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Google Instant's Impact On Trigger Keywords & Performance In Paid Search

From a paid search standpoint, the effects of Google Instant are intriguing. What is the real impact on trigger keywords and other key performance indicators? Here is an attempt to quantify those effects.


We studied an aggregated data set on Google US from the period prior to the launch of Google Instant and compared it to the week following the launch for a wide range of clients. Our client base is mainly retail, so other sectors may experience different results.

Also, this analysis is about triggered keywords, not user queries. To clarify, we are looking at the impact on the keywords we are bidding on, and not the actual search queries. This is a clear limitation as several factors can interfere, including but not limited to how many keywords are active, which match types are active, etc. We constantly expand long tail keyword sets for our clients based on search query reports and other proprietary mechanisms. By expanding keyword inventory, we always bid on the right keywords in exact match type.

Even though keyword data might be less pertinent than user query data, the week over week evolution does make sense, as long as most impressions, clicks and conversions are triggered by exact match type.


Finding #1: More generic trigger keywords. The average number of terms in trigger keywords has decreased by 1.64% overall. More specifically, there have been more 1-term keywords and fewer 2-term keywords. No significant change has been seen from 3+ terms, which means a shift is happening from 2-term keywords to 1-term keywords, without affecting the long tail.

% of impressions by number of terms in trigger keywords

Finding #2: Shorter trigger keywords. The average keyword length has decreased by 1.65%. More specifically, there have been a higher proportion of short (3 to 9 characters) keywords and a lower proportion of mid-long (10 to 20 characters) keywords.

% of impressions by number of trigger keyword length

Given the nature of Google Instant, our expectation that searchers will stop typing queries as they see relevant results appear is true. This phenomenon leads to more short keywords (fewer terms, less characters) and fewer long keywords being triggered.

Our gut reaction is that Instant is Google’s attempt to create a smaller pool of high volume, more generic keywords to drive up CPCs. Either way, generic terms have never been more important. Because a higher percentage of impressions, clicks, cost and subsequent conversions are occurring on these terms, it’s crucial to measure the effectiveness of generic terms on the sales funnel.

Similar to conversion funnels in AdWords, we developed a proprietary conversion path report that helps us optimize the whole search funnel—not just terms that receive the last click. Without looking at the entire funnel we wouldn’t be able to associate revenue back to those generic terms boasting relatively high CPCs and low conversion rates.

Finding #3: Higher CTR. While we have seen an overall dip in impressions of -6.75% from the period prior to the launch of Google Instant compared to the week following the launch, the amount of clicks has increased by 4.54%. This is due to an amazingly improved CTR: up 12.14%.

Rank also improved by 2.21% and CPC increased by 1.11%. We believe the jump in CTR is statistically significant whereas the CPC increase is not due to seasonality.

This jump in CTR shows how relevant real-time results are.


Finding #4: More conversion volume, though at a higher cost per acquisition. Unfortunately for advertisers, the average conversion rate has dropped slightly by 1.03%. However, this drop is actually not that bad relative to the increase in click traffic.

Despite a dip in impressions, we have seen an overall growth of +3.49% in conversion volume, while the CPA has increased by 2.16%:



Google Instant represents a significant shift for search marketers. Initial results show that searchers are letting themselves be guided by Google Instant’s suggestions, leading to more short, generic trigger keywords.

More importantly, overall relevancy from the keyword to the ad copy seems to be improved. As a consequence, more traffic is being driven through paid listing versus natural listings, which is undoubtedly in Google’s favor.

As for overall efficiency and conversion volume, we are observing a slightly lower conversion rate—yielding a higher CPA—but a significant increase in conversion volume. For advertisers looking for improved efficiency, this is bad news—whereas for those looking for incremental revenue through search marketing, this is definitely good news.

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.

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