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Will Google Instant Kill The Long Tail?

From a paid search perspective, the first impression of Google Instant is alarming.

On September 8, Google announced Google Instant. This new feature uses a predicated query technique to establish the user’s intent. Although part of me finds Google Instant really intriguing, as a paid search marketer I have my concerns, despite Google’s assurance that this feature will not impact the ranking of ads (see Danny Sullivan’s notes about Google Instant from live blogging at the press conference.) Those concerns range from interesting, to wait and see, to alarming. Below are my early observations and first reactions to Google Instant.

Regional impact

Maybe I missed it, but during the live announcement, I did not hear mention of regional differences in query prediction. The example of starting a query with “w” and showing San Francisco weather drew a round of applause from the local, live audience. That sounds great! I would love to get my weather with one letter click.

However, my Nashville location fails me. My “w” returns WalMart. Okay, no problem let’s try this again. “John” returns “John Deere”. [Insert your Southern, redneck joke here]. Without going into too much on my personal life, let’s just say WalMart and John Deere does not appeal to me. I rarely visit WalMart.com and I have never visited Deere.com, but apparently “my people” do.

[By the way, those examples above also varied per browser]

From a paid search angle, this can be a very serious concern. When targeting keywords, I need to have consistency across regions. Having that consistency allows me to target regions the way I want to with ads, not how Google Instant chooses.

Effect on ad impressions

Counting impressions with Google Instant happens in three different ways.

  • Any click – If the user starts typing, then clicks anywhere on the page, an impression is counted. Whether that’s an ad, spell check, or link, it’s counted.
  • Search Selection – An impression is counted when the search button is clicked or a user selects a query.
  • 3 Second Rule – When the user stops typing and does nothing for 3 seconds, an impression is counted

Source: http://adwords.google.com/support/aw/bin/answer.py?hl=en&answer=187309

I am actually not sure yet how this will affect my ad campaigns. At a minimum, I would expect an impression count to go down. Impressions are a great way to draw brand awareness without accruing cost. It makes sense that Google would want to eliminate this “free” form of advertising. I am at the “wait and see” stage with impression count.

Long tail affected

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.

For example, a hotel in Las Vegas would expect more conversions bidding on “Las Vegas 5-star Hotel” vs. “Las Vegas”. Bidding on “Las Vegas” would surely bring in lots of clicks, but the cost per conversion may be too high. Lower budgets can easily compete by bidding on longer terms.

Google Instant Las Vegas

Now with Google Instant, that changes. With our example, starting the query with “Las”, shows ads for Las Vegas. Some of those ads are for hotels. Why would a user continue typing if they see hotel ads already? As an advertiser this forces me to bid on “Las Vegas” to compete. Thus, making me put more dollars in Google’s pockets. This kills the need to bid on long-tail keywords. Users may never even get to “Las V…” much less “Las Vegas 5-star Hotels”, “Las Vegas hotels on the strip”, “Las Vegas hotels on the North Strip”, etc.

Google Instant Search Results for Las Vegas

What are your thoughts? Maybe I am missing something. While you ponder, I need to go turn all my broad matching back on and add shorter keywords to my list.


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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