Google Instant Is Anything But a Time-Saver

9/10/10Follow @wroush

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SEO is definitely not dead, because Google Instant doesn’t change the way results are ranked—it just lets users flip through more pages of them. So it’s as important as ever to make sure that your website is ranked highly for common keywords and combinations of keywords.

But closely related to SEO is search engine marketing, or SEM, the art of winning traffic through the keyword-based text ads that appear alongside the unpaid or “organic” search results. In the Google universe, this means knowing how to employ Google’s AdWords platform, which hands the top spot in a stack of text ads to the highest bidder in an electronic auction for the given keyword.

Google Instant won’t kill SEM any more than it will kill SEO. But it could throw search engine marketing into considerable chaos. Here’s why: People using Google Instant are likely to follow one of Google’s automated suggestions before they finish typing their full query, even if Google’s guesses don’t fit their original question exactly. As Yu puts it, “Google Instant is going to drive more volume to the keywords that are being auto-suggested.” (Studies suggest, in fact, that 60 to 70 percent of the time, searchers settle for one of the suggested keywords.) Which means, in turn, that there’s going to be a lot of competition for those keywords—and in particular for the common “short head” (as opposed to long tail) keywords and keyword combinations.

To use a simplified example: If the first page of results that pops up for the partial query “c-a-r” is about “car insurance,” then car insurance companies will have a bigger incentive to bid for that keyword combination than before. Which means there will be more bids. Which means it will cost more to win. Which means Google will make even more money. (It’s a little more complicated than this in reality, of course, since results shift depending on the user’s location and history.)

“Google is targeting to optimize its revenues,” says Horst Joepen, CEO of Searchmetrics, an SEO analytics vendor that’s based in Berlin, Germany, and recently opened a U.S. headquarters in New York. “AdWords users will either have to pay higher prices to participate in a short head race, or live in a cheaper but less frequently visited long tail.”

So, longer time-on-site and higher AdWords revenues—two pretty good reasons why Google would have assigned a team of more than 50 people to work on Google Instant.

Google said Wednesday that “using Google Instant can save 2-5 seconds per search.” I’m sure some of the participants in Google’s usability studies did find what they were looking for faster with Google Instant. But in the real world, my guess is that the multitude of new options will send people down unexpected alleys, adding to their overall search time. Which couldn’t possibly be a bad thing, from Google’s point of view.

But it might take a while for such effects to trickle down and have an effect on Google’s bottom line, or on AdWords users’ monthly bills. “Google is good at releasing incremental changes that may not result in huge impacts immediately, but over the long term certainly affect the way people search and do business on the Web,” says GinzaMetrics’ Grieselhuber. “That’s one of the things I really like about them.”

For a full list of my columns, check out the World Wide Wade Archive. You can also subscribe to the column via RSS or e-mail, and you can download Pixel Nation, an e-book version of the first 80 columns, as a free PDF file or a $4.99 Kindle edition.

Wade Roush is a contributing editor at Xconomy. Follow @wroush

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  • http://www.searchsolid.com Jai Fremont

    Interesting, compelling and distracting. At this juncture in my personal opinion that Google Instant may limit people to pull up many unwanted results as mentioned in the post. Realistically I am curious to see if this new unveiling will last more than a few months time before it is tanked. I am excited to see what type of reviews Google Instant receives from more and more users over the next few weeks.

  • Mark

    I have left it on for fun but I do most of my searching through the omnibox. Google instant is more or less an extension of Google suggest. It was cute and fun to see what they predicted and what a majority of the world was searching for when they type these similar words. Now, it actually shows you the websites that are associated with it.

    Yet, I find myself just more distracted from it. 99% of my search, I know what I’m looking for. When I’m bored, some times I peruse the search results, but even here its more directed.

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  • http://www.mansibhatia.com Mansi Bhatia

    I just think that it adds zero value to my life and is just a mind-numbing, time-saving gimmick:http://www.mansibhatia.com/2010/09/google/

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  • Loran Bosini

    If people really knew who Google passes search forensics on to, they’d seek out all Google-assisted entities and block further traffic to/from them.

  • Albert

    Google Instant is a bloody nuisance, and particularly annoying since it is active by default. Loran Bosini’s comment is quite timely; I recently read a very disturbing commentary on this at: http://oblecto.wordpress.com/artificial-intelligence/

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  • http://www.digilabglobal.com Lily

    It’ll take getting used too – just like being able to search from the address bar.

  • dennis teel

    i like it..i don’t understand how it could be annoying to anyone.i had to get used to the in-action.or the action of NOT hitting enter automatically after typing.now THAT was getting annoying.i finally have mastered it.i don’t hit enter now..but..me thinks it’s one of those features that will affect a user in the way that they’ll either leave instant on or off at all times and not be switching back and forth/.

  • Samuel Tebrien

    Update…
    You don’t need google instance to be turned on to for words to appear before you finish typing them. You can turn it off and there is no difference.
    Its a scam pulled by Google. It used to be you could input how searchs/websites you wanted to appear per page but know if your not loggined into a google account you only see 10 search reults/websites. It use to be present to 20 wesites/search results but know its only 10.
    Know i also heard that even if your loggined in the per page search number doesn’t save but I haven’t tried that yet.
    The reason they want this is so that websites can pay more for advertisement on their search engines since clicking pages takes too long search thru. Its favoring huge websites and throwing small website way behind so people don’t see it.
    Besides this its only letting people who type slow click on popular search results.

  • Samuel Tebrien

    so know you can turn instance off without losing the popular search words that come up before you finishing typing.

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  • Hans

    I just think that it adds zero value to my life and is just a mind-numbing, time-saving gimmick http://www.macvision.dk/shop