Web Success

Another Look at Google Instant

In recent months, Google announced Google Instant; and the web went into a frenzy.  Bloggers speculated and search marketers claimed doom upon their entire industry.  Yes, Instant has implications for search marketing.  No, Instant is not the end of the world as we know it.

Google Instant is a natural progression, resulting from the macro-trend of real-time, personalization on the web.  Basically, it’s the ability to instantly see searches relevant to what you’re typing.

Google outlines the change as, “The most obvious change is that you get to the right content much faster than before because you don’t have to finish typing your full search term, or even press “search.” Another shift is that seeing results as you type helps you formulate a better search term by providing instant feedback. You can now adapt your search on the fly until the results match exactly what you want. In time, we may wonder how search ever worked in any other way.”  This poses a specific problem to businesses with lower budgets, as bidding on main keywords will not only decrease conversions (you’ll get more quantity than quality click-throughs) it will also shrink budgets must faster as larger volume keywords (those encouraged by Instant) will eat up smaller budgets.

Google Instant from the Users Perspective

From a user’s perspective, Google Instant:

  • is automatically turned on, but can be turned off in their preferences;
  • is available on domains with Google search only when the user is already logged into their Google account;
  • does not affect the user’s Safe Search features, showing lewd or explicit content;
  • will be available via Mobile access in a later release; and
  • will affect the users search history, if feature is turned on and user is logged in (we talk more about this below).

Google Instant from a Business Perspective

Now, to the juicy stuff.  Google Instant does affect your search marketing, not to doomsday as many have reported, but will require you to make some considerations in your search marketing and SEO.

Low hanging, long-tail fruit…

The long-tail is definitely going to be affected, for those users who do not turn off Instant. This will not only affect your SEO effort, but your Adwords as well.  As many of you know (I hope), it is the longer-tail, specific keywords that provide the best results in conversions, this will definitely be affected as people might be more apt to follow suggestions rather than finish their own, specific search queries.

This poses a problem especially for businesses with smaller Adwords budgets. This is because the higher volume words tend to have higher bidding costs, and thus increasing your cost per conversion, which will eventually eat up smaller budgets with far less return.

For example, we have a client based in the Los Angeles airport area that is NOT a national franchise. Their Adwords budget is focused on location and car-specific searches for rentals.  With Google Instant, users who start to search for “car rental in los angeles” will now see national results for car and every letter they enter until the type the full query.  As you can see below, simply typing in car, provides results for our client’s biggest, national competitors.  Bidding for these placements is far beyond their budget.

The same effect will surely occur within SEO as well.

AdWords Impressions…

In an effort to “increase engagement from users with search services and ads” Google is now using a predicated query algorithm that will serve up results and ads based on popular searches, by the user and other users.  As reported in the AdWords help center, this will affect ad impression count.  Google states,

When someone searches using Google Instant, ad impressions are counted in these situations:

  • (Counted on any click) – 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).
  • (Counted on any selection) – The user chooses a particular query by clicking the Search button, pressing Enter, or selecting one of the predicted queries.
  • (Counted after 3 seconds) – The user stops typing, and the results are displayed for a minimum of three seconds.

According to Google, this shouldn’t affect your ad impression count greatly. And, in honesty, we’re not sure how it will affect every business using AdWords.  However, we can assume at reasonable levels that your impression count will be affected, whether for the good or bad has yet to be seen.  Google claims that because the predicated query model provides quicker, more focused results, impressions and the resulting conversions should be of higher quality.

I’m not so sure on that one.  The impact on ad impressions will surely be felt in every industry, but businesses will need to monitor their specific accounts to measure the real impact.

User search history will be impacted…

WebProNews highlights Google’s response when asked about how the user’s history will be impacted, “For signed-in users with Web History enabled searching on the Google.com homepage or results page, we continue to show all the searches they perform,” Google’s Jake Hubert tells us. “With Google Instant, this includes searches when the user pauses for three or more seconds and/or clicks on a search result. These queries are explicitly marked to indicate results were shown for three seconds but had no click.”

So, basically any search query that results from a behavior like one of the 3 ways your AdWords impressions are counted, will be logged in your web history.  From a users perspectives, this could get really annoying, especially considering more companies are using web history information as a form of presenting personalized information/advertising/etc.  From a business perspective, this could also affect how and when your ads/search results are displayed, not necessarily for the better. We could be looking at the same issues that happen with Facebook ads when we all laugh at what is served up, simply because they are predicting our preferences based on our connections and beyond.

The Bottom Line for Businesses

If you’re looking for immediate direction on what your business needs to do in response to Google Instant, here’s a short list of recommendations:

  1. Pay special attention to your click-through and conversion rates, in the SERPs and AdWords;
  2. Pay attention to your copy, as instant and real-time become more prominent, your users attention span continues to shorten, so should your copy (with clarity);
  3. Re-evaluate your focus and keywords in SEO and AdWords, your competition just increased dramatically; and
  4. Add “live research” to your keyword research activities, add predictive queries as part of your consideration in choosing targets.

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