How will Google Instant impact online marketing?

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Last week I wrote about how Google Instant might impact the way we find information online. Now it's time to talk about how Instant might impact online marketing for small businesses. As I mentioned in the other post, I don't want you to think I'm overreacting here. Google Instant isn't going to turn the world upside down, but this discussion might help us understand where search and online marketing will be in a few years.

There are a couple things that I think may change as the result of Google Instant:

More search results means more ads

Google Adwords is the system Google uses to let people place ads on search results pages. It can be a great way for small businesses to attract new visitors to their websites. We use Adwords here at LAS, and it leads to almost all of our sales.

So how has Adwords changed? Well, it's not just the organic Google search results that refresh in real time as you type your search. The ads do too which means that instead of seeing about eight ads per search, you might be exposed to more like 50 (depending on the search of course).

The amount that an Adwords advertiser pays is based heavily on the CTR, or "click-through-rate". The ads that are more likely to be clicked generally cost less per click. Now that there's the potential for many more ads to show up per search, there's also the potential for CTRs to drop. If you're interested in exactly how Google calculates CTRs with Google Instant, you can read this Adwords help document.

Obviously whatever impact Google Instant has on CTR will apply to all advertisers, so there's no need to panic, but it's important to understand that whenever things change, there are winners and there are losers. If you are advertising on Adwords, you can probably get away with doing exactly what you've been doing, but I suggest staying on top of your CTR, QS (quality score) and CPC (cost per click) just to make sure that you don't end up on the losing side.

Is the long tail in danger?

A lot of our SEO advice centers around targeting the long tail. It's the easiest ways for small businesses to bring organic search traffic to their websites because a significant percentage of all searches on Google are for long-tail (or "niche") keywords.

Google Instant may start to change that. With old Google search, users would type an entire search phrase before seeing any results. Sure Google showed suggested search terms based on what had already been typed, but users didn't actually see any results until they were done writing out the full search. I think it's very possible that Google Instant will herd users toward the most popular keywords because they may see decent results show up before they've entered most of their query. This means that some people won't ever end up finishing their search, so those great long-tail searches might become less common.

It's debatable if this would be a good thing for users, but it would definitely be a bad thing for small businesses online. This could turn into a situation where the rich get richer. So what can we do to prepare for this?  My guess is that if Google Instant does in fact impact long-tail SEO strategies, the solution for small businesses will probably be to invest more in "medium-tail" keywords. Rather than writing 10 blog posts about 10 different topics, write 10 posts about two or three different topics. You won't be casting as wide of a net, but you'll be increasing the chances of showing up in the Google Instant predictive results for medium-popularity searches.

So that's my take on how Instant might impact online marketing for small businesses, but it's really just guesswork at this point. One thing is for sure: things will change (at least a little bit). Change is scary for companies that are afraid to adapt, but there will be plenty of new opportunity for those of us that accept and embrace the change. My advice is to just stay on your toes, and keep an eye out for new ways to set your business apart online.

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