Quit Being a Stick in the Mud About Google Instant


stick_smallADOTAS – A couple weeks ago, Google rolled out Google Instant – a new way for users to see search results in real time. Now when a user starts typing, search results are automatically generated based on what Google predicts you will type.

With every letter change, results may change, therefore offering users the ability to find what they’re looking for faster (Google claims that Google Instant will decrease search time by 2-3 seconds, on average). Users can also scroll up and down the list of suggestions and search results will also change with each scroll (see examples at About Google Instant).

Fact or Fiction

In the words of Austin Powers, “Whoop-de-doo, Basil, but what does it all mean?” Well if you’re a Google user, it means that you’ll either love or hate this new functionality (but the good news is you can turn it off if you fall into the latter group).

If you’re an advertiser or an agency, you probably want to know how Google Instant will affect SEM programs (both paid search and SEO). Unfortunately, as with any abrupt changes in our industry, rumors began to fly that Google Instant would kill SEO mere minutes after it went live (Did video really kill the radio star?).

By now, we should all have trained ourselves to take news like this with a grain of salt, but sometimes these rumors still get the best of us. So instead of causing a panicked frenzy listing out what the future of search may or may not hold (which is a little early to tell given that Google Instant has been live less than a month), we’ll look at what we do know in a breakdown of fact, speculation or possibility:

  • Fact: Google holds the majority of the search engine market share.
  • Fact: Google recently released a faster way to present search results with Google Instant.
  • Fact: Google wants to enhance the user search experience where possible.
  • Fact: “Hunt and peck” typers won’t see results until they complete their search query.
  • Speculation: Google Instant will kill SEO.
  • Speculation: Advertisers may put more focus on the not-so-long-tail.
  • Speculation: Impressions will increase.
  • Possibility: Google Instant may change the way users search.
  • Possibility: Advertisers and agencies may have to adjust campaigns to account for changes.

Nitty Gritty Details

Putting speculation and possibility aside, here is what we do know about how Google Instant will affect SEM/SEO.

Effects on SEM (Paid Search)

  • An impression starts to count if a user clicks on a certain search or pauses for three seconds on a search.
  • As for whether or not impressions will increase, Google has stated that, “It’s possible that this feature may increase or decrease your overall impression levels. However, Google Instant may ultimately improve the quality of your clicks since it helps users type queries that more directly connect them with the answers they need.”
  • Along with impressions, click-through-rates (CTR) may also increase or decrease.

Effects on SEO

  • While users are in mid-search, organic listings shown in the SERP will be pushed down to account for suggestions.
  • Google Instant will not kill SEO. However, SEO may change over time… not because search results will be different, but because users will learn how to search differently.
  • At this time, advertisers and agencies should not optimize their listings based on partial keyword searches, but should continue to optimize their website by creating relevant content and enhancing the user experience.

Lose Nothing, Gain Everything

Should advertisers and agencies be optimistic about the potential effects of Google Instant? For those that have a solid understanding of how their campaigns work and continue to optimize their website, the answer is yes. If you continue to optimize and change your campaigns as changes happen in the industry, anything that results from Google Instant will be yet another opportunity to examine how you can adapt as changes occur.

For those that do not have a clear understanding of their campaigns, there is still hope – because it’s never too late to start optimizing and updating your campaigns to align with your goals and objectives.

Going back to the user perspective, there is only gain to be made from this new functionality. Here’s an example:

I stopped at Sears and had my eye on a Kenmore grill that I liked (I realize that summer is coming to a close, but this is when you get the really good deals on grills for next year), but I wanted to watch and see if the price would go down. Later that week, I hopped on Google and, given that I knew the brand name, my intent was to type in “Sears grills – Kenmore.”

However, with Google Instant I only got as far as “sears gril” before I saw the result pop up on the SERP. Now if it hadn’t popped up at that point, I would have lost nothing, because my intent was to complete the long-tail search, in which case, I would have found what I was looking for anyways. This is just one example of how Google Instant can work in your favor.

Now as an industry expert, I know that on the flip side that this may cause some confusion at first, because if I was running a campaign trying to target Kenmore grills, I may not be targeting “Sears grills.” But as we do more and more testing to see which keywords are driving the most qualified clicks, we’ll be able to adapt our campaigns to keep up with the demand.

The other thing to remember here, and I feel as if we lose sight of this at times, is that the consumer dictates what is relevant. For better or for worse, Google Instant is here to stay, and the winners in this game will be the ones that learn to adapt to the changes, not oppose them.


  1. Sorry you view users that dislike google instant as being “sticks in the mud.” I call those users practical and efficient. In fact, I’ve not met a google user that likes instant, and most can’s stand the constantly jarring screen and needless results that instant provides.

    The results are less reliable as you type and you are often prompted to be distracted wuth useless results, the preferences settings reset on startup for users/schools/businesses that have their browsers set to delete unnecessary temporary files and it goes contrary to the original mission behind google’s initial business model: to make a search simple and clean without burdening users with too much advertising and censorship.

    Personally I and my business have reset all browsers to Bing. While I don’t prefer Bing to old Google, it’s too much of a headache to reset the browsers to “instant off” at the beginning of each day.

    Google would be smart to make the default “instant off.”


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