Commentary

10 Potential Google Instant Storylines

There's been lots of chatter across the Interwebs about Google Instant over the past couple weeks.

Two of my fellow Search Insiders took the bait, with Todd Friesen declaring "Google Instantly Annoying" and Rob Garner penning "Steve Rubel Backpedals On Death Of SEO Post."

Here are 10 storylines I'm expecting to see in the coming months as a result of Google Instant:

1.     FarmVille Sees Record Growth.  According to Google, "Before Google Instant, the typical searcher took more than 9 seconds to enter a search term, and we saw many examples of searches that took 30-90 seconds to type." Now if my mom is the typical searcher, then I'll buy that.

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While it may not be "2-5 seconds per search," there's surely some element of time savings here and all those milliseconds will add up. (There is an element, and don't call me Shirley!) Google says it will save searchers 350 million hours each year. As for what people will do with all that extra time, my guess is we're going to see some bumper crops!

2.     Google Implicated in Teen Suicide.  John Smith was having a bad day. His friends had been teasing him incessantly about his stutter and he couldn't take it anymore.So he turned to Google for creative ways to get back at them. He was so mad he even considering killing them.

Following his whim, John began to Google "Best way to kill your" and then he paused. Was it friends? Classmates?  Bullies? Too late. After a few nanoseconds Google predicted his query, "How to kill your self." Sure enough, the results popped up and John popped himself.

An extreme and unlikely scenario, I know, but the potential for Google Instant to create self-fulfilling prophecies is very real.

3.     Bing Surpasses 15% Market Share.  If, like Todd, people find Instant annoying, will they just turn it off or go so far as to kick the Google Habit completely? And, if it's the latter, what's a 4-letter word for "almost as good as Google"?

4.     Screwy Quality Scores Mystify Advertisers.  Google has gone to great lengths to reassure us that Instant will not impact Quality Score, but I find that hard to believe. Google has acknowledged that impression counts will vary with Instant -- but that the Quality Score algorithm will account for this fluctuation

OK, I'll buy that. But what about click rate? Surely, with the searcher's eyes darting all over the page as the query is typed, certain ads are more likely to stand out, while others are more likely to be ignored. The impact will be different for each advertiser, and each ad, but there will certainly be an impact.

5.     Fewer Search Marketers Rely on Long-Tail Keywords.  As Todd pointed out in his column, fewer Google searchers will continue their query all the way down the long tail. Rather, they'll see the result(s) they're looking for and make a pre-emptive click. And, as Bryant Garvin noted in the comments on Todd's column, Instant is likely to cut down on the "25% of queries each day that Google has never seen before."  (My sources tell me this number is closer to 20%, but the point stands.)

This changes the imperative for search marketers to build out extensive lists of long-tail keywords for Google and, instead, focus on creative optimization as a means to pick off those pre-emptive clickers and offset the higher costs of going after head terms. This also forces marketers to rethink target terms for SEO.

6.     CPC Rates Rise Across All Advertiser Categories.  With fewer queries making their way down the long tail, competition for head terms will heat up, thus driving up bid prices. 'Nuff said here.

7.     Online Retailers See Conversion Rates Decrease. I suspect Instant will lead to a lot of "false clicks." That is, erroneous clicks that result from a searcher trying to click a listing that was "right there just a second ago."

Additionally, I see Google Instant interrupting a lot of searchers who had been focused on completing a task (like booking a plane ticket), and instead get sidetracked by a suggested Google result that's tangentially related to the task. This will lead to a lot more "browsing," as searchers are interested in seeing related topics and content but are not in "buy mode" for them.

8.     Google Bows More Image Ad Formats.  On an instantly changing results page, product listing and other image ads will jump off the page. Google will see the spikes in click rates for image ads and be tempted to introduce more formats that are similar. Advertisers will buy them like hotcakes as they, too, will see increased click rates and even (gasp!) branding opportunities on search results pages. This will drive up prices and further reinforce Google's motivations to deliver more image ads.

9.     Google Stock Price Rises North of $600.  All this extra clicking and advertiser bidding will improve Google's revenue and margin from search ads -- and finally, give investors confidence that Google can find new ways to monetize its bread-and-butter product.

It's also worth pointing out that a reduction in long-tail queries will help Google with monetization, since fewer queries will go without (lots of) relevant advertisers.

10.  Google Turns Off Instant as Search Default.  Despite the increased revenue, I suspect consumer backlash will be so severe that Google will stop defaulting to Instant. As discussed in chapter 3 of my book, one of the reasons Google became so popular was how easy it was to use. Google's simple homepage, with lush white spaces and orderly results pages featuring pristine rows of blue links, created a very simple and intuitive user experience.

Now, the Google homepage has crazy doodles (and, for some people, background images and/or gadgets), and the results page is full of refinements and images, all of which are assembling and reassembling on the fly as you type. It's too much. Maybe not for me, but definitely for my mother. And, trust me, before tending to her crop 24/7, she used to do a lot of Googling.

9 comments about "10 Potential Google Instant Storylines".
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  1. Seth Grimes, September 22, 2010 at 11:02 a.m.

    What about the storyline, possibly the most likely of them all --

    Bing and Yahoo launch "instant" search

  2. Joe Laratro from Tandem Interactive, September 22, 2010 at 11:16 a.m.

    Aarron, I think you are dead on. Google instant will cause the first decrease in amount of keywords in a search query in the past decade.

  3. Bryant Garvin from Choice Hotels International, September 22, 2010 at 11:51 a.m.

    Aaron,
    Thanks for the "quote", and pointing out that I was "guess-membering" a number from my head instead of actually checking the page I had read it on previously (http://adwords.google.com/support/aw/bin/answer.py?hl=en&answer=6137).

  4. John Jainschigg from World2Worlds, Inc., September 22, 2010 at 1:25 p.m.

    This is a really interesting analysis -- and I'm fascinated to see Clint's note about there (so far) being no measurable negative effect from Google Instant.

    On the one hand, I'm willing to admit that sometimes I expect technical things to be more disruptive, or more quickly disruptive than they turn out to be. On the other, I think this is something that may bear longer-term watching. My own experience with Instant is that -- short term -- I've learned to ignore it. I have a fairly particular way of searching Google that works for me, and I'm a touch-typist -- so I enter the same search phrases as before (now without looking at the screen) and I get the same results.

    But will I do this forever? There's an inertia inherent in peoples' customary way of using tools that's quite robust -- even to the extent of ignoring reality. But it's not infinitely robust, and I suspect that, over time, the new user-interface reality of Google Instant may command more of my attention, and will perhaps start changing my behavior.

  5. Nathan Gawel from Centro.net, September 22, 2010 at 2:35 p.m.

    Aaron, do you think Google Instant could have the opposite, positive effect on keyword length? While someone is searching and realizes what he/she is looking for is not below he continues typing until he/she sees it? Looking forward to the first "pre - instant" vs "post-instant" study to show keyword query length.

  6. Jimmy Bogroff from Yahoo!, September 22, 2010 at 4:56 p.m.

    But it is a problem for branded advertisers, especially when their competitor has a "general term" in its brand.

    Think of "pizza"

    Pizza query = Pizza Hut and only Pizza Hut.

    That's a big problem for the other pizza companies. . .especially the ones who rely on a:

    Papa query = sometimes Papa Murphy's, sometimes Papa John's, but rarely both.

  7. Donna DeClemente from DDC Marketing Group, September 22, 2010 at 5:21 p.m.

    Thanks Aaron for your top 10 list on Google Instant.

    I personally have not had much exposure to Google Instant since I have the Google search box built right into my Firefox browser. All I do is open up a tab and type my search in that box, so I don't see Google Instant, just Google Suggestions. Now they may change that in the future, but I had to change the way I search to just get a glimpse of Instant. Which I concur, found quite annoying.

    I haven't read any comments similar to my experience. So am I a small minority that doesn't use Google's full page to Google?

  8. Alan Hamor from adworthy inc, September 22, 2010 at 8:04 p.m.

    Good one, Aaron.

  9. Aaron Goldman from 4C, September 23, 2010 at 5:10 p.m.

    Thanks for the comments all!

    Clint (and John) - indeed, too early to tell and impact will be different for each marketer.

    Seth (and Jimmy) - perhaps but Jimmy is dead on about the challenge with brand terms. And he's from Yahoo. Too bad Bing is in control now and they have already shown a willingness to cater to big brands. See Bing query "Target."

    Joe (and Nate) - Nate makes a good point. Potential that Instant lengthens the tail.

    Bryant - word.

    Donna - you are not alone. A good chunk of queries take place off Google.com. Thought the number was something like 40%+ but wondering if anyone can source that stat?

    Alan - thanks, but it's ten! ;)

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