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 (http://www.aimclearblog.com) 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.