Google Instant – What Does it Mean?

You may have noticed a change to the way Google returns search results recently.  The results are now returned live as you type – probably using AJAX I’m guessing.

I think this is actually pretty cool, though it’s still taking me some time to get used to.  What I wonder about though is what affect this will have on adwords advertisers.

I was actually part of a usability study involving this new technology about a month ago, and I went to Google’s headquarters and got to play around with it for about 90 minutes while they asked me a bunch of questions about it, and had me do certain tasks.

My biggest concern at that time, was speed.  I told them in no uncertain terms, that if this slows down my search experience at all, I’m going to throw a fit and look elsewhere for my search engine.  They assured me speed would not be an issue and for now I’d have to say that is true.  It seems quite fast and responsive.

But the grey area I’m not sure about, is for Adwords advertisers.  Since a single search query, typed by someone who is on the slower end of the spectrum (not everyone types 75+ words per minute like myself!), could actually contain multiple totally different queries within it, while it’s being typed out.

Here’s an example query:

honda dealer in chicago

I went and typed this query out slowly in google, as if I were figuring out what I was searching for as I went, or as if I were just a normal hunt-n-peck slow typist.  I saw no fewer than 8 different sets of Adwords results returned, and many of them were not relevant to my search query because they appeared before it had been fully formed.  Had I done this search “the old fashioned way” there would have been only a single set of Adwords ads returned – those for the final query.

So what this means is, a whole bunch of Adwords advertisers just received impressions from me, when I wasn’t looking for them at all and was highly unlikely to pay any attention to their ad.  As most of us probably know, your CTR is a big part in determining your bid price, and the number of impressions you’ve received is a huge component in calculating CTR!

This suggests to me that this new feature could actually hurt advertisers, by reducing their CTRs and increasing bid prices.  Which is of course good for Google, but bad for advertisers.

Will there be any long term fallout from this?  I have no idea.  But it was actually a point I brought up while I was at Google and they said that usability wasn’t involved in those kinds of decisions, and they didn’t know what the ramifications of it were or how it was going to be handled.

I do really like this new approach to search, but it remains to be seen what it’s going to do to the Adwords or SEO landscapes.  Some more food for thought about it:

Since the results are going to change constantly as you type, people may be exposed to search rankings they would not otherwise have been.  Will this mean that SEO for partial keyphrases might begin to gain more importance?  What if for example in the above example query, I had ranked #1 for the term:

honda dealer in chi

Would my result have been displayed along the way, and possibly caught the searcher’s eye as they typed?  Will this open the doors to an entire new world of partial domain names being registered?  Or partial keyphrases being SEOd for?

I guess time will tell all!


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