According to the Google Adwords blog, “Google Instant helps users find information faster by showing relevant results as a query is typed.” As the user types, Google populates results in the search bar. This is not a new feature and has been used in Firefox and Internet Explorer for some time. But the question remains, how will this impact SEM and SEO?

Paid Search

Ad positions:

Will the click through rate change based on position? In the example below, position 4 is slightly above the “premium position.” As the user reads across the page, the first ad that is seen is in position 4. This could affect the CTR of the premium positions as position 3 is lower on the page, and depending on the user’s browser resolution, sometimes below the fold.

Long tail/competition:

Google Instant will have an impact on the long tail. For years, a best practice of all SEM agencies has been to constantly add to the long tail, as those terms are further down the conversion funnel. Google Instant search gives users a reason to stop mid-query if they already see a relevant ad. For example, if a user searches for a “46 inch LG LCD TV,” he may see something else that catches his eye before finishing that query. In this case, where LG is in the top position for the aforementioned term, they are losing out on those folks who were shown other ads before finishing their queries. As all search engine marketers know, these shorter, less-qualified, unbranded terms are more expensive and more competitive than are longer, more qualified, and (in this case) branded terms. LG is not only fighting those competitors bidding on their brand terms, but also competitors bidding on head terms that are a part of their longer brand terms.


We all know that Quality Score is impacted by CTR. We also know that CTR is calculated by dividing clicks by impressions. Advertisers may get more impressions (inadvertently) for head terms because of the user clicking elsewhere on the page or stopping mid-query for a few seconds as something on the page has caught his eye. These are three cases in which Google defines an impression:

  • The user begins to type a query on Google and clicks anywhere on the page (a search result, an ad, a spell correction, a related search).
  • The user chooses a particular query by clicking the Search button, pressing Enter or selecting one of the predicted queries.
  • The user stops typing, and the results are displayed for a minimum of 3 seconds.

While there is a domino effect resulting from an increase in impressions, the volume likely won’t be large enough to cause a monumental change in advertisers’ CPCs.

Organic Search

“Category Killers” and root words:

Since Google Instant displays results before the user finishes typing them, the root keywords of longer tail terms will be displayed more frequently. Let’s imagine a keyword like furniture and its derivates where the root is the first word of the phrase (ex. Furniture stores, furniture sets, furniture in Atlanta). Using Google Instant, the organic results for the keyword “furniture” will be displayed when users start typing any derivative. What’s the impact? The exact match volume for “furniture” is 9,140,000. Google Instant increases that exact match volume to (9,140,000 + Exact volumes of all keywords that start with the word “furniture”).

Long tail traffic:

Long tail keywords that contain a root word at or towards the beginning of the phrase will see a decline in traffic. For example, the phrase “ink cartridge for Canon Pixma MP250” will see the organic results for the keyword “ink cartridges,” unless they keep typing of course. If you optimized your site for “ink cartridges” this is a positive for your SEO program. If you optimized your site for long tail printer names on the other hand, this would hurt your strategy significantly.

Click through rates:

All results including top paid positions and organic listings are pushed further down the page. Instead of 4-5 listings being displayed above the fold you’re looking at 1-2, depending on your resolution. This change in CTR will impact how much effort SEOs are willing to put towards ranking for a particular keyword. Just like with paid search where you weight the CPC of the position against the business impact, SEOs have to weight how much additional effort it would take to increase a keyword one position versus the business impact.

Our Strategy

So, do we abandon our long tail PPC strategy that has consistently proven successful for our clients across various verticals? No, it is too early to quantify the impact that Google Instant will have on our PPC campaigns. We instead keep a closer eye on the long tail, monitoring traffic, while buying all relevant head terms on exact match. This is something we already do, but we now have to place additional focus on head terms as well.

So, do we focus on position 4 instead of 1-3 for top terms? No, not until data supports it, right now this is purely theory.

The true impact of Google Instant on SEM and SEO still remains to be seen, but as it stands, this change will fundamentally rock the search community. With that said, search is still very much alive. Those that can identify and adjust to these changes will flourish in the next evolution of search.

Author: Ryan Woolley, vice president, group director of client services for Response Mine Interactive

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