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Google Instant: The Rich Get Richer?

01-20-11 by Nadia Romeo

In September, Google introduced “Google Instant”. You may have seen Google Instant in action already: now, when you type in a search term in Google, text pops up below the box where you’re typing, giving you suggestions for search terms that might be appropriate. The suggestions come from the most popular recent searches using the letters or words you’re typing.

You may also have noticed that as you’re typing, organic search engine listings and pay-per-click ads flash immediately onto the screen – only to be replaced instantly by different listings and ads if your search term changes significantly as you keep typing.

This is certainly a pleasant increase in response time, though Google was already pretty speedy and users’ lives are unlikely to change much as a result of the improvement. (As The Daily Mash noted sardonically, “the average user performs 12 searches a day, meaning they will soon have more than nine extra seconds to devote to work or leisure interests.”)

But speed is not the reason Google introduced Instant Search. While users do benefit a little from the convenience, the real advantage goes to Google.

Here’s why:

For the past several years, most well-designed SEO strategies have included what is known as “long tail search”. To understand what is meant by this, imagine the most common/popular search terms about a given subject being the head of a comet, while the more detailed, specific, or offbeat searches relating to the subject trail behind as a “long tail”. Long tail search has become increasingly important as people have become savvier about using search engines and have realized that longer, more descriptive searches yield better results.

Long tail search terms have been a good deal for online marketers. Leads from long tail searches are often highly motivated, meaning that a well-designed website will have a good shot at converting these leads into customers. And the lower popularity of individual long-tail search terms means that it is easier and cheaper to compete for top placement for each term, both in the organic results and the pay-per-click bidding. As a result, most current SEO strategies involve competing for and bidding on a wide array of affordable search terms, rather than spending money on big-ticket search terms.

Here’s an example of what we mean by “long tail” search: If you just type “mortgage” into Google, that’s a broad, generic search. You’ll notice that only large mortgage companies can afford to compete for this high-volume keyword. But many people get more specific, and search on “mortgage refinance” (still quite broad and expensive), “mortgage refinance Vermont” (getting more specific), “mortgage refinance Burlington Vermont”, or even “mortgage refinance no-doc loan Burlington Vermont”. This last is a classic long tail search: it’s really focused, it’s not that competitive (there are only a limited number of companies that offer no-doc loans in Burlington, VT), and it will probably deliver an incredibly motivated lead, because the searcher is clearly someone who has already thought quite a bit about the kind of mortgage they’re looking for.

The only one not to benefit much from long tail search is Google. Google isn’t that interested in having people bid and click on long-tail search terms that bring in maybe 10 cents a pop. Google wants to channel people toward the more popular terms that go for several dollars per click. In our view, this is what Google Instant is designed to do. Google Instant guides users to popular search terms, and steers them away from creating their own, long-tail, not-very-profitable-for-Google search phrases.

Voila! Instant increase in revenue for Google, as more expensive terms get more clicks. The rich get richer with Google Instant…but what happens to the rest of us out there in the online marketplace who have been relying on long-tail search? If you’re a service business, the news may be better than you think – and that’s what we’ll talk about next week.

Nadia Romeo (59 Posts)

Nadia is President of iMarket Solutions, and responsible for daily operations, strategy and business development.


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