Google Answers in an Instant

Haven Thompson   December 6, 2010

Google Instant putting a kick in searches’ step. (Image via manfrys)

The Breakdown: When uber-fast search tool Google Instant rolled out in September, the web development community was apprehensive about how the technology would affect the paid search and SEO landscapes. Would it destroy businesses who unwittingly added an “s” to the end of their monikers? Or render certain search terms obsolete? Now that the virtual dust has settled, we checked in with Razorfish’s search experts Adam Heimlich and Raymond Rosti to learn what Google Instant’s ramifications have really been.

Adam Heimlich: Group Search Director

What has Google Instant’s impact been on our paid search space?

A good study by our partner, Marin Software, found that Google Instant is resulting in greater engagement with search results, leading to more queries and clicks. Shorter phrases are getting a bigger share of the new clicks.

Has Google Instant resulted in changes in keyword pricing?

The impact on keyword pricing is a little complicated. Assuming equality of bids and budgets (that is, for two advertisers willing to pay the same for the same ad placements), whether one pays more or less after Google Instant is a function of match type strategy. More short phrase engagement means more clicks, relatively, for exact match, and more relative clicks means you pay less. So the advertiser with a greater budget allocated to exact match ends up with lower overall costs per click. It makes sense, but we can’t confirm this effect with our own data (yet).

Will we start seeing a Google Instant-style feature on Microsoft’s search engines like Yahoo and Bing? Or does the competition have something else up their sleeves?

I think probably not anytime soon. With Instant, Google is showing off its operational muscle – not just the programming but the speed they can engineer and coordinate with ad operations and a hundred other considerations. Microsoft probably isn’t focused on search enough to execute such an enormous and disciplined web operation, and that’s the point. They’re saying MSFT may have the money for something like this, but it takes much more than dollars.

Raymond Rosti: Director, SEO

What is your opinion about the impact of Google Instant for search?  Is it the game changer everyone claims it to be?

For organic search, our major concern with the release of Google Instant surrounded how it would affect users’ search behaviors surrounding the depth of their keyword query.  Over the past 5 years, we have noticed users become much savvier in search queries, averaging 3 and 4 keywords per search.  From an organic optimization perspective, this was welcome news as it broadened the keyword universe and gave smaller websites a chance of ranking for less competitive keywords. What we are seeing with our clients is that Google Instant is increasing the variations of keywords used to get to a website, but this has not impacted overall traffic volumes. Keep in mind that these [keyword variation changes] are less than 2%.

Over the past five years, Google has only made one update that completely changed the search landscape: the introduction of Universal Search. Every other change added emphasis on the basic concepts of search.  If your SEO strategy has a strong foundation and clear goals, then nothing Google does should drastically change how you approach search marketing.

Are some companies at a disadvantage in leveraging Google Instant if the ‘as you type’ search results prevent their listing from even showing up?

They are only at a disadvantage if they haven’t properly identified how people search for their product or service.  Nothing that Google is presenting to users from a suggested keyword perspective should be a surprise to a marketer that has identified target keywords.


How do you think SEO practices need to evolve for companies to best adapt to Google Instant?

Reprioritize your organic keyword focus

We recommend that marketers review their keyword data pre and post Google Instant and identify which keywords are no longer driving traffic.  If you’re running a paid search campaign, now would be a good time to review the impression data to understand which keywords are experiencing impression shifts.  This data should be utilized to reprioritize your organic keyword list and create new keyword ranking goals in accordance with how Google Instant is impacting keyword impressions.

Google Instant Hasn’t Killed SEO

While some predicted Google Instant would kill SEO, true SEOers understood that these types of search engine enhancements merely change our focus and require us to be more strategic in our approach.  Google Instant hasn’t drastically changed the search landscape, and the results we are seeing are small percentage shifts in keywords.  At its core, we are still focused on optimizing for how people are searching.  Google Instant is just attempting to help users improve the speed of their search.

Understand Keywords Being Suggested

While your web analytics can tell you how Google Instant is impacting how keywords are referring users to your site, it only gives you a view into the keywords where your site has organic visibility.  Understanding what Google is suggesting is going to be important for organic success.  It’s also important to note that Google continually improves features without much fanfare. We anticipate that Instant Search will continue to evolve, which means the keyword suggestions will continually shift as Google learns more about how users are adopting this feature.

Oh, How I adversely affect thee, let me count the ways

Jared Kelleher   August 25, 2009
pill11A content strategy pharma conundrum. (image via net_efekt)

The breakdown: How do you write a paid search ad for a pharma client that delicately balances FDA requirements, online space restrictions, drug benefits and adverse effects? Not an easy pill to swallow, but Jared Kelleher shows us one unique approach below.

I’ve been watching MadMen, and it seems to me that advertising was simpler then, than it is today; and that they used to drink a lot at work, though maybe there’s no correlation.

Then, you just whipped up wild ads like this over a couple martinis at lunch. Today, there are rules and regulations, general counsels, and protective bodies like the Consumer Protection Agency and the Food & Drug Administration, and we’re charged with knowing all the ins, outs and what have yous of the industry’s laws, bills, bylaws and amendments.  I feel cheated, though not nearly as much as the pharmaceutical companies must feel.

Under an FDA rule called fair balance, if we’re promoting a drug’s benefits, we need to fairly balance those benefits with content about its risks. Pharma advertising evolved to adhere to the new ground rules; while watching the pretty people in the TV spots, we hear dozens of deleterious side effects as background voice-overs.  In print, half or more of a drug ad contains the important safety information and adverse effects copy about sweaty hands, dry mouths, erections lasting longer than four hours, or in the case of black box warning drugs, thoughts or attempts of suicide.

Last spring, many pharmaceutical companies received letters from the FDA noting that their paid search ads were touting drug benefits, without equally messaging the drug’s risks. In paid search, fair balance rules are harder to play by. Try equally extolling the marvelous benefits and mysteriously unusual adverse effects of a drug in an ad the size of a matchbook.

Many drug companies responded by rewriting their paid search ads with benign, benefit-free, unbranded copy, or they pulled their paid search ads altogether.  I’m no expert in pharma, but let’s consider a crazy idea: what if, instead of pulling our ads or rewriting them so feebly that neither the FDA nor our own customers know who’s running the ads, our paid search ads were explicitly about side effect and risks – no benefits.

Imagine, for example, Henny Penny Labs, a fictitious maker of the world’s leading worry and anxiety medications, most notably, WillyNilliex® – the #1 drug for nervous, jittery, cat-like behavior. Let’s say we’re charged with a keyword buy. Research shows we need a buy on symptoms such as: jitters, jittery, jumpy, goofy, tight, uptight, mad, mad as hell, angst, agita, and interestingly, verklempt.

Instead of getting upside down about what we can’t say about the tremendous benefits of WillyNilliex, we’ll run paid search solely on the drug’s rare-but-bizarre adverse effects, which incidentally, are likely the precise content many of our customers are looking for. Patients know what WillyNilliex is supposed to do. They want to know what it might inadvertently do – like possibly cause thoughts of suicide – good to know. Since there isn’t room in a paid search ad to balance benefits content with risks content, we’ll focus our test ad almost wholly on risks and side effects while mindfully communicating the drug’s indication:

WillyNilliex® Beats the Jitters
Side effects include hot dog fingers
evil eye, clown fear and more….

This sample is a bit out there, but it demonstrates how this transparent approach would benefit the user by being honest and forward with the side effects. Maybe it’s not quite a drug marketer’s dream, but the ad provides brand impression, piques interest and gives users access to content they supposedly want to see, all while seemingly coloring within the FDA’s lines.

OK, who wants a martini?

SEO & Content Strategy: Wordz To Your Mother

Matt Geraghty   July 17, 2009


Brothers from another mother, SEO and CS. (image via Matt Moore)

Launching a web campaign for a cutting edge product supported with new promotions, video, customer testimonials and content?Looking to increase new visitors, create buzz and inspire new sales?

You’d be making a big mistake if you don’t enlist both the expertise of a Content Strategist and an SEO (Search Engine Optimization) specialist.

Content Strategists and SEO specialists aren’t necessarily cousins, but more like Siamese twins surgically separated at birth.At its best SEO is handled by a SEO expert, CS by a CS expert, but there is a common familial bond.We’re both concerned with language and up-to-the-minute data on how people are talking about a subject.

It’s more than just making sure you have your SEO tags in place.Here are some of the benefits that come out of a close collaboration between CS and SEO.

  • A clear picture of what is happening in the search space for that industry.Know the content and search trends.Know what topics and specific content themes people are looking for and tailor the content accordingly.
  • Insight into how the content categories should be structured to optimize its’ position within the search engines.
  • A view of how to balance SEO insights with other brand and message goals.
  • Insight into upcoming trends so that the editorial schedule can be aligned with search topics on the rise.

Marrying the SEO insights with existing content planning, positions us to tell a more relevant story, and helps us structure more effective content campaigns and drive the right audience to the content they are seeking.

I Sing the Toothbrush Electric

Jared Kelleher   April 13, 2009
niemann-toothbrush1It’s not electric, but it’ll do. (image via the brilliant Christoph Niemann)

“But we don’t call it that,” he said.

“You don’t call it an electric toothbrush?”

“No,” he said. “It’s a power toothbrush and we can’t say electric toothbrush on the site.”

I felt old; we grew up calling them electric toothbrushes.

What to do. According to the keyword research of the day, it turned out that just as many folks searched for powered toothbrushes using the word electric, as did not.

Plus, anyone willing to shell out nearly $200 bucks for a toothbrush had to be a little older; from the days when they were called electric toothbrushes.

So while we couldn’t mention “electric toothbrush” in the copy, nobody had provided such explicit direction for not using the word in the secret little metadata behind every well optimized site.

We added electric toothbrush to the mix in every acceptable and relevant page title, content description and keyword. And slowly, we began to quietly creep to the top of the electric toothbrush search results page.

I took a peek to see where they’re at these days with their electric efforts.

I Googled “electric toothbrush” and they were nowhere to be found. I went to their site and saw that while they do use the word once, in customer-facing copy, they no longer use the word in their keywords or content descriptions.

Then something caught my eye—their competitor’s site—right there in the two spot.

I took a look at their keywords and content descriptions, and there, amidst dozens of the expected keywords, was that one little word I remember noodling with for hours—electric.

While it no longer seems to be part of my former client’s search repertoire, it’s good to see somebody’s still getting some mileage out of electric toothbrushes.

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