Google Instant SEM/SEO Implications

Yesterday, Google released a new search feature called Instant.  Instant uses predictive text to show searchers a complete search results page (SERP) before the searcher has fully entered a query.  As the searcher types, the SERP changes dynamically depending on the searcher’s query length.  Instant is currently available for desktop searches on the most up-to-date browsers.  Instant showcases Google’s infrastructure to deliver predictive results, saving searchers time and making Google even more searcher-friendly:

However, Instant may make paid and natural search more complicated.  Over the next few weeks, Performics will pay close attention to search query data to see if Instant changes searcher behavior in terms of query length.  Paid and natural keyword strategies may have to be adjusted.  Regardless, marketers will certainly need to increase their discipline around testing match types and copy in the Google Instant era.  Below are a few ways Google Instant could affect paid and natural search:

Paid Search Implications

  1. Impressions & Quality Score– Some commentators have suggested that Google Instant will increase impressions, which could decrease click-through rate, thus affecting Quality Score.  This is not necessarily true.  Google has noted that in order for an ad to count as an impression on Instant, a searcher must either take an action (like hitting enter, clicking “search,” or clicking an ad) or pause and view the corresponding SERP for over three seconds.  Impression data will soon tell the whole story, but, in theory, this could actually lead to slightly less impressions.  Because Instant gives searchers multiple opportunities to flash through results pages without registering an impression—rather than having to search, register an impression, and back out if they see an irrelevant SERP—it’s reasonable to assume that impressions on Instant are more likely to be registered for searches that are relevant to the query.  If a searcher pauses for three seconds, it’s probably because there’s something relevant to them on the page.  In that case, the advertiser would want that impression because the searcher is qualified.  However, users could pause because they’re distracted by the dynamic results, and that would be an impression the advertiser wouldn’t want.  Google does, however, take UI into account in determining Quality Score.  Thus, Instant shouldn’t impact Quality Score as searchers cycle through queries. 
  2. The Long-Tail– Instant could make the long-tail less important.  Many advertisers may have to make sure that they’re showing up for one-word queries.  This is because a searcher may start typing a long-tail query, but then see a result they like after only typing one word.  The advertiser would then have to ensure that it’s getting in front of the searcher early.  If the advertiser doesn’t, the searcher may never finish the longer-tail query the advertiser was waiting for.  Showing for the shorter query could cost advertisers more per click than they would’ve paid for the long-tail query.  Performics will monitor search query data over the next few weeks to see if Instant is causing less traffic from long-tail terms and more traffic from shorter, broader terms.  If so, keyword, match type, and copy strategies may be adjusted.
  3. The Mid-Tail:  Early data has shown that searchers are continuing to refine mid-tail queries (i.e. two-word queries) even when seeing the SERP dynamically change as they’re typing.  For instance, a searcher searching for “Nike shoes” may start to type “Nike s” and see results for the Nike store.  That searcher will continue to type “Nike sh” until they see results for Nike shoes.

Natural Search Implications

  1. The Long-Tail– Optimizing natural search pages for short keywords will become more important with Instant.  A long-tail SEO strategy now starts with a short-tail strategy.  Pulling back the long-tail could enable Google to provide more relevant results for searchers.  Google noted that about twenty-five percent of the queries it sees per day are new.  So if a searcher is typing in a new long-tail query in a certain word order, that new query may not yet have good results, and the searcher could abandon the search.  Instant helps searchers refine their long-tail queries by giving them possible SERPs while they’re typing.  This narrows the band of new queries that Google sees and enables Google to return more relevant results.
  2. Increased Importance of Top Rankings– One incidental effect of Instant is that the Google Suggest box now pushes the entire SERP down in order for Google to make the top of the SERP visible to searchers as they type (see example below).  This means that a least one natural search result that was above the fold now falls below the fold.  This increases the importance of the top five search results, as these are the only results that are likely to be seen by a searcher as the SERP changes dynamically.   


Collecting and analyzing paid and natural search query and impression data will allow Performics to learn more about the implications of Google Instant over the next few weeks. 

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