Data is starting to roll in on the effects of Google’s elegant UI/SERPs adaptation Google Instant. The concept of SERPs that configure as users type is not new, but it appears big G’ has laid claim to mass paradigm busting.  Marketing chatter ranges from ridiculously hyperbolic to ho-hum with good reason. Instant instantly appoints already-dominant brands’ godly brand-status & likely makes growing brand awareness more expensive for everyone else.

Even aside from Instant’s potential to affect traffic, just think of the incredible subliminal branding that takes place as users type there searches out. Whether a user is searching for “basketball,” “botany” or “blintzes,” the keyword “Best Buy” flashes past with nary a flicker. Google has anointed Best Buy’s marketing manager Pope of the “b” SERPs. Read on for more SERP samples that show it’s no easy task to decode Google Instant’s black box mystical brand signals…

Personalized Suggest
Keep in mind that Google’s suggestions and pre-type predictions are, at minimum,  IP (geographical) sensitive and subject to other personalized context for individual users. We’ve studied suggestions from numerous IP addresses from around America, accessed from various users’ browsers, with and without gathered web history, clean OS/Browser installation from new IP addresses and logged both and out of Google services.  The Google Suggest REST API, the best insight as to suggestions Google is willing to pony up to Webmasters, does not depersonalize by any URL variable and is also IP sensitive. Gee, thanks Google.

That said, some suggestions, by their very semantic nature, are less personalized than others.  The keyword “low quality” is obviously not as commonly associated with geo-specific queries.  Here’s a look at the GoogleSuggest API.

The word “first” is often queried with geographic clarifying words. Note that “First Avenue” is a nightclub, just miles from downtown St. Paul and FirstMark Services is [considered by Google to be] a brand in Nebraska.

Anyway, there are suggestions that seem to show up in every browser we polled, first or second position. These brands are gigantic winners in the Google lottery. Imagine waking up one morning and finding our that every single freakin’ user who begins a search with “t” sees your brand “Target” flash across the screen, if only for a millisecond.

OK…of course there are the standard A-Z winners. Google says “z” is for “Zappos.”

Two letter combinations yield interesting suggestions. We’re not sure what Google’s thinking, or what is considered a notable brand here in two-letter-land. This screen capture is from my FireFox instance. I’m not even the slightest bit interested in bike racing (sorry, Lance) and still Google returns Tour De France over Toyota. This result is despite of the fact that I’ve recently compared Toyota models online.

Seemingly, Google contradicts itself– at least at the unpersonalized level– comparing suggestions to the AdWords Keyword Tool. Toyota is much more important in the search universe, even taking into account Tour De France’s tail.

Numbers are interesting. The owner of St. Paul’s 128 Café’ must be blown away that Google represents 128 as the bomb, when many regional searchers start typing anything that begins with the number “12.”

Some Google SERPs seem irrelevant.  Why does the number “22” have importance to me for pregnancy-related queries? Trust me. I’m not doing any searches about “having a baby” and I highly doubt St. Paul has an off-the-chart conception rate.

Keyword research indicates that “22” is most often associated with guns.

The industry as a whole will be debating the impact of Google Instant on PPC and effect on SEO for months, but things will surely settle in for the best marketers. They always do.  Important shifts in user behavior and SERPs models seem to weed out predatory SEO jerks.

Stay tuned for more about ‘Instant and pay careful attention to those suggestions! Next month, at SMX East in New York we’ll share specifics of our suggestion box study along with deeper data regarding ‘Instant’s effect on PPC.
  • David Szetela

    Great stuff, Marty – thanks!

  • Ron

    Every one Is talking about improving user’s search experience with the new instant, but I think that searchers will get a faster serp’s but not a better ones. Luck of diversity in serp’s can harm the quality results for searchers.