Google Kicks Long-Tail Keywords To The Curb With Instant Search?

For anyone who has spent time optimizing Web sites for Google search, you know that short keywords were always the most valuable. However in paid search, they were also the most expensive - as brands compete aggressively for the same keywords that best describe their business. That offered great opportunity for small to medium size businesses to compete with major brands by optimizing 'long-tail' keywords or phrases to attract customers.

Long-tail in keyword search is basically an expansion of high volume keywords to include numerous combinations and permutations by adding additional words to a phrase. These phrases individually are unlikely to account for a great deal of searches, but when taken as a whole, can provide significant traffic.

The advantage of using long-tail is a highly effective strategy, since searchers entering long-tail searches in Google are arguably further along int the 'buying cycle,' so conversion rates can be higher. For instance, if a SEO (search engine optimization) firm was to be found, the keywords "search engine optimization firms" would bring up results for the top competitors in the field. 

From this search, you can see that "Fathom SEO" firm ranked second in a Google SERP (search engine result page).

However for a search firm that specializes in the travel industry, the longer keyword phrase "search engine optimization firms travel industry" would allow for to compete with Fathom for customers that want a SEO firm that specializes in travel.

Google's most current algorithmic iteration and its launch of "Instant Search" or 'streaming search' has switched things up a bit in this regard. It appears that the new feature favors shorter keyword searches by suggesting to the searcher what they might be looking for before they stop entering - whereby, longer keyword strings might drop off in favor of those that ranked higher with fewer keywords.

Some indicate that this move may have ulterior purpose.  According to Adam Bunn, at Greenlight Search in the UK, he questions Google's motives. "Given the 'longtail' is becoming increasingly important, with search queries, the cost-per-click (CPC) Google can charge for 'longtail' keywords is significantly lower than the that on one or two keyword search queries, (hence), the more people search for 'longtail' search queries, the less many Google can charge the advertiser," says Bunn.

In a Computerworld post, Google's reported response appeared to try to counter this negativity.

Google's co-founder Sergey Brin gives Bloomberg's Cris Valerio his spin on the company's roll our of Instant Search.

Interesting debate for those that make a living trying to stay in sync with Google's 'algo' changes and attend to clients who don't want to see their brands slip in the Google rankings.

According to a NY Times report, "since ads show up before people finish typing queries, it could be more challenging and expensive for (brands) to pick keywords that catapult their sites to the top results."

Brent Hodgson, an Internet marketing consultant with Melbourne-based Market Samurai understands the need to adjust to Google's new feature. "It wasn’t a catastrophe - as some have suggested - it would need a reassessment by key stakeholders," noted Hodgson.

Instant search is a boon to big brands, who now have even less to worry about. In stead of favoring 'longtail' keyword phrases, companies like 'Amazon' and 'Apple' actually benefit as result of the first "key letters," versus "keywords." Since Google suggests search results the moment you type in a letter, Hodgson provides the following example: Type 'a' and you'll see "Amazon," add a 'p' and you get "Apple," he said in an email. “Sites that rank well for short search strings will get seen more often, and will get clicked more often.”

So in my estimation, companies favoring long-tail searches might be waiting a lot 'longer' than ever to see a return on a dated strategy that might not get them found on future Google searches.

Sep 9, 2010
by Anonymous

Ummm, no.

A searcher uses long-tail keywords to find EXACTLY what they want much more quickly. That won't stop because Google starts throwing results up as the user starts typing. The long-tail will be alive and well.