The Effect of Google Instant on Long Tail Search Behaviors

December 9th, 2010 by Amy Arnold

We have been watching some recent Google product changes over the last few months to monitor the effects on site traffic, and in November we see most websites moved along at a positive level with their organic search numbers.  Nothing startling.  Everything is on track.  But for a significant few websites, digging into the Google organic search data in November elicited responses of “Help!” or “what in the world!?!”

With drops in Google organic traffic in the double digits, some at 13% decrease, some at 20%, and some with a 32% nose dive, something clearly is going on for these few sites. Of course, my first thoughts turn straight to the two different Google product rollouts over the last 2 months and how they must be changing search behavior and traffic percentages.

Trying to find an answer or at minimum, a clue, I am paying attention to three specific areas of organic decreases:

1) geo specific searches

2) branded searches

3) photo organic search

For an example, Google organic search for 1 website for November dropped 17% or 57 visits, of which 27 were geo specific related phrases.  His organic rankings are super strong so that’s not the cause. He is in the SERPs in some great spots, so where is the traffic going?

I have another website in a different industry which lost 156 Google organic searches in November – 74 of these were geo specific.

I believe these losses are largely a consequence of Google Instant where the results differ with each letter typed in search.  I believe Instant is pulling searchers away from their intended search when these alternatives are dynamically generating as they type.  I know when Instant first rolled live, some SEO experts opined that Instant was going to be a non-event.   I can’t agree.

As I type “dentist Las Vegas” Google Instant offers several options to divert my search.  Well, I didn’t think about searching by zip code, but maybe I live in 89113, and that alternative search might be better than the one I was going to type.

dentist las vegas

Instant is offering some pretty specific options that may mean a wider keyword universe for SEO.  The “best dentist?”  Well, I would like to see who is best…

dentist boulder

Branded search is not safe from these Google product changes either.  From my first example site, of the 57 dropped searches, 30 were branded search related (the doctor’s name).

For the branded search drops, I wondered if people were clicking on his 1 box instead of his website with his name search.

Or maybe searchers were finding a different results set for his name and were clicking on his profile or other directory listings, but I don’t see ANY increase in directory referrals.  Frankly, I’m a little stumped.

A third trend I found his month is more specific to the plastic surgery industry.  Each month there is a lot of organic search around “photos,” “pictures,” or “before and after.”  These are not search in Google Images.  I have 1 surgeon based on the West coast, who lost 37 visits from lost “photos” searching.  And 1 practice on the East coast, which lost 134 visits – dropped in half!, and I filtered out all other factors that would affect it.

google instant results

I attribute these traffic losses to both Google Instant – I can see where searches can get distracted from their intent –34c breast size

And to SERPs.  I’m pretty sure that where our docs once ranked for those non-localized phrases have been given over to directories.  Unfortunately, I don’t have historical data on where they once ranked for non-geo phrases in location based search and where they rank today.  Bummer.  That would have been cool to know.

I haven’t figured it all out yet.  doh!Surely, I am missing something in the data even though I have been combing through Analytics, probably something right in front of my face. Someone may be kind enough to point it out to me, forcing me to say “doh!”

Thanks to cytoon for the great nose dive image

Thanks to LuChOeDu for the iconic Homer