Will Google Instant eat the long tail?

My thanks to reader Iain Thornton, Marketing Manager at Campbell Scientific Europe, for this interesting observation about the new “Google Instant” results, which concern him somewhat as a Google AdWords advertiser, and rightly so. Having results pages come up in Google as you type characters into the search box, without you having to hit return, may mean that people truncate their search. And that can be bad news. Here’s Iain’s example.

Suppose you sell red widgets for industry. You would certainly want to advertise against “red widgets for industry” searches. You’ll probably decide to go wider than this and advertise against more general “red widgets” searches too. What you won’t want to advertise against is “red widgets for the home” searches, so you’d use AdWords’ “negative match” feature to stop that happening (“don’t show my advert if the word ‘home’ is in the search term”). But what’s going to happen with “Google Instant” searches is that anyone who was intending to type in “red widgets for the home” will be presented with the results for just “red widgets” as soon as they’ve typed in “red widg”… (see below). This may well result in them deciding to change their intended search on the fly. Unfortunately, although they specifically want “red widgets for the home”, they’re now looking at the results for just “red widgets”, and that includes our AdWords ad which was not intended for them, and wouldn’t have been shown to them if they’d typed in their original intended query.

In other words, where there had previously been equal numbers of searches for “red widgets for industry, “red widgets” and “red widgets for the home”, there’ll now be a big swing to searches for just “red widgets”.

As many people have pointed out, “Google Instant” searches are going to diminish the importance of the “long tail” and make shorter searches more commonplace. That means we may have to be a lot more careful with our AdWords management, and in the natural search results, we may have to make even more effort to do well in those shorter, more general searches.