Does Google Instant ACTUALLY Affect the Long Tail? (Free Downloadable Spreadsheet!)

So last Wednesday we were all introduced to Google Instant, a new way to browse the SERPs that will dynamically generate results as you type based on what Google thinks you are searching for.  Aside from people crying out that SEO is dead (it’s not), the most common feedback regarding the new Google functionality seems to be that it will severely limit the benefit of ranking for long tail queries.  But is there any merit to these concerns?  Will long tail searches actually be curtailed now that Google can read our minds?  That’s what I wanted to find out!

The insights shared by some of the greatest minds in the search industry have been very enlightening, but these are still human insights.  I wanted to turn to cold hard data, which is the consummate authority when it comes to analyzing the impact of different Google updates.  To steal a line from the Dark Knight's Harvey Dent, I wanted to defer to that which is “unbiased, unprejudiced, fair.”

In order to do that, I put together a process that will identify what percentage of the total keywords driving traffic to your site are 1-word phrases, 2-word phrases, and so on and so forth up to 7+ word phrases.  By comparing this data before and after the Google Instant launch, you’re able to see if your long tail traffic (or short tail, for that matter) was positively or negatively altered as a result of the change in SERPs. This strategy let’s you take an “Analytics First” approach to determining the impact, and is available absolutely free for all our valued readers here!

This spreadsheet is broken down into 3 tabs, “Keywords Before Instant,” “Keywords After Instant,” and “Comparison.”  In order to conduct your own analysis, all you will need to do would be to export your referring keywords from equal time periods before and after the Google Instant launch (9.8.10, for those keeping score) and add them to the appropriate tab under “Referring Keywords.”  Be sure to only export Google as the Instant update will obviously not have affected other search engines.

**NOTE** A helpful tip for exporting keywords: If you append &limit=5000 to the URL string in Google Analytics it will let you export 5000 keywords at a time as opposed to the traditional maximum of 500.  There will be no visible change to the Google Analytics interface but your CSV export will reflect the increase.

Once you’ve added the keywords to the appropriate tabs, the Excel gods will take care of the rest!  You can then see how many of your referring keywords were 1-word phrases, 2-words, and so on as well as what percentage of your total keywords were 1-word, 2-words, etc. before and after the update.

Finally, a visual graph is generated that gives you a side-by-side look at how the composition of your referring keywords changed (or, perhaps, didn’t change at all) as a result of the update.

I would like to point out a few points to keep in mind as you dig through the data:

  • Word count is calculated according to the number of spaces included in the phrase.  That being said, please keep in mind that the following examples will be recorded as 1-word phrases:
  • You should take special care to compare equal time periods.  This includes comparing equal number of days (7 days before the launch compared to 7 days after) as well as equivalent time periods (Mon-Fri before the launch compared to Mon-Fri after).  This ensures that other variables such as seasonality are neutralized.
  • Google Instant is not yet available to everyone,  so some users may still be searching “the old-fashioned way.”
  • Google Instant is not enabled for users searching within a toolbar.

Finally, I would like to reiterate that this spreadsheet was designed to help the search community use data and analytics to determine the impact of Google Instant on long tail vs. short tail traffic.  We’re very interested to hear how your traffic numbers compare and I will be following up with some of SEER’s insights in the next couple of weeks after more data has been aggregated.  I encourage you to post your results in the comments so we can pool our analysis and come up with some veritable proof to put the question of Google Instant’s impact on the long tail to bed for good!

Once again, the spreadsheet is available for download absolutely free by clicking on this link.  I look forward to any questions, comments, or concerns!

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