The launch of Google Instant has caused a lot of excitement and SEOs around the world are wondering how this will affect their clients.
Google’s initial attempts to develop an instant search product were met with criticism from the SEO community as the referrer string was not being passed which would have pretty much ruined web analytics as we know it.
Fortunately they have solved the problem this time by making the Google URL update in the website brower address bar shortly after the search results are updated. There is a small delay before the URL appears to update but it always updates before the new page is loaded ensuring the correct referring URL is always passed.
As you type a search into Google, the results update to Google’s suggested search term which appears in grey. If you click on a result whilst a grey result is showing up then this suggested query is passed in the referring URL and this is what will show up in your keywords report in analytics.
In addition Google also include the original search query in another parameter called oq. If you check Google’s URL string you will see something like this.
Because this is passed in the referring URL, it’s possible to extract it and include it in a report using Google Analytics filters. Here is how you can track these original search queries alongside the suggested search queries with a few minutes work.
Edit: Dan Barker has pointed out that the oq parameter is still used by the old Google Suggest so this custom profile will show the results for both until the old version has been completely deprecated. It’s possible to update this to only include data from Google Instant by adding another filter to only include traffic which contains another unique parameter such as &sclient=psy.
1. On the Google Analytics Overview screen, click the Add new profile link.
2. Select ‘Add a Profile for an existing domain’ and then find the correct account from the drop down. Give your new profile a name like ‘Google Instant’ so it’s easy to find and click Finish. This will create a new profile that will start to capture all the raw data for your site.
3. On the Overview screen, select the Edit link for the new Google Instant profile we’ve just created.
4. Select the ‘Add Filter’ link on the right hand side of the ‘Filters Applied to Profile’ table.
5. Create a new filter by entering the following details.
Filter Type: Customer Filter > Advanced
Field A -> Extract A
Field B -> Extract B
Campaign Term: (.*)
Output To -> Constructor
Campaign Term: $B1|$A1
Field A Required: Yes
Field B Required: Yes
Override Output Field: Yes
Case Sensitive: No
To briefly explain is happening here, we use a regular expression in Field A to extract the original search query from the oq= parameter that has been passed in the Referral string. We then use Field B to get the final search query from the Campaign Term variable. In the final step we output both search queries back to the Campaign Term separated by a | character. We will now be able to see this showing in the Keywords report.
Click the Save Changes button to create the filter.
After a few days you should have collected some data in your new profile and you can view the results.
Go to your keywords report and search for \| using the keyword filter.
Then you should be able to see results that look like this example.
You can see that some people hadn’t even gone beyond ‘stric’ before they clicked on suggested search for ‘strictly come dancing 2010′ which is the 2nd suggested search from Google.
Using these reports we can begin to understand the way people use the new search function and look for ways to optimise towards it.
The example above it has shown that Google Instant might helped to generate a higher volume of searches for more detailed search phrases than previously seen.
Perhaps the biggest impact we’re likely to see is a significant reduction in the number of unique phrases as people take advantage of the suggested results, effectively killing off the long tail of search. This might be a good thing for users as it may improve the quality of search but it will make SEO much harder as we all have to start fighting over few phrases which will drive more traffic.
This is probably going to be a win for the big players who already do well outside of the long tail and bad news for new sites trying to get a foothold.