Commentary

Search's Social Instant Gratification

Google-Instant-B

Instant feedback. Instant gratification. Instant results. You'll find in Google Instant many of the gratifications social media brings, though you have probably heard enough on the topic. Well here's one more. Call it what you want, but Google Instant plays on the short attention span humans have developed, not to mention lack of patience, and unwillingness to dig for information in the mounds to which the Internet provides access. Not a bad thing and certainly helpful. The search feature fits nicely into today's society for instant gratification. But who wins and who loses?  

Google Instant affects search behavior. The ability for Google to predict the topic it changes the keyword and terms people search on to find the same subject. Although Google provides personalized search results through Google Instant, type in "mortg" and searchers immediately begin to see search results for "mortgage calculator," rather than mortgage lenders. It's clear that "mortgage calculator" cannibalizes some "mortgage" search traffic.

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In a way, Google Instant manipulated the behavior of the person searching for a mortgage lender. SEO professionals, along with those who support paid search, will need to take this into consideration when designing search campaigns. Finding a useful tool like a mortgage calculator might sidetrack someone from their original search, but it could become helpful to the person searching for estimates on payments and loan types for which they might qualify.

In the first few days after Google switched on Google Instant, ecommerce companies across the board supported by Covario experienced a 15% drop in traffic from organic search. Covario supports many high-profile companies in the electronics industry. Traditionally ecommerce relies more on long-tail keyword to monetize natural search traffic, whereas the brand tends to focus on the head by relying on fewer and more popular keyword terms.

Covario Senior Search Manager Jeff MacGurn suggests one possible theory for the dip points to Google Instant possibly steering searchers away from the long tail, changing search behavior ever so slightly. He says Google's feature could cannibalize long-tail search keyword terms in favor of head terms.

The 15% drop seems to have rebounded a bit in the last week. "We're still not sure if it's because of the timing (post labor day seasonal trend) or if it's because of Google Instant," MacGurn says. "The rebound would seem to indicate that it might be more of a seasonal trend than Google Instant, but without more data it's difficult to isolate the fact that would allow us to come to more of a concrete conclusion."

Continuing to track progress, MacGurn says it seems as if Google Instant favors research-based interactive search phrases. He calls it the "airline affect, you pay more to get less." It could potentially cost brands more money to optimize sites because predictive results push down other results belonging to brands.

While it's clear that Google Instant leads searches to terms they might not have otherwise explored, Mashable asked readers to take a poll and cast a vote for Google Instant or regular old Google. In the Mashable poll, Google Instant took 50.84% of the votes. Regular Google took 37.56% of the votes. And, 11.61% of the people had no opinion.

Lend your voice. What do you think?

I guess it depends on who you ask and the type of business optimizing the site whether you like one or the other. In a research note to investors, Benchmark Capital Analyst Clayton Moran explains results on Google Instant so far indicate greater traffic to trademark terms and other category or head terms.

A white paper from The Search Agency reminds us that the core features of Google Instant include:

1) Dynamic Results - Google dynamically displays relevant search results as you type so you can quickly interact and click through to the web content you need.

2) Predictions - One of the key technologies in Google Instant is the prediction of the rest of your query (in light gray text) before you finish typing.

3) Scroll to Search - Scroll through predictions and see results instantly for each as user.

The white paper, which analyzes the impact of Google Instant on SEM and SEO campaigns, explains how Google Instant might affect a search marketer's job. It explains that the increase of impression volume will become the most obvious because a new search results page appears with every keystroke. An impression now gets counted after three seconds, clicks on "search." The three-second rule could have a negative impact on click-through rate, particularly for high-traffic keywords.

The paper confirms that for organic search, Google Instant does not mean the death of SEO, as some have written, but it could make optimization more difficult for advertisers targeting long-tail traffic.

3 comments about "Search's Social Instant Gratification".
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  1. Chris Nielsen from Domain Incubation, September 20, 2010 at 5:29 p.m.

    I was going to turn Instant off, but I wound up keeping it on for now. I still think it's a waste of bandwidth and distracting.

    "It's clear that "mortgage calculator" cannibalizes some "mortgage" search traffic." So, you have already seen search data that backs this idea up? It's not clear to me. While it may distract some people, I don't expect it to distract that many. If not, then you may not have been sure what you were looking for in the first place. You sure can't get a mortgage from a caculator, but you may go for one of those ads on the calculator stes, sure...

    What frustrates me is all the attention given to something that shows you results for partial search queries, but does not change the results of those queries. Google is afraid of Bing. How stupid is THAT? All Bing has is better marketing than Google like ASK used to have. Hey, what happened to all the ads for Ask? Oh, I think they realized what a waste of money that was. "Chicks with swords" indeed... where were the adults in that marketing meeting???

    What is REALLY frustrating is that with all the resources to create and deploy instant, Google could have used the effort to EDUCATE users on how to search and have MUCH, MUCH better results as far as customer satisfaction goes. How much would it take to get people to start using quotes when the search? Do you even know what I am talking about!!!?????!!!! Quote marks. The first of many simple things that if people learned would greatly imrpove their search experience.

    http://www.Inferable.com/

  2. Nathan Safran from Conductor, September 20, 2010 at 5:56 p.m.

    Covarios findings are interesting, but would be telling to know if they are seeing a drop in any specific keyword length or if it is across the board.

    Our research (analysis of 880,000 keywords) shows the impact of Instant thus far (~1 week in) has been negligible: http://blog.conductor.com/2010/09/what%E2%80%99s-been-the-impact-of-google-instant-on-searcher-behavior-so-far-not-much/

  3. Mark Yurik from Signswest.com, September 20, 2010 at 6:27 p.m.

    I really do not spend the time to see the Gratification even though I'm aware it's filling in, I continue to concentrate on 'keyword' input for what I'm looking for

    If it's not broke don't fix it, but good to see one responder mentions it may be turned off

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