Now that Google Instant has aged a bit and search professionals have had the opportunity to test its effect on SEM campaigns, the general verdict seems to be that Instant has not had a dramatic effect on SEO. Like Google Caffeine earlier this year, Instant seems to be aimed at improving user experience rather than search results. Indeed, in spite of all the SEO anxiety accompanying each change made by Google, the fact remains that their recent upgrades have focused largely on three main factors:

*   Greater personalization
*    Better targeting
*    Increased efficiency

And while these are all things that professional SEOs are already optimizing for, now may be a good time to look beyond search results and consider how Google’s changes are affecting search behavior. With the release of Google Instant, it seems clearer than ever that Google wants to make search as easy and as intuitive as possible – and the way it’s doing that is by enhancing and fine-tuning its Search suggest feature. On the eve of Instant’s release, Google engineer Matt Cutts had this to say:

“Ben Gomes mentioned this during the Q&A, but with Google Instant I find myself digging into a query more. Take a query like [roth ira v]. That brings up Autocomplete suggestions like [roth ira vs traditional ira], [roth ira vanguard], and [roth ira vs 401k]. Suddenly I’m able to explore those queries more just by pressing the up/down arrow key. I can get a preview of what the results will be, add or subtract words to modify my query, and hit enter at any time. The ability to explore the query space and find out new things will inevitably lead to changes for SEO.”

Cutts goes on to say that the best SEOs thrive on change. But what does this change mean for SEO?

Take your typical Google user. More than half of all searchers have no destination in mind when they type in a query, but rather are looking to find the best website or resource for their keywords. And what does it mean to say that over 80% of users never search beyond the first page of Google? Quite simply, that we trust Google to return relevant and high quality results, and to give us what we are looking for even when we don’t know what that is, exactly. This is why a top result on Google is so profitable, and so very competitive.

And that trust is increasingly being carried over from purely organic results to Search Suggest, which offers not only auto-complete keywords but also long tail keywords. With Instant, Google offers dynamic results for each option, so that users spend more time refining their search (based on the returned results) and have a better chance of finding what they’re looking for. For SEO, this means that content needs to be better targeted than ever before.

It also means that for informational keywords, long-tail suggestions and their rankings will become increasingly important. And unlike search result rankings, suggestions are ranked by keywords.

Here’s an example: open and search for “mail list”.  Here’s what Google offers:

And here’s the kicker: “mail list king” is not on the first page of the search results for either mail list or mail list software. But the user searching for “mail list” sees the “king” suggestion before they even see any of the results. So even though the company (mentioned here for purely illustrative purposes) is not top-ranking in the SERPs for their desired keywords, they have optimized in a way that makes for a highly relevant Search Suggest ranking.

And SEO targeting Search Suggest has already taken off.  Indeed, an Atlanta Journal-Consitution story last month by reporter Jim Galloway has been making the rounds in the tech blogosphere. The article reported of a pro-bono Google Instant campaign organized by an Atlanta-based SEO company, Penn Multimedia, to influence the Georgia Governor’s election in November.

The firm set out to target Georgia’s Republican candidate for Governor Nathan Deal. Knowing that manipulating search rankings for a political figure would be a tall task, the company focused instead on Google Instant to make sure that when users type “Nathan Deal” into the search engine, Google’s top suggestion is “Nathan Deal ethics” – thus pushing more searchers to learn about Nathan Deal’s ethics violations. The firm succeeded, and the long-tail term is still the top-ranked suggestion for the Republican candidate’s name. (Try it!)

How did they do it? The company plainly laid out their strategy on their website, and includes flooding the web with articles linking Nathan Deal to his alleged ethics violations, as well as creating and optimizing microsites such as

The success of the SEO campaign has caught the attention of several left-wing blogs and the Nathan Deal campaign, which has pledged to create its own Google Instant campaign to counter the efforts of Penn Multimedia. And, given the increasing importance of Search Suggest in Google Instant, it is likely to catch the interest of searchers as well.