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Google Instant - Image from PCworld.comA lot of people think Google Instant is search as you type. But it’s actually search before you type.” – Marissa Mayer, Google VP Search Products & User Experience during the introductory press conference for Google Instant.

Google Instant is part of a long running series of enhancements in Google’s “Let’s Make the Web Faster” initiative (including incorporating site load speed into their search algorithms).  Browse the list of enhancements here.   So, what does this mean for online marketers?  We’ve tackled 3 issues below:

What about long tail keywords?

Theoretically, since results are shown as a search query is being entered, users won’t type out their full search query as often.  For years search marketers have relied on long tail keyword phrases to produce conversion results for their low budget and industry-specific clients.  But with Google Instant, targeting long tail keyword phrases may be a thing of the past, as Google Instant could serve results relevant to a user before that user completes their long tail search. Thus, the importance and quality of short-tail keywords could increase greatly as the cost of general search terms will increase with competition.

Consider a search for “San Diego Hotels” from with Google Instant turned on.

Previously, most hotels engaging in paid search campaigns would have just bought keyword phrases that directly related to where they were located or benefits they offered (ex. “San Diego Hotel Downtown” or “San Diego Hotel Mission Valley Free Buffet”).  But now with Google Instant, most users will not need to search long enough to type out these key phrases as the results can change after every keystroke.

In the first image, the only word that has been typed into Google Instant is “San” yet the results of searching “San Diego” have already appeared.  And with those results, a few paid search ads from major hotels in the area have popped up.  The user would have to consciously decide not to click on the hotel ads as they appear in order to continue typing a full search keyword of “San Diego Hotels.”  While many experienced users may choose to avoid sponsored links altogether and just finish typing the phrase, Google Instant has directly affected the way the majority of users will be presented search results.

In the second image, you can see that if the entire intended query actually gets typed out, there are more hotel results included in the paid search areas.  Not only does Google Instant decrease the potential that a user will complete typing a particular long query (and thus see long tail keyword search results), but if the user clicks on a Google Instant search result that also decreases long tail search impressions because users will never have an opportunity to browse pages 2 – X of search results.

Is it really faster?

The most highly regarded benefit that no one has been able to deny seems to be Google’s claim the average search time will be decreased by 2-5 seconds by using Google Instant.  That would project to a total time savings of 350 million hours per year compared to the classic Google search format

While those numbers look great, there are certain user factors that may cancel out the saved time.  Here are two scenarios where Google Instant doesn’t necessarily save any time (and maybe even increase the time required to search):

  1. As was detailed earlier, there can be results that first show up in the organic list that has nothing to do with the user’s search topic. For instance, in most geographic areas (mainly in urban areas) the first result that is displayed by Google Instant when the letter “W” is typed is current weather conditions.  If the user’s intended search topic is wedding dresses this is an unrelated result that most users could get distracted by.
  2. Another instance that Google Instant will not be fully utilized in is when users type while looking down at the keyboard.  Even many experienced computer users will look down at the keyboard unless they are typing terms or phrases that they are familiar with.

Counting Impressions

How search ad impressions are counted is one of the biggest changes to come from Google Instant.

Impressions used to register whenever an ad was displayed on a page of search results.  However, with Google Instant, ads appear as a user types his/her search, rather than only after the user has hit ENTER.  Ad impressions now are counted in three different ways (these are straight from Google’s reference page):

  • The user begins to type a query on Google and clicks anywhere on the page (a search result, an ad, a spell correction, a related search)
  • The user chooses a particular query by clicking the Search button, pressing ENTER, or selecting one of the predicted queries
  • The user stops typing, and the results are displayed for a minimum of three seconds

On the surface, this would seem to decrease potential ad impressions as users will theoretically click a result before going through the entire search process of searching general terms before narrowing in on more specific phrases.  If users can click a result when it’s displayed without having to perform additional searches, this could reduce impressions.  However, users may also pause for three seconds to read displayed results more often than they would have otherwise performed multiple searches, thus offsetting the potential impression decrease.

Google Instant is being touted as the greatest advancement to internet search since…well, Google.  But the truth is, no one really knows how SEO, impressions and user experience will ultimately be affected.  Not only will there be immediate impacts to ongoing search campaigns (metrics will change), but this new technology will also change user search behavior in an unpredictable way.  Whereas users used to move from broad to specific searches throughout a searching sessions (performing multiple searches), they now may choose to browse the first few results as they type.  This could increase or decrease impressions and is only one example of how behavior could ultimately change.

As always, Google is still staying dedicated to improving the search results that are offered.  Even after the release of Google Instant, the internet search giant still plans on making around 100 changes to improve internet search rankings per quarter.

Post written in collaboration with Jeff Creps, Marketing Specialist

Matt Parisi  (33 Posts)

Online marketing professional capable of taking projects from conception and implementation to optimization. Proven SEM expert with ROIs on online marketing campaigns exceeding 1000%. Frequent butt of cat jokes and lover of freshly pressed coffee. Specialties: Account Management, Online Marketing Strategy and Implementation, Online Campaign Optimization, Comprehensive SEM Expertise, Online Display Advertising, Problem Solving. Find me on Facebook, Twitter, and Google Plus.

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