How Google Saved $100 Million By Launching Google Instant

It seems fitting that from the moment it was announced, Google Instant became an instant headline news story.

For the past few week, industry pundits have been talking, tweeting and writing about Google Instant and offering their theories on its implications for SEO and paid search. On one hand, there are Googlers like Marissa Mayer and Matt Cutts and some bloggers who have heralded Google Instant as a game-changing, time-saving search innovation. On the other hand, more than a few writers have greeted the announcement with some wariness, perhaps because it has conjured up dark memories of the ill-fated Google Florida update back in 2003. I’ve read blog posts and tweets proclaiming Google Instant to be the death of SEO and an attempt by Google to choke off the long-tail of paid search in order to force greater competition and CPCs on head terms. Only time will tell which, if any, of these projections will turn out to be true.

Personally, I kind of like Google Instant and I think it represents a natural evolution in the way search works, but for today, I’d like to talk mostly about Google Instant for what I really believe it to be—an amazing PR win for Google.

With just a press conference and a few well-placed interviews, Google has parlayed this relatively minor speed improvement into an attention-grabbing front-page news story. From the looks of it, the announcement of Google Instant appears to have been a very effective countermove to Microsoft’s $100 million dollar ad campaign that was supposed to establish Bing as the better, faster way to search. Kudos to Google’s product and PR teams for such an elegantly crafted, frugally produced announcement.

How did they do this?

What’s Faster: Google Instant Or Bing’s Decision Engine?

The irony of the Google Instant announcement is that Google is essentially usurping one of Bing’s core competitive advantages—the time it takes to complete a successful search session.

Typing speed is, in fact, a very minor factor in the length of search sessions. If the average search session lasts nine minutes and requires about six queries, then assuming Google Instant shaves off two seconds per query, the search session goes from 9 minutes down to 8 minutes and 48 seconds. No one is ever going to really notice this difference.

In developing Bing, Microsoft’s researchers had identified a weak spot, a potential Achilles heel, in Google’s dominant position in the search market. They found that the average time spent in search sessions was getting longer and longer and users were getting ever more frustrated with sifting through results of multiple queries to find what they were searching for. So Microsoft engineered the Bing search engine from the bottom up to specialize in organizing search results data in a noticeably better, more efficient way so that Bing users would immediately experience noticeably shorter search sessions and reach decisions more quickly.

To help promote that fundamental advantage of a better, faster search experience to consumers, Microsoft also invented a new category called a “decision engine” and proclaimed Bing as the world’s first. Microsoft then spent about $100 million on television ads and other advertising promotions to lure people away from other search engines, aka Google. In spite of all that effort and a great ad campaign, I am willing to bet that most consumers today could not explain what a decision engine is and why it is better or faster than a search engine.

Instead of countering Microsoft’s full-frontal assault with a large multi-media advertising campaign of their own (and Google had plenty of cash to do this) Google instead countered technically as market leaders often do. They simply waited for the right moment, when the Bing ads had died down and Microsoft and Yahoo were very busy preparing to roll out their search alliance, and then announced Google Instant. Overnight, and without spending much money at all, Google’s PR and product teams helped reclaim, by default, the mantle of the world’s fastest search engine.

How Does Google Instant Impact Paid Search?

At this point, it is anybody’s guess what impact Instant will have on paid search campaigns or how one might best exploit it to competitive advantage. It will take more time and more data before we’ll know anything definitively.

If there were to be an impact, I suppose we would notice it first appear in search impression data and click-through rates, so we are keeping a close eye on any variations in impression volume and CTR volume at the ad group level. I also venture a guess that, if there were to be any impact, we’d see it in the impression volume of our shorter brand keywords. Google tells me that any impressions triggered by Google Instant will be reported in the all the standard reports, including the search query report, so we are keeping a closer eye on our important keywords in those reports.

Marty Weintraub ( and I are currently collaborating on research on fractional keywords and PPC SERPS that may yield some interesting insights. As soon as we have findings to report, Marty will publish them on his aimClear blog and will also present his research at on October 5th in New York City at the SMX East session, Google Instant & Paid Search: A Game Changer?

If you are interested in up-to-the-minute developments and insights, I’d highly recommend taking in SMX East where there will be five other sessions that will address the impact of Google Instant for paid and local search, and for SEO.

In next months’ column, I will be writing up any interesting findings from our research and ongoing experience with Google Instant.

If you have any news or insights of your own to share with other readers, I also invite you to leave a comment below.

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.

Related Topics: Channel: SEO | Google: AdWords | Google: Instant | Paid Search Column


About The Author: is President and founder of Find Me Faster a search engine marketing firm based in Nashua, NH. He is a member of SEMNE (Search Engine Marketing New England), and SEMPO, the Search Engine Marketing Professionals Organization as a member and contributing courseware developer for the SEMPO Institute. Matt writes occasionally on internet, search engines and technology topics for IMedia, The NH Business Review and other publications.

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  • Doc2626

    Artfully done, indeed! I can imagine a little chortling going on at the ‘Plex!

  • George Michie

    Google doesn’t need to buy attention because it’s the big dog; it’s good to be king!

    The other great part about Google Instant from Google’s perspective is that it will be very difficult to emulate. Interface changes are easy; the computing horsepower required to pull off instant is just mind-boggling. Unless they’ve been working on it for some time, Bing won’t be able to match this one any time soon.

    We’re taking a close look at the impact of Google Instant on Paid Search and will publish our findings here next Monday.

  • Matt Van Wagner

    Thanks for commenting, George. I agree with you – the power of incumbency and 70% marketshare is huge.

    I guess I’d disagree that Instant necessarily requires significantly greater horsepower than Googles standard SERP delivery. If you are limiting the range of responses as Instant is doing, and only having to present one page of results instantly, then I could imagine it could take less horsepower bacause you can pre-sort and fetch smaller datasets. Don’t mistake me – I am not undervaluing the power of Google’s massively parallel processing – I think it is their single biggest competitive strength, but if Microsoft believes this to be anything more than a gimmick, I am quite sure they could counter technically.

    Can’t wait to read your Google Instant analysis – and looking forward to seeing you in NYC.

  • forthofer

    Personally, I do not like Google Instant. I was watching a Bing commercial the other day and it was saying how overloaded with information we are with search. That’s true with Google now more than ever.

    Google Instant is giving us irrelevant information blinking in (almost worse than a popup) as we type our search. It’s an information overload because it’s information that we now see that we didn’t intend to look for. Seems to be the relevance factor has taken a back seat.

  • Matt Van Wagner

    Point well taken, forthofer.

    I don’t encounter Instant that often because I use Bing as my default engine, and usually get to Google through a toolbar, where Instant results do not appear.

    I asked Google for some data on how many search come from toolbar or other search box other than to get a sense for how much impact Instant actually could have, and they couldn’t provide that because it was proprietary data.


  • Shari Thurow

    Hi Matt-

    I was just commenting to Andy Atkins-Kruger about his great article on numbers and search, and then I saw your headline.


    I’m doing some informal usability and diary studies on Google Instant. What I notice more than anything else is how organic search results are pushed further down the page in favor of ads. This layout is closer to the Microsoft/Bing layout that I saw many years ago. I remember telling the folks at Microsoft years ago: if you are going to take up a considerable portion of screen real estate with ads, I will abandon your search engine.

    Google is getting very close to me abandoning it as my primary search engine.

  • Brighter Image

    Is there ANYONE that can help me with a contact at Google????

    I need to talk with a division manager or a VP. We have a billing errors problem and all im getting is a call from a very nice and very young girl in collections and english is not her first name.. We just need help form a real contact that understands our history .

    —–Original Message—–
    From: Google Collections [mailto:threshold-us (at)]
    Sent: Monday, September 20, 2010 5:30 PM

    Hello xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx,

    Thank you very much for your patience as we were attempting to gather the necessary information for your AdWords Accounts which we have found outstanding.

    I have attached a statement of all AdWords Accounts we are currently are aware of and their corresponding unpaid invoices.

    If we encounter other accounts, they will be stopped from running and you will be held responsible for those balances as well.

    Once all outstanding balances are paid, in full, you will be allowed to run all accounts but they will be closely monitored for about 6 months to make sure there are no declines, large outstanding balances accrued, etc.
    Then after this point, you will be able to monitor your own accounts as you wish.

    Please see my attachment showing all AdWords Accounts we are currently aware of. As you may notice at the bottom of the attachment it shows a few different Total Outstanding Balances:

    - If you would like to continue to advertise with Google, you are responsible for paying the entire balance (including written off invoices)
    of: $136,596.40.

    - If you would like clear your current debt with Google and prevent your accounts from going to an Outside Collections Agency, we will only hold you responsible for paying the outstanding balance that has not been written off (only the open invoices): $23,469.71. If you decide to only pay this amount, you will not be allowed to do future advertising with Google.

    Let me reiterate, these above totals may not be exactly correct if there are more accounts that we encounter.

    Please let me know what you would like to do regarding whether or not you wish to continue advertising and which balance you will be paying.

    We can extend to you, at most, a three (3) month payment plan for your balance. This payment plan would be monthly payments of ($total balance/3). In the third month payment, you will be responsible for that monthly payment ($total balance/3) + any more accrued charges we may encounter.

    We expect these 3 payments to be received by October 20, 2010, November 20, 2010 and December 20, 2010.

    Thank you again for your continued patience as these accounts were in review. Please let me know what you decide.

    Kind Regards,

    Ariana Freschet
    Collections Specialist
    Google Inc.
    Phone: (650) 214-5087
    Fax: (650) 253-8616
    Email: ariana.f (at)
    Reporting to: Trent Walker at trent (at)

  • sidshah

    Hi Matt,

    I have actually noticed some changes after the launch of Google instant. In my post right after the launch of Google Instant, I had predicted some changes in user search patterns, CPC and impression volume. They are listed here:

    The data so far does indicate many of the predict pattern shifts are already happening. Its still early days and the users will adapt their search patterns but even a small 1-2% increase in Google’s profit is worth a few hundred million dollars.

    I am in the camp that believes that Google Instant is primarily motived by “optimizing” ad inventory temporally to increase Google’s profits.

    I will be presenting my findings at SMX East and I hope to see you there !


  • Matt Van Wagner

    Hi Shari,

    Thank you for pointing out this coincidence. It really does reinforce Andy Atkins-Krüger’s thesis. Glad the headline caught your eye. I hadn’t thought about the headline from a linguistic stand-point, but now that you mention it, I’ve noticed many more tweets from multi-lingual colleagues. Numbers and money symbols certainly do have power to grab our attention!

  • Matt Van Wagner

    Hi Sid

    Just read your article and highly recommend it to all readers. Great analysis as usual!

    Glad to see you are speaking at SMX East on the “Google Instant & Paid Search: A Game Changer?” panel. I’ll be your Q&A moderator and will do my best to make sure you get all the tough questions…


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