Google rolled out “Instant Search” yesterday. Essentially, Google will now produce “search results” and ads as you type your search query and they will change as you type. But I think that is possibly an over simplification. Instant search is more about “suggesting what you could be searching for”, based on the data in Google Search Suggest than it is about relevance to what you could be looking for.
The implications on how this will change the way we search are huge. Google says that it’s all about speed and delivering what you are looking for faster. They even make claims about how much time they are going to save everyone by reducing the amount of time it takes to find what you want. My answer to that is maybe, but don’t kid yourself about why Instant Search really exists. Google is a billion dollar business and they aren’t going do anything like this unless it maximizes Pay Per Click ad revenues.
Type the letter “w” and Google now pre-populates search results for its top Google Search Suggest result for the letter “w” – weather. The suggest results are supposedly the mostly likely prediction of what people are looking for based on Google’s vast database of search history, your location and search history. Google claims to now have a billion users so data should be their strong suit in making a prediction. Here’s the part where I put on my conspiracy theory tin foil hat…
Follow The Money
What if the top suggested searches for those very partial searches weren’t the most relevant queries, but were in fact
the queries that produce the most Google Adwords Clicks? In many cases they are one in the same, but let’s face it, Instant search is all about producing search results and ads with the most base, broad, high volume keywords.
Ad impressions are now available on Instant Search (provided there is a 3 second break after typing). More impressions, equal more clicks on the broadest, highest volume keywords is good for Google, but doesn’t necessarily mean advertisers will get proportionately more high quality converting traffic.
Pay No Attention to the Man Behind the Curtain
Search on Google is now split apart. On one side of the curtain is Google’s prediction of what they “think” you are looking for based on their database of search history for everyone, your personalized search history and your IP addresses location. The results from this are actual search results for Google’s top “suggestion” but they aren’t necessarily what you might be looking for (especially if you stop typing for 3 seconds).
The other side of the curtain is what we all see once we hit the return button after searching or hit the search button. They aren’t necessarily the same thing. Those instant search results for typing the letter “w” are for the word weather. Type the letter w and then hit the search button or hit return and the results are mostly about the movie “W”.
Location, Location, Location
The search suggest box also pushes down the natural search results on the page, especially when their are 3 sponsored
links at the top of the results. The 5 suggest keywords push the natural results down about another inch down the results page on my computer. Even ads in the right side gutter also start much higher on the page than the natural search results. This small matter of inches on the page puts the ads in the prime positions of the page and pushes a great deal of the natural search results below the fold. These inches will equate to increased ad visibility and increased ad revenues for Google…and they are already making billions.
It’s Still All About the Big Brands – But get ready to pay for that
Ad impressions on base brand names are very likely to spike now. Your company name, if it’s an established brand, will be the main recipient of these ad impressions. If the clicks on these impressions do not follow, click through rates will go down and if click through rates go down that has historically meant a decline in Quality Score.
What remains to be seen is if Google will account for the changes in impressions into it’s algorithms for determining Quality Score. I want to have faith in Google that they will be able to account for these changes (Quality Score is real time). If they do not account for the increase in impressions and the clicks do not follow with the increase in impressions, brands will see increases in Cost Per Click for searches on their name. My favorite graphic from ClickEquations shows the impact that Quality Score can have on cost per click:
Bottom line. Google may say they did this to save you 2.5 seconds per search and that Instant Search is all about Speed, the reality is that Google is a very smart Billion dollar business and these changes are likely more for increasing their ad revenues than they are for saving you time.