Preparing for Instant Search

Along with the roll out of Instant Search by Google on 8 September this year, came a big response from the SEM community. Many feared negative effects that it may or may not have on the way marketers would have to adjust their AdWords campaigns and budgets. Instant Search is not yet a feature on This gives us an opportunity to study it and derive methods, if we decide necessary, in order to cope with the feature and maybe even take advantage of it.

What is Instant Search?

When searching on Google in the US, or when logged into a Google account in certain countries outside the US, the feature will predict your query and show result pages as you type.

Since results pages, probably containing paid search ads are being displayed as the user types, an issue is what is considered to be an impression, as the user is not necessarily looking for what Google is predicting for them. According to Google, the display of an ad will be counted as an impression id the user:

Presses “Enter”
Clicks on “Search”
Selects a prediction
Stays on the page for longer than 3 seconds
Clicks on a result
Clicks on a refinement (maps, news etc.)

One of the most common concerns is effect on Quality Scores. If a user not necessarily searching for your product stalls on a result page for over 3 seconds, the number of impressions would be likely to increase, without an increase in clicks. This will have a negative impact on Click Through Rates, lowering Quality Scores.

Another major concern of Paid Search Marketers is the effect on long tail keywords, which usually have lower CPC’s and yield many conversions. Looking at the snapshot above, the user would be unlikely to complete their search query if they are looking for hotels if there are already ads displayed for hotels. This forces marketers to bid more aggressively on “Las Vegas” to compete, instead of “Las Vegas Pyramid Hotel”, for example. “Las Vegas” would obviously be an expensive term to bid on, and is likely to become even more expensive.

It would also be necessary to bid more aggressively on broad match types, in order to ensure your ads are displayed on terms that Google suggests to the user through instant search. Broad match is an expensive way of advertising on AdWords.


So, it pretty much seems like Instant Search has been implemented for the sole purpose of sucking money out of those advertising on AdWords. There are, however, some subtle advantages to this feature.

Advertisers will be receiving free sub 3 second impressions. They are considered free, as they are not technically counted as impressions, therefore not affecting Quality Scores.

Since users will be exposed to more results, they are likely to be more informed when they click on your ad. More of these qualified visits could lead to an increase in conversion rates.

Results So Far

A great number of Search Engine Marketers in countries where Instant Search is a feature have carried out tests on user trends with regards to Instant Search and have recorded their findings.

A few weeks after Instant Search was launched, a UK Travel Blog released results from a study they carried out using eye movement detection technology. They came to the conclusion that no one noticed the instant result pages, and they went on to complete their search query as they normally would. Going by this information, no adjustment should be made to campaigns as Instant Search has no effect.

A global search marketing software developer and agency reported that average number of terms in their trigger keywords has decreased by 1.64%. One-term keywords have increased and two-term keywords have decreased. They observed there was no change from three+ terms, which indicates a shift from two-term keywords to one-term keywords, without the long tail being affected. An overall decline in impressions of 6.75% has been seen, but the amount of clicks has increased by 4.54%. This has resulted in a highly improved CTR.

More recently, a paid search management platform provider has released results that show Instant Search has had a significant effect on PPC campaigns. They noticed that impressions and clicks increased by 9.3%, and CPC’s decreased while overall campaign costs increased slightly. As opposed to fears of broad matches becoming more necessary, results showed that the opposite has happened. Impressions and clicks for phrase- and exact-match terms have increased by a higher percentage than that of broad-match since the implementation of Instant Search. This could be indicative of users becoming more engaged in Instant Search and pausing to click on ads that pop up mid-search. Instant Search may also be helping user to phrase queries, where they may have been unsure about what terms to search for results they wanted to see.

How to Prepare?

Studies show that the effects of Instant Search are not necessarily uniform for all Search Engine Marketers. At first it may appear that the new feature does not have much of an impact on user behaviour at all, but this is something that can change as people become more familiar with it. It would be a good idea for South African online marketers to think about ways that they can adapt their campaigns to cope with, or take advantage of, Instant Search when it does become a feature available on

Some methods may include bidding on partial search phrases in order to place ads on each result page that a potential customer would likely see as they type a query for your product. Google suggest may become a useful keyword research tool. Users may be more likely to scroll between the predictions given, as clicking is not even necessary to see the results.

Depending on which reports you would like to follow, you might decide to increase the number of phrase- and exact-match keywords in your campaigns, or eliminate two-term keywords.

For the time being, the most important change that will be help campaigns when Instant Search arrives is to make ads more clear and concise, and focus on branding, as users will be seeing more ads in shorter increments of time. It is up to each marketer to analyse data for the weeks after Instant Search is implemented to see how it has affected their traffic and user behaviour and adjust campaigns accordingly. Note that this data should be filtered by Browser, as Google Instant is not supported on Internet Explorer versions below 8 and Firefox versions before 3.