September 9, 2010, 12:37 PM

‘Instant’ Search

The new Google Instant enables consumers to see search results as queries are typed. The service, designed to cut searches by up to five seconds, will force retailers to rethink their search marketing strategies.

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Google Inc. has launched a service that enables consumers to see search results on the page as they type search queries. The company says its Google Instant can save consumers 2 seconds to 5 seconds per search. Google says that Instant will not change the rank of search results. But experts say it could still force retailers to modify their search marketing strategies.

With the new system, consumers who start typing a query into the Google search box—say, for instance, “turkey”—would, by the third letter, see search results for the country Turkey along with information about the bird and the traditional Thanksgiving dish. The search box still offers alternate search terms, such as “turkey run state park” or “turkey meatloaf.” Scrolling to those suggested phrases calls up other search results.

“Instant takes what you have typed already, predicts the most likely completion and streams results in real-time for those predictions, yielding a smarter and faster search that is interactive, predictive and powerful,” says Marissa Mayer, Google’s vice president of search products and user experience.

Though the effect that Instant will have on paid search remains largely unknown, advertisers will have to rethink their search efforts, says David Mataranglo, client services director at PM Digital, which sells search engine marketing services.

One change, he says, could be on specific, long-tail searches. For instance, a consumer who plans to search for “Nicole Miller cap sleeve cocktail dress” may see search results before completing the phrase that interest her, preventing her from typing the entire long-tail term. That could make it more important to bid on the broader term, “Nicole Miller,” and less useful to bid on a very specific phrase like “Nicole Miller cap sleeve cocktail dress.”

“Paid search has evolved as people have relied more heavily on specific long tail searches, knowing that they lead to better and more relevant search results,” he says.  “Now advertisers will have to consider showing up more often and with better placement on broader and more competitive keywords with higher cost per clicks.  Online retailers risk losing market share to competitors if they don’t show up earlier in the Google Instant search results.”

Instant also will affect search engine optimization efforts, he says. “It poses a challenge to advertisers since the search results landscape will continually change for each user, making it more difficult to optimize your site,” he says.  “It will certainly change user behavior, and SEO analysts will have to respond accordingly.”

Instant could help consumers do more searches, which would help online retailers, says Scot Wingo, CEO of ChannelAdvisor Corp., a company that helps merchants sell online. Instant also will affect paid search, he adds. “Google has stated that when the user pauses on a search result set for three seconds, that will count as an impression,” he says. “This is going to potentially skyrocket the number of impressions on paid search.”

Google should have launched Instant earlier in the year, says Bill Leake, CEO of Apogee Search. “E-commerce websites need to get on this right away and figure out the implications for them, before the holidays are upon us.  This is a horrible time for this to happen, as many of our clients are already overburdened trying to get things done in the last eight weeks before the high season arrives,” he says.  “That being said, this is potentially important enough to force some changes in the priority list.”

Consumers can turn off Google Instant by visiting the Preferences page or by clicking a small blue link to the right of the search box.

Google says that within a couple of days, consumers using various browsers will be able to use Google Instant. The service today worked on Firefox and Google Chrome but not Internet Explorer. Google says it is rolling out the service first to consumers in the United States, United Kingdom, France, Germany, Italy, Spain and Russia. Google plans to release a version of Instant designed for mobile browsers, but the company gave no timetable.


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