It's hard to find an industry as dynamic or one that evolves as much as the search industry. We've spent the last year worrying about Caffeine, "Bing-Hoo" and social media's influence on search, but apparently that wasn't enough. Google's need for speed (or more control, however you want to look at it) has led to their latest attempt to alter the search landscape: Google Instant.
Real-time search is obviously something that Google has been obsessed with lately. Caffeine brought us a faster search index and social media feeds, and this latest tweak will bring results to our search queries as soon as we strike the first key. "Google Instant searches the Web ‘as you type, not after you type,'" says Marissa Mayer, Google's VP of Search Product and User Experience. The moment you start typing, you are not only given the usual suggestions, but hit over the head with results that follow-and change-as you continue your query or select one of Google's suggestions.
I personally find it intriguing, albeit a bit distracting. It's just another attempt by Google to funnel users to its paid listings, despite claims that it will make the user's experience "fun, fast and interactive." In truth, I see it as Google trying to control the user even more, directing them toward what they believe they "should" be searching for. John Lynch wrote on Search Engine Watch, "Instant Search now marks a significant shift in search as Google is now taking a much more active role in not only leading searchers to not just the answer, but also the question itself."
For the first time, it appears SEO isn't the only one being affected as Instant will have implications on the search strategies for PPC as well. Here are some worth highlighting:
- Instant no doubt benefits paid listings more than organic listings in terms of exposure, but will users and Pay Per Click (PPC) marketers see the benefits? Ad impressions are likely to see a significant increase, but click through rates (CTR) on more targeted key phrases will likely decrease. More impressions are great, but does CTR on the highest search-volume keywords lead to greater conversions or just burnt budgets? With an increase in impressions and a decrease in CTR, Quality Scores could also take a hit - thus potentially increasing your cost per click (CPC) for targeted keywords. Many in the industry believe the algorithm behind Quality Score will change in the near future.
- How will long tail searches be affected? Google isn't the biggest fan of the long tail, because the click revenues are cheaper than shorter (broader reaching) keywords, despite the fact that conversion rates are significantly higher for more detailed search queries. The short terms could easily increase your CTR, but what is this going to mean for your CPC and your ad budget? This could potentially change not just the way PPC campaigns are handled, but how users will find the information they are seeking. This will have some impact on SEO campaigns as well, unless of course you already rank for these terms Google is funneling users, too.
- SEO is not dead . . . again. Despite some nonsense being spewed throughout the web, SEO is not going to be irrelevant. In fact, optimizing your site may be more important than ever. "Websites will also need to adapt. Businesses that optimize their pages so that they appear near the top of Google results will have to ‘pay more attention to the suggestions offered by Google' that now pop up instantly as you type," says Danny Sullivan of Search Engine Land. This not only means site architecture, but other aspects of websites will need to be optimized, such as videos, local strategies (Side note: localized search might be one of the big winners with this change), news, blogs and social, in order to capture additional listings in Google's results while building a good online reputation. Also, if you haven't embraced the importance of Keyword Research in your online strategy, now is the time. In short, the process really hasn't changed.
Google Instant will undoubtedly have significant impacts on Search, from an organic (SEO) standpoint and also on the paid side (PPC). Admittedly, each time Google makes significant changes to its interface, the organic listings seem to get the short end of the stick (you think we didn't notice that organic listings have moved even further down the page?). Bottom line: Google makes changes to make even more money (shocker). But this doesn't mean SEO is "dead." Every time Google makes a change, whether it's Personalized Search, Caffeine, Mayday or any algorithmic changes, it supposedly spells the end of SEO. SEO has been "dying" for years, yet it continues to grow; in fact SEO was voted on as "The top digital marketing tactic for 2011" by the readers of the Online Marketing Blog.
Google Instant will likely change user search behavior, and it will be the job of search marketers to adapt - like they have in the past, in the present . . . and will have to in the future. Needless to say, we are not worried. In fact, I'm personally excited by the idea of search becoming even more dynamic than it already is.
Tim Eschenauer is a SEO/SEM Strategist at Long Island advertising agency Austin & Williams, specializing in Search Engine Optimization (SEO). To read more about Tim, visit his bio section on the A&W web site.
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