Instant Loss of Traffic thanks to Google? I don’t think so.

Google’s new Google Instant function is no cause for anxiety, argues Mikhail Basman, head of search and digital products at MPG Media Contacts.

Google Instant is a new (opt-out) feature that offers instant suggestions as user’s type in their search queries. This will undoubtedly excite consumers, but the most interesting part of this ’predictive text on search’ feature for digital agencies is the ability to pre-populate the results page with both natural and paid search results.

Currently this feature is only operational on HTML 5 browsers – Internet Explorer 8, Firefox and Chrome – which make up over 60% of the browser market and to those who are logged in to a Google account. There may also be a significant amount of advanced users who search via a toolbar where this functionality does not work.

The new functionality has met with a lot of excitement and buzz across the blogosphere and Twitter, but what does it actually mean for advertisers? It’s clearly early days and the true impact on search behaviour will be evident over the coming weeks. My current feeling is that:

– Impression levels are likely to increase as people no longer need to hit the search button to see their results. Instead an impression will be counted when a user shows behaviour indicating that they have either completed their search or are satisfied with the “instant results”
– Both PPC and SEO will be affected. Keyword long tails will need to expand beyond the current misspellings and variations to include ’shorts’. For example, someone searching for ’mortgages’, typing an unfinished search of ’mor’ could see a Morrisons brand ad (as well as ads from their competitors). Similarly, there is likely to be an impact on exact matching.
– Certain advertisers may start to target terms gaining preference and terms with meaningful modifiers in predictive search. This will increase the number of target keywords with more emphasis on generics and shorts and a greater reliance on Google’s search query reports.

Undoubtedly, Google is expecting an upside in impression counts and therefore revenue; its claim that it is purely for user experience is difficult to believe, given Google’s obsession with financial growth. Cynical observers would say that this move is to counter an increased sophistication in advertisers using exact match to achieve lower CPC’s and will force advertisers to have to bid on more generics to capture traffic.

Regardless, it is a further blow for Yahoo! and Bing. Twitter, which aims to own real-time search, should also be concerned. Google seems able to identify and quickly release functionality that sets the bar in a way other engines cannot, so for that you have to admire it.

More than ever, there is a need to be fleet of foot with search strategy and optimisation and to integrate PPC and SEO to achieve optimum keyword visibility. There is now more of a reliance on analysing performance analytics data to monitor the impacts. My view is that we will need to future-proof our search campaigns to counter the above but the paranoia found on certain blogs is unfounded.

This will undoubtedly affect user behaviour but probably only one in two searches. Shorter searches and real time results as you type will mean greater thought is needed about match types and the long tail. But there’s no need to panic if your agency knows its stuff. Search is constantly evolving and so the tactics used to optimise should always be constantly evolving.

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