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Question: Tell us more about your background and how you ended up in SEO.
Answer: I was at UCLA building Gopher and WAIS sites when the Mosaic browser came out and changed things. I started migrating content to HTML and went looking for something that could make the pages more dynamic. I eventually came across the Internet Database Connector and Cold Fusion 1.0 which helped me build a tool to allow grad students to publish their dissertations online. My initial interest in SEO actually came from trying to get out of an engine. There was a huge spike in traffic and English Department web server crashed when the drive ran out of space due to the size of the web logs. Lycos had found and ranked a grad student’s (completely textual) dissertation, on S&M in 17th Century Literature, for certain ‘naughty’ keywords. I’m sure the searchers were extremely disappointed in what they found. So, I researched and figured out that robots.txt could prevent the engines from crawling specific content. Once the fire was out, I realized the reach of search and started my journey into the world of SEO studying the engines algorithms, keyword relevancy, and their ranking factors. I’ve been researching the algorithms’ black boxes ever since.
Question: To what extent will Google Instant impact SEO practices?
Answer: As usual, the more things change, the more they stay the same. At this point, it looks like the same basic ranking factors will continue to apply. Now, this is not to say that our SEO strategy doesn’t need to adapt. Although our practices of achieving rankings may not change, the keywords we target will most likely shift. I suspect that the most significant change we will see will be the narrowing of the long-tail search spectrum. We’ve seen this a little with suggested search in the toolbar, however, it will be more pronounced with the Google main page. With Google Instant, searchers are presented with suggestive search options for each of their searches. It’s fair to assume that searchers will narrow their focus to the popular search options instead of something more unique (or misspelled).
Question: Does that mean that companies, which have traditionally made money from long-tail keywords or misspellings, will be most affected by the change?
Answer: It’s fair to expect that such companies will be affected. The question is, to what extent? People predicted that the sky was falling when suggestive search was added to the toolbar, but the true impact was underwhelming. The home page search may have a bigger impact however due to the size of the user base.
The complementary question is: What will be the adoption rate? In my very non-scientific study of ‘non-search geek’ users, 4 of 5 people didn’t like Google Instant. Common responses were, “I don’t like the thing flashing when I type,” “I like the simple Google,” and “How do I turn it off?” They were happy when I showed them how to turn it off with a simple click on the ‘Instant is on’ down arrow. The same users were also getting partial queries because they were typing, saw what they wanted in the search box and hit enter instead of tab or down arrow key enter causing a search with partially typed keyword phrases. I would expect an uptick in SEO efforts for incomplete phrases by people who have focused on long-tail to this point.
Question: How else do you expect the Google search results to change as a result of Instant?
Answer: One thing that I haven’t seen, which I expected to, was geo-location targeting in the suggestions. For example, ‘pizza hut in…’ suggests ‘riverside, ca’, ‘sylmar’, ‘fontana’, etc… None of these are near me or near where I know my IP shows that I am. I also tried the searches on different browsers and on remote machines and got the same suggestions. This tells me that, at least right now, they are not geo-targeting their suggestions. This may be something coming in the future, or, maybe the horsepower necessary to do geo-targeted suggestions on the fly is too much at this point.
Question: Google Instant has dominated the conversation in search marketing for the last several weeks, and for the majority of this interview. What else is happening in the industry that you find exciting?
Answer: Sticking with GI for second, GI Mobile should be coming in the fall. I’m interested to see how much bandwidth it chews up. Let’s say I typed ‘subway shop’. 10 characters ~ 10 (instant) searches ~ 100k = 1MB per result. With AT&T’s 200MB plan, that’s ~6 searches per day to eat up your entire monthly bandwidth. These numbers are very rough, and the pages will be smaller than that, but, if three searches include Universal Search images integrated and then eventually a map, the numbers may not be so far off.
Although mobile search share isn’t what people had predicted to this point, usage is still on the rise, especially with the newer generation of smartphones. Google’s integration of voice with mobile search is interesting, especially in the local space. Walking down the street, saying ‘sushi’ and having a local map come up with nearest places is pretty cool. This presents an even more compelling need to rank in local.
Since Bing’s algorithm is a bit more content-centric than Google’s, I’m particularly excited to watch the Bing/Yahoo market share over the next year. Yahoo is a portal that people love, but, their algorithm was so far behind that their results were extremely poor. With the improvement in their results via the Bing integration, I expect to see Yahoo stem the exodus of users and actually be able to start gaining a bit of market share back. Combine that with Bing’s gains in market share, and now we have a reasonable potential market to target with custom optimization.