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Sep 10 / Dan DeFelippi

Will Google Instant Kill SEM and Make SEO Even More Important?

Google’s recent announcement of Instant brought the first major innovation to their search offering in years. Besides minor design and layout tweaks, Google rarely makes major changes to the search UI. Google highlighted the advantages for consumers but didn’t discuss much about the impact on content creators. I see Instant having a major impact on the importance of SEO and an inverse impact on SEM.

Steve Rubel claims “Google Instant Makes SEO Irrelevant”. I disagree entirely and think the result will be the opposite. However, Rubel’s claim that instant feedback can change what users search for is a valid point.

Now, with this, everyone is going to start tweaking their searches in real-time. The reason this is a game changer is feedback. When you get feedback, you change your behaviors.

This isn’t anything new. Google Suggest’s autocomplete feature has been around for two years. The only change is that users now get instant feedback / search results. What this does mean is that being on the top of SERPs is immensely more important. Faster searching brings shorter attention span and additional search queries. If you’re not at the top for your target keyword you could easily be overlooked. Page 2+ could become even less relevant.

Simiarly to Rubel, John Ellis asks “Will Google Instant Kill The Long Tail?”. His hypothesis is that suggestions based on regional results and targeted SEM will kill long tail searches.

The status of the long-tail query is my biggest concern in the paid search world. For years, I have been eliminating broad and short keywords. Although the volume was there, the conversions were not. As many marketers have learned, the real “value” in AdWords is in the longer-tailed, specific keywords.

He shows an example of a broad search that could bring up relevant ads that could prevent a long tail search. I’ll touch on SEM later but he makes a good point. If an ad comes up that’s relevant you may click on it, preventing you from completing your original search intent. My question is, how often do broad keywords bring up relevant ads? My experience is that it’s hit or miss. I may not be the average user but I rarely get good results from broad searches. For searches where the ads aren’t relevant to the user, Instant increases the importance of long tail keywords. With automatic results for suggested searches, Instant makes it super easy for users to extend their search tails. Since competitiveness for top organic rankings of shorter keywords will increase (and SEM cost for broad keywords too), we’ll see a greater focus on optimizing for the long tail. On the plus side this also makes long tail research easier for those looking to improve their site’s ranking. Start with your base keyword and you can easily look at the long tail with Instant.

Back to advertising, how will Instant impact SEM? Google seems unsure. During the announcement Q&A ad impressions were brought up. Google has changed how impressions are measured to improve accuracy:

  • 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.
  • Only time will tell if this is effective. Since AdWords is CPC, impressions aren’t the most important factor. Just like SEO, getting your ad listed at the top becomes more important. That means CPC could significantly increase. With high competition already driving the cost of many keywords to their limit, Instant could kill SEM ROI. With little to no ROI SEM could move from a sales channel to brand building.

    Google’s algorithms have not changed and autocomplete has been around for years. The only change is how fast you get your results. Time will tell if this changes the dynamics of SEO and SEM. What do you think? What will Instant’s impact be?


    1. Matthew Ray / Sep 10 2010

      Thanks for sharing this and the linkbacks to Rubel’s post. I’m looking forward to see what companies will be doing and how analysis will be impacted in the coming weeks. I’m especially interested in seeing if there will be a difference in audience searches between B2B & B2C.. Will Google Instant work better for one versus the other? Or have no impact?

    2. Ryan Beale / Sep 10 2010

      Hi Dan,

      Nice post! I’m so sick of reading about how GI will kill SEO. GI will make SEO MORE IMPORTANT! anyway, I wrote my thoughts on how GI will potentially effect PPC here:

      My initial thoughts on GI and PPC is, Impressions will increase, which will reduce CTR and QS and increase CPCs. Time to do some testing!! 🙂


      • Dan DeFelippi / Sep 10 2010

        Hi Ryan,

        I hadn’t thought about how Quality Scores could be reduced by GI, great point. I’m going to have to discuss this with my clients and keep a close eye on ad positioning.

    3. SEO Agency / Nov 6 2010

      I agree with all that you say here. However, I would like to see Google concentrate on the algorithm of search rather than dabble in so called revolutionary techniques like instants and now mobile instants. Google’s John Mueller has come out only this last week and said that the search indexer they use has been corrupt and is being investigated!
      Chris Wheeler

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