Google’s Instant Change

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Google Instant went live last week to a noisy reception. The SEO and tech blogosphere lit up discussing reported impressions for Google Webmaster tools and Adwords, and the death of the long tail query. Simply, Google Instant shows the user the results of the search Google thinks they are doing based on what they type as they type it. Google Instant is not available for Australian users yet, but can be tested here:

Organic Results and the Ads

Google Instant SERP with Google Adwords

Visually, Google Instant further reduces the amount of space in the first page view available for organic listings. Based on the observed screen resolution mode of 1024×768, with a full page of ads, only two organic listings are visible.

Google Instant SERP with Google Maps

This is even more pronounced in SERPs that include content from Google Maps or other Google properties.

Serving Multiple SERPs per Search

Past user behaviour is pivotal in how Google deals with the server traffic that Google Instant will generate, serving multiple Search Engine Result Pages (SERP) per search. This issue was addressed in Google’s official blog in a post titled ‘Google Instant Behind the Scenes‘:

  • We deployed new caches that can handle high request rates while
    keeping results fresh as we continuously crawl and re-index the web.
  • We introduced user-state data into our back-ends to keep track
    of the results pages already shown to a given user—this way we don’t
    re-fetch the same results repeatedly.
  • We optimized page-rendering JavaScript code to help ensure web
    browsers could keep up with the rest of the system.

Given all that Google has done to personalise search to date, the impact this will have is debatable. The effect of direct feedback during search in teaching the user how to structure queries will probably be far more significant.

Adwords and the Long Tail

Google Instant has changed the way that both Webmaster Tools and Adwords counts impressions:

With Google Instant, an impression is counted if a user takes an action to choose a query (for example, presses the Enter key or clicks the Search button), clicks a link on the results page, or stops typing for three or more seconds.

The practical effect this will have on impressions, and consequently Click Through and Quality Score is hard to pick, though I doubt it will be as catastrophic as some think.  It will help to concentrate competition on commonly occurring generic terms over more specific queries that start with these words.

Google Instant will increase the number of ads and organic listings a user will see when they search. This is as much an opportunity as it is a challenge. For queries with a generic object or activity at the start followed by a set of qualifying terms, ads promoting a broad benefit relating to the general terms can disrupt the search process and provoke a response before the user finishes their query.

Other Google Adwords advertising options such as sitelinks can increase the ad’s perceived relevance and improve its ability to address potential qualifying terms before the user finishes their query. Well written page descriptions and titles can have the same effect.

By significantly increasing possible impressions on some terms through Google Instant, Google has effectively created a premium selection of keywords. Generic terms have always garnered the lion’s share of the impressions and clicks. This is even further emphasised by displaying the SERPs related to them to anyone in the act of conducting a long tail query. These generic or head terms give the advertising priority access to the related long tail traffic. Google Instant has added value to a small selection of existing inventory, increasing potential revenue without increasing the actual number of users.

Search Changes

It is hard to predict what effect Google Instant will have a year from now, but there are a few things that seem likely at this point. Some generic terms in Google Adwords will become even more competitive, content farms that rely on long tail queries will receive less traffic, brand focused search terms will continue to become more important, and any of this can easily be wrong.

One response to “Google’s Instant Change”

  1. […] out on and a lot of the changes have already been discussed to death online, even on this blog. To date most testing has been done on this URL: outside of […]

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