Google Instant: Impact Assessment & Action Checklists

Google rolled out the “Instant” update last week. Needless to say, it has generated lot of interest in the search marketing community, and has both marketers and practitioners coming forth with their analysis and assessment on the impact it will have. The team at Position² has been following developments and is pleased to present views as well as a checklist of a few action items. These are based on interactions with experts at Google, and internal tests. Watch out for more updates in the days to comePosition² Team

For those who came in late…

Google Instant Google Instant was released by the search engine giant to enable “Faster Searches, Smarter Predictions and Instant Results”, in their words. The entire SEO community wasted no time in going into a huddle to discuss the possible pros and cons, and how they’d have to change their methodologies. Online discussion boards are raging with opinions that run from “Now that’s useful, why didn’t they think of it before?” to “I don’t want Google to put words in my mouth!”.

We saw this coming with the introduction of Google Suggest, which automatically suggests popular searches as you’re typing in your query. Users who were logged in to Google would often see several lines of personalized searches right below the search box, and clicking on any one of them would give you a results page populated with SERPs for the keywords chosen.

What Google Instant does is take the process to its logical conclusion and display actual search results. The rationale being that it takes several seconds to type in a query, but only fractions of a second to read the suggestions that show up, thereby speeding up every search. With Instant, every suggestion that comes up for 3 seconds or more (while typing pauses) is counted as an “impression” though not a click-through or visit.

Though actual search results for those who type in their query and hit “Search” still haven’t changed with Google Instant, some bloggers are bemoaning the fact that long-tail results may not even register or be included, due to popular results crowding them out, along with other changes in the algorithms used to present search results. Others talk of having to rejigger their strategies to give more importance to keyword selection and organic results.

Impact on PPC Campaigns

PPC is an area where we want to keep a close tab on performance and ROI. Naturally, this update raised a lot of concerns. These included questions like, “will we see a sudden jump in impressions?” “Will the lower CTR start affecting the quality score, is there an impact on match types and how we use them?” “Will using generic head terms in a phrase result in a deluge of unwanted clicks?” and so on. We started by posing a few of these questions to the experts at Google.

How will my impression volume change?

We’re not able to determine the degree to which you impressions will change. For some advertisers, the number of impressions might increase or decrease.

  • How would match types work now?
    Google Instant is a user interface innovation. It simply pre-populates search results based on our best prediction of what the user is looking for. Therefore, match types will not be affected.
  • How will it impact my Quality Score?
    This does not change the way we determine the relevance or quality of your ads. As always, we look at yours ad’s performance relative to that of other ads’ for the same query, position, and UI treatment (including whether or not an ad was served using the new Google Instant interface).
  • What will happen to my CTR?
    We expect performance metrics to fluctuate as a result of Instant and we encourage you to monitor post-launch metrics and adjust accordingly.
  • If my CTR goes down, then my performance will go down and my ad won’t rank well. How do I fix this?
    In general, all advertisers will be affected equally by Google Instant. Therefore, we don’t anticipate any changes in relative advertiser performance.
  • Will this impact my ad rank?
    No. This will not impact your ad rank.

In addition to the above, here’s a link to Google AdWords Help Center.

Based on the above, and a few intense sessions of brainstorming, we came up with this “WIP checklist”.

The PPC Google Instant Checklist

    1. Monitor account for unnatural spikes/dips in impressions, CPC, CTR and Quality Score.E.g. If there is a significant increase in impressions for a particular keyword the follow up action would typically involve:
      • Look at match type.
      • Simulate a search, see what triggered the increase. Most likely it will be a very generic head term. In case it’s a phrase or broad match – moving to exact will be a good solution. Or in cases possible – adding negative terms can help.

      E.g. if the keyword is “email marketing”, the increase in impressions can be attributed to “email” which has high search volumes. In this case one cannot add “email” as a negative term, the best option is to move it to phrase or exact.

      If the keyword is “web security”, the increase in impression could be due to ads being shown when a user types “web”. Here again, going exact or phrase is the solution.

    2. Since Google Instant is sort of an extension of Google Suggest, use Google Suggest to expand keywords and also add negative keywords – where relevant and possible. Here is a good source to get some tips on this.
      1. Importance of keyword in the ad copy. With ads being shown and refreshed in a span of 3 seconds (that’s the minimum duration for it to be counted as an impression), text in bold will register faster in the user’s eye.
      2. Death of the long tail? With Google putting key phrases into the searchers mind, how many users will type in long tail key phrases? Chances are they will spot something that someone else has already typed.

Impact on SEO Campaigns

Debt Consolidation - Google Instant Search From an SEO perspective, one of the biggest impact is going to be on what key phrases users are lead to by the Google Instant prompt.

For e.g., if I initiate a search for “debt consolidation”, and after I type in “debt” – if Google suggests “debt elimination”, the likelihood of the latter being clicked on is higher. So when identifying the key phrases to target – Google Trends & Suggest results play an important role.

The SEO Google Instant Checklist

      1. Relook at target keywords based on Google Suggest.
      2. It will be all the more important to focus on keywords that have higher search volumes. Since suggest is based on this. This will not have a big impact as search volumes do play a role in how we select keywords.
      3. Top 10, may need to be replaced with Top 5. With quick refreshes of pages as a user types the query, do not expect the user’s eye to go beyond the top 5 results pages

To conclude, we do expect Google Instant to have an impact, but how significant the impact will be, remains to be seen. Google Instant has already changed the way the team at Position2 uses search. For most average users, what remains to be seen is how long the novelty factor captures attention, or if a majority of people after some time get tired and just turn it off. The search marketer, for now, needs to play a wait and watch game.

Team Position²

Team Position²

Position2 is an innovative digital marketing agency that accelerates demand through integrated Content Marketing, Paid Acquisition, and Marketing Technology solutions. Our demand acceleration solutions map the buyer’s journey across multiple touch points such as search, social, mobile, media, and email. These integrated campaigns are powered by cutting-edge content creation, digital advertising, web design/development, marketing automation, and analytics. We serve hundreds of clients ranging from VC funded startups to Fortune 500 multinational firms. Our 200-member team is based in Silicon Valley and Bangalore and consists of marketing gurus, engineers, data scientists, writers, and designers. Founded in 2006, Position2 is backed by Accel Partners.