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.

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