+ but I’ll check on that for the next update we do. (Love the orange in the charts, btw:)

  15. Chris says:

    @Nathan Safran @MEC Manchester

    Thanks very much for the stats! After all the hype around ‘the death of seo’ its encouraging to see some positive stats showing little difference in search trends. I’ll be very interested to see the change (if any) in search trends over the next couple of months whist users become familiar with the concept of Instant search.

    Keep us posted!

  16. The Rayshbag says:

    Interesting analysis. I agree, though, that it will be important to see if the data will remain consistent over time. I respect, appreciate, and admire your approach and look forward to seeing a followup and other insightful articles.

    • Nathan Safran says:

      @Chris @The Rayshbag
      You are welcome. We plan on a follow up at around the 4 week post launch mark. If you have thoughts on other things to look at in the data that might be interesting let us know…


  17. Christopher Yee says:

    Great analysis, Nathan! Your post sparked my interest as well and I hope mine will provide as much insight as yours.

  18. Great post, and it’s right on time if I may add.
    With all the buzz around Google Instant launch I’ve encountered too many people declaring that SEO is over and done with. All of them received links to this post 🙂

  19. John Roberts says:

    I have a lot of clients that have moved away from Google search as they find the instant feature, in their own words “annoying”.

  20. Alex says:

    Can I just say what a relief to find someone who actually knows what theyre talking about on the internet. You definitely know how to bring an issue to light and make it important.

    More people need to read this and understand this side of the story. I cant believe youre not more popular because you definitely have the gift.

    Best regards Alex