What Google Instant Means For PPC

The internet is abuzz with analysis and speculation of Google’s big leap forward in search technology, Google Instant. In case you’ve had your computer turned off all week, Google Instant is a new method of delivering search results as a user types in a query. Here’s a quick demo video, with a little help from Bob Dylan:

Needless to say, this is kind of a big deal for those of us who work in the search marketing space. Google Instant has the potential to drastically alter how people search, and how search results are delivered to users.

Google hasn’t been too forthcoming on how this will affect AdWords just yet, but they claim that there won’t be much of a change with how your ads are served. But, Google Instant has a good chance of changing how impressions are generated. This matters because CTR plays a big factor in Quality Score, which in turn plays a big factor in your average CPC, which in turn impacts your ROI. Before I lose you, let’s back that up a bit…

First off, a clarification on how impressions are going to be calculated under the Google Instant system. Even though users have the potential to see your ads before they finish typing their query, the impression goes to the predicted search query rather than the actual word the user types in. For example, let’s say I’m looking for a bouquet of roses to send to my sweetheart. I go to Google and type in f-l-o-w. Once I get that far, Google Instant starts showing me ads for flower shops and I find what I’m looking for. I stop typing my query, click on an ad, and make an order. In this case, the word “flow” would not get credit for the impression, click or conversion. Instead, the predicted query (something like “flowers” or a similar word) would get the credit.

Adding in the X factor of predicted queries really shakes up how impressions are calculated. Under the Google Instant system, an impression will be counted in one of these three cases (according to the Google Analytics blog):

  • 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 three seconds.

I understand the first two points – it seems legitimate that once a user takes an action, an impression should be counted. But, I’m feeling a little skeptical about #3. Does a lack of user action really merit an impression count? Is three seconds really long enough to determine the user’s intent for searching on that particular word? I think that this third point is going to be the one that really affects AdWords. We’ll see what happens after this thing has been live for few weeks.

Google Instant also has the potential to change the typical search behavior of users. All of us pro PPC folks already know that people tend to perform multiple searches when they are trying to make a purchase or research an item, constantly refining their search queries along the way. But with Google Instant, searchers are able to refine their queries as they type. This is a huge deal for the online shopping experience. You can start typing in something, get instant feedback on whether or not that query meets your information needs, and then retype and backspace all you want while Google returns refined results to you in real-time. This could be a huge step in how commerce is conducted over the internet. Plus, with the holiday shopping season just around the corner, things could get really interesting.

But, there’s no reason to panic just yet. Google Instant isn’t affecting a lot of Google searches because it has only been rolled out to users in certain countries (US, UK, France, Germany, Italy, Spain and Russia) and with certain browsers (Chrome v5/6, Firefox v3, Safari v5 for Mac and Internet Explorer v8). The lack of IE support below version 8 alone means that they’re missing a pretty big chunk of internet users. Plus, you can also opt out of Google Instant by clicking a simple drop-down link next to the search box. I suspect that a lot of non-geeks out there just aren’t ready to have their mind blown in a brave new internet experience, so I would anticipate a lot of opt-outs in these first few weeks. However, it would probably be a good idea to monitor your impression counts and CTRs in your AdWords accounts over the next few weeks to see how Google Instant is affecting your marketing efforts.

You can learn more about Google Instant at Google’s official product page: http://www.google.com/instant/.

About Shawn Livengood

Shawn Livengood is a search engine marketing professional based in Austin, Texas. He has extensive experience managing pay-per-click ad campaigns for clients in various industries, from small home-based businesses to large international companies. You can connect with Shawn on Google+.
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