Instant & Personalized Search – The End of SEO?

Panic over Instant Search implications for SEO

by Christopher Wendels on september 10, 2010

Google Instant Search has generated a lot of buzz and the implications for SEO are already being discussed.

Let’s all just get one thing straight. SEO is not dead. This is not the end of the world. In fact, if you are even half-good at what you do as an SEO, you realize this has potential written all over it!

Some people, like Steve Rubel, are saying that SEO is now indeed irrelevant. I couldn’t disagree more. Other people, like Chris Crum, seem to be unsure. There are also those out there, like Brian Harnish, who seem to still have their heads attached to their shoulders.

What the community is reacting to now is the same thing that Webmaster World and other SE-related forums started going through when Personalized Search came along. So, for close to a year now people in the SEO industry have been in a relative state of panic.

Everybody: Calm down!
I could list dozens of reasons and arguments to why SEO is not dead. I could go on and on, point by point. Personally I think one is enough, but to give you the general idea here are the three main reasons to still do search engine optimization:

  1. The macro perspective:
    This is, by far, the biggest reason to why SEO is not dead. First of all, let’s just define some things here: SEO is a lot more than just rankings, but for the sake of this argument we shall pretend that SEO is nothing more than the SERPs.
    Charles results show him Pepsi as the number one result when he searches for “soda”. This is because his search history is skewed toward cola-type beverages and the brand Pepsi. Milly on the other hand searches for “soda” and the results spit out Orangina. This is what we call a micro perspective. We are looking at each individual in turn, and yes; no two people are seeing the same results.
    When you aggregate all the search results, the personal search, the local search, and the instant search, from all ‘individual’ search queries – what you end up with is the same as before. The websites ranked according to the Algorithm.
  2. First timers and opt-outs:
    There is such a thing as a first-time searcher. A browser with no cookies. A searcher with no Google Account. Incognito and Private Browsing mode. What about the search queries Google has no data for, even if they have a history for that person? We can argue all day that these results are also skewed, but because of my first point your argument is invalid. More importantly, how you rank for that specific term has become even more important. Which brings us to:
  3. Rankings matter more than ever:
    Rankings are more important now than ever, because if a user clicks your site in the SERPs and then browses your site, you will be ranked better for their queries in the future. Mind-boggling isn’t it?

SEO was never just about the rankings. Sure, my task as an SEO is to drive traffic to websites through search engines. My job was never to land the number one slot in the Google SERPs even though that sure used to be is a very important aspect of my job, and the most important KPI for clients.

In my opinion the real challenge in SEO has just begun. This is where the fun starts!