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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.

Patricio Robles

Published 9 September, 2010 by Patricio Robles

Patricio Robles is a tech reporter at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter.

2419 more posts from this author

Comments (8)

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This article is using up valuable text that could be put to better use elsewhere.

Summary so you don't have to read it:

Google Instant could reduce Google revenues from paid search.  However, it won't because Google will have tested it to within an inch of its life.

Advertisers might be affected- but no one is really sure.

about 6 years ago

Ben Acheson

Ben Acheson, Digital Marketing Manager at BenAcheson.com

I think users and advertisers are going to find it hard to get used to instant search.

But the continual evolution of search is good for SEOs. It makes our role constantly relevant to business.

about 6 years ago



Th Guardian's reporting that instant only applies in new browser versions AND if you're signed in to a Google account. How many people actually log in to a Google account before performing their searches?

about 6 years ago



1. This isn't the death of SEO, rather a great opportunity to start charging clients for each letter instead of by the entire keyword. :)

2. Hell yes it's going to affect advertisers - especially since impressions to clicks (CTR) helps determine your quality score, which affects your bid rate and ad position. 

Here's the words right from big G's mouth:

Impressions are measured in three ways with Google Instant:

  1. Your site is displayed in search results as a response to a user’s completed query (e.g. by pressing “enter” or selecting a term from autocomplete). This is the traditional model. 

    With Google Instant, we also measure impressions in these new cases:

  2. The user begins to type a term on Google and clicks on a link on the page, such as a search result, ad, or a related search.
  3. The user stops typing, and the results are displayed for a minimum of 3 seconds.
just like everything, you need to follow the money.  @Kate - that would only be anyone who uses gmail, google reader, youtube, analytics, etc....an awful lot of people. 

about 6 years ago


Dr. SEO Haley

from an SEO perspective, I think it is huge in the way we design pages. Long tail keyword phrases have to be better planned.

about 6 years ago


Graham Cooke, Managing Director, QuBit Digital

This really could be an online advertising game changer, as it will impact both how advertisers choose their top-tail terms and the long-tail.  

The instant search will affect impressions and the Quality Score on keywords, as results are returned on more generic search terms first.  This also has the potential to reduce the number of longer tail searches. For example, if a user is looking for last minute holidays to Dubai, they may find a sponsored link or search result that interests them just as they type in ‘last minute’.

With higher impression opportunities and more competition on generic terms, and lower impression opportunities and much higher Quality Score opportunities in the long tail, businesses most effective keyword research will now need to be based on Google’s Auto-Suggestion, if Google Instant is widely adopted.

about 6 years ago


Insight Forge

Although searchers won't look at the right hand column results, Google also displays results directly under the search box. IN fact, those top 3 results are now more prominently displayed center stage. See comparison picture of old search and instant results here: http://www.insightforge.com/blog/2010/09/google-pulls-a-fast-one-with-instant-search/

about 6 years ago



Yes. Google Instant could be a major problem for SEO and especially AdWords and how it will work. I honestly don't even understand why Google would even make this change at this point and time. The new Instant feature is very annoying to have to use at this point I just use the Search bar on my FireFox browser instead of going too Google.com to do searches.

about 6 years ago

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