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Google Instant Stirs Advertisers' Fear and Loathing

Google Instant Stirs Advertisers' Fear and Loathing

There's more to Google Instant than first meets the eye, and for advertisers, it's not a pretty picture. The new, faster search technology could raise the prices of popular search terms. It will also raise the stakes for page one positioning in search results. Increases in direct and indirect advertising costs are likely to result.

By Erika Morphy
09/09/10 1:45 PM PT

Google has introduced a change to its search offerings -- a new feature called "Google Instant" -- that has online advertisers wringing their hands over its implications.

Google Instant lets users see results as they're typing a query. Each letter and word triggers its own predictive search. The user, who doesn't even have to hit the enter key anymore, can click on any of the links that appear as the query is unfolding.

Google has been positioning the new feature as a productivity booster, but the seconds it shaves off a typical search are unlikely to move the needle in any individual's day.

What the new search functionality will change -- perhaps dramatically -- are the various paths users take through the Internet as they search.

For advertisers that rely on search advertising and organic search techniques to drive traffic to their sites, the change has a number of implications -- most of which, at first blush, appear to be unfavorable. For starters, search terms, especially for the most popular or obvious terms, may rise in cost.

Updating the search results in real-time will also result in more tangent browsing -- that is, users stumbling upon results they may not have set out to find originally, explained Daniel Yomtobian, CEO of Advertise.com.

"This would result in an overall increase of impressions and potentially ad clicks," Yomtobian told the E-Commerce Times. "In terms of how this will affect online advertising, I believe it will generate more search and click volumes, making Google's already overpriced bid landscape even more competitive."

Cash in Google's Pocket

At the very least, the change will present new challenges to search marketers, said Sean Cook, CEO of ShopVisible.

"Since results will now be predicted, users will see results they may have not initially been looking for, which means brands need to show up high for these opportunities to arise," Cook told the E-Commerce Times.

Because the feature will shave off long-tail search requests -- that is, search requests that are a phrase or sentence as opposed to a few words -- the more commonly used search terms will become even more competitive, and prices will rise, said Cook.

"The other thing this will do is drive the importance on being on page one search results," he noted. "You have an impatient audience that wants instant gratification. So if someone is getting consecutive results coming up as he types, he will opt for the first things he sees that look reasonably relevant."

An increase in direct advertising costs is not the only likely consequence. Companies also will have to step up their indirect spending to address the changes that Google Instant will bring, Jason Hennessey, director of SEO specialists at EverSpark Interactive, told the E-Commerce Times. "Companies will have to have as strong an organic search process as possible to support their paid strategies."

Since marketers will likely be paying for these more expensive keywords, it becomes that much more important that everything from the ad landing page to the conversion process be as optimized as possible, Akin Arikan, director of product strategy Visit the VMware Tech Center and Web analytics evangelist at Unica told the E-Commerce Times.

"Otherwise, you are just throwing your budget out of the window faster," Arikan said.

Hard to Tell

Not everyone is convinced Google Instant will automatically result in higher costs -- or more money in Google's pocket.

"I don't think we have enough information and understanding about the market to make these conclusions," said Greg Sterling, principal of Sterling Market Intelligence.

"It may be that this leads to more page views and more impressions and more clicks," he told the E-Commerce Times. "Or it could be that we get fewer clicks on paid search links as more people click on the organic search links."


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