AdWords and Google Instant Search

On September 8, 2010 Google announced their Next Big Thing: Instant Search. In a nutshell, they expanded upon their “Suggest” feature. This feature acted as an auto-complete, which would drop down a list of suggested keyword terms based on the predictions of most commonly searched for phrases that match what letters you have already typed. Below is an example of this feature:


Instant search takes this one step further by providing real time search results pages based on these suggestions. Each additional letter you type instantly reloads the page in attempt to predict what you will search. It takes away the necessity for hitting [ENTER] or clicking on the SEARCH button in Google with the added bonus of being able to stop typing if they have correctly predicted what you wanted to search.


This is being touted as a huge time saver by Google, who is very proud of this release and brags that it will save an estimated 2 – 5 seconds per search. According to Google, “if everyone uses Google Instant globally, we estimate this will save more than 2.3 billion seconds a day. That’s 11 hours saved every second.” Now if only Google would so something about the traffic in Atlanta…

Google Instant's Effect on AdWords

Not only are the search results pages updating live with every keystroke, so are the paid search ads. When I was first reading about Instant, I was absolutely panicked that my impressions would sky rocket and my click-through rates (CTR) would plummet along with my Quality Scores. This isn’t quite the case, as Google doesn’t count every time an ad shows as an impression. Below are the 3 different ways that Google counts impressions:

  • The searcher begins to type a query on Google and clicks anywhere on the page – a search result, an ad, a spell correction, a related search, etc.
  • The searcher chooses a particular query by clicking the Search button, pressing enter or selecting one of the predicted queries
  • The searcher stops typing and the results are displayed for a minimum of 3 seconds

The last item is the one that scared me the most. 3 seconds isn’t very long and I would suspect that many people type slower than that, artificially inflating impressions. I would also bet that the distraction of Instant search results in the beginning would slow people down who may not even be slow typers.

Now that we are a month out from the launch of Instant, and I am compiling and analyzing my monthly PPC reports, I have been able to take stock on how this has affected my campaigns. I encountered some difficulty in measuring these campaigns since many of them are seasonal and have been live or tracked less than one year. It’s hard to know whether to attribute the positive or negative changes to the coming of fall or the launch of Instant.

Despite the difficulty in measurement, my conclusions on Instant are surprisingly positive considering how skeptical I was in the beginning. The majority of my campaigns performed better in terms of CTR and post-click metrics such as bounce rate, average time on site, and average pages viewed per visitor. Some even hit record numbers, even in their “off season.” My hypothesis is that Google Instant is coaching people to be better searchers by providing them with what would be the results should they stop typing. I suspect the ratio of short tail vs. long tail searches will start skewing more towards long tail with the adoption of Instant. I look forward to diving more into the data in coming months to see if this holds true!