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As many anticipated, Google launched major changes to the Google search experience yesterday. That, of course, set the blogosphere ablaze.
A big topic of debate: the impact of Google Instant on SEO. Not surprisingly, some believe that Instant is effectively the death of SEO. Such claims are typical when Google makes big changes, and as always, SEO will simply change -- not die. But that doesn't mean that Instant won't have a negative impact on Google's most valuable stakeholders: AdWords advertisers.
That, at least, is one possible interpretation of eye tracker data Google itself provided at the Instant launch. Former Financial Times journalist Tom Foremski, who attended the launch, writes:
During the 90 minute launch Google executives showed off the result of an eye-tracking study of users interacting with Google Instant. The dynamic nature of the search page forces users to look at the suggestions offered as they type, and user's eyes are drawn the area just below the search box towards the best choice in the results.
The eye tracker did not show any activity on the right side of the page where Google text ads are placed.
The question this raises: if Google Instant is too effective at drawing attention to the suggested search terms and top results, will searchers pay less attention to the AdWords ads that drive most of Google's revenue?
While Google isn't concerned, Foremski notes that "if Google improves search to the point where people can get to the site they want with just typing in a few letters, there is less opportunity for Google to serve up ads on its search pages and receive clicks." And that is, basically, Google's goal. Foremskipoints to Google's estimate that Instant will 'save' its users 11 hours per second globally, and points out that this "means there is 11 hours every second that is not being spent looking at search ads."
Obviously, one would assume that Google has carefully considered this issue and looked at the data from the real-world experiments it ran of Instant functionality before the global launch. Had there been a precipitous drop in clicks on pages testing the Instant functionality, it's unlikely the functionality would have made it into the Instant release.
But even if AdWords CTRs remain largely unchanged, it's worth considering that advertisers could still be affected. After all, AdWords impressions, which aren't paid for, provide a level of free 'branding'. It's conceivable that Impact could somehow work to reduce the branding benefit even if CTRs don't drop.
Whatever the case, it's worth considering that no testing, no matter how well planned or statistically relevant, can predict with one-hundred percent accuracy how something will fare in the real world at Google search scale. And Google is hardly infallible when it comes to user experience. So just as publishers wait anxiously to see what impact, if any, Instant will have on their organic Google traffic, advertisers will also wait anxiously to see what impact, if any, Instant will have on their AdWords ads.