Google Instant Search LogoGoogle is moving the goal posts again. This is not a complaint, but an observation. This post isn’t about the ins and outs of their new  Instant Search feature going live. There are lots of bloggers taking the opportunity to opine about the irrelevance of SEO or the death of the long tail search. I recommend reading at least a dozen or so posts to get a wide view of the potential impact. There is one thing everyone seems to agree with; we won’t really know the impact for a while.

So what is this post about? It’s a life lesson for search engine marketers, articulated in memorable fashion by Ferris Bueller on his day off. “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”

Are You Insane?

Albert Einstein is credited with the quote, the definition of insanity is “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”  If you haven’t thrown out your search marketing playbook this year but are expecting the same results, you may very well be insane.   There have been so many game-changing events in the last twelve months that it’s critical to a) understand their implications and b) modify your strategies and tactics accordingly.

Search Engine Marketing Is Changing

Google Instant is going to change the way organic search and pay per click campaigns behave as well as how they’re measured.  Right away, the very definition of the word “impressions” has become a lot more complicated.  This will have a trickle-down effect on all of the click stream metrics you’re watching.  In engineering terms, we call this event a discontinuity.  I’m fond of using the phrase, “I do not think it means what you think it means” for many of my blog posts, and that concept can be applied here also.  You simply cannot compare (some of) your historic metrics to those being collected as of yesterday.  They are apples and oranges.

We’ll also need to start thinking about the impact of what I’ll call “attention deficit searching.”  Early observations suggest that instant search is going to favor established brands and trending topics/searches.  This means that if you have optimized for a given long tail keyword search, a person who may have intended to type in that entire search phrase could get distracted by a recent news event and never make it to your website.  Let’s use a fictitious example…  Assume for a moment that your website is optimized for the long tail search, “bubble bath pillows.”  Then one day, the Internet goes nuts with stories about “bubble bath pics of Angelina Jolie.”  Many of your searches could experience “searchus interruptus.”

Search Engine Marketing Is Personalized

This aspect isn’t new, but Google Instant will up the ante even more.  Google has told us that, “Even when you don’t know exactly what you’re looking for, predictions help guide your search.”  These predictions are going to be personalized for the person conducting the search, which means that no two people will (theoretically) see the same results.  Further complicating this is the fact that this is going to occur dynamically as the person types, which is likely to change their behavior.  At the end of the day, it’s possible that this will end up improving the quality of click-throughs to your site since they are going to have to survive this new vetting process.  However, it means that intelligent web analytics are an absolute must now!  Since there is no such thing as a generic search anymore, the results and outcomes will have to speak for themselves.

Search Engine Marketing Is Dead

Okay, that’s a blatant and transparent sensationalized headline.  SEM is no more dead than the web, despite Wired Magazine’s own sensational headline that “The Web Is Dead, Long Live the Internet.”  In “Search Engine Marketing: I Do Not Think It Means What You Think It Means,” I wrote that…

Your entire Internet marketing strategy may be based on a mirage. Many companies are focused on search engine optimization and pay per click campaigns. This is all well and good as long as Google remains the gatekeeper of the Internet. But here’s the thing; there’s a new sheriff in town and the entire 18 year old ecosystem of the world wide web is in danger.

The reality is that “walled gardens” like Facebook and iTunes are increasingly closed off to search engines and their influence is even stronger than Google’s.  The volume still favors search engines right now, but Internet marketers need to be aware of this approaching tsunami.

Search Engine Marketing’s Bottom Line

Things are changing really, really quickly.  Like many situations, this favors the agile, forward-thinking organizations.  Keep your eyes open and your powder dry, but most of all…