Why Google Instant is a Scam, and What You Can Do

by Ruth Burr November 12th, 2010 

Cathdrale Notre Dame de Paris - Instax Windows Google Instant (and the flurry of other updates surrounding it) has finally put me on the outs with Google.  Im putting down the Kool Aid.  I can believe its not butter.

Heres the thing: Ive never had a problem with Google making money.  A lot of businesses I talk to are leery of PPC, because thats how Google makes money, you know.  My answer to this is usually: yep.  Google is a business.  Businesses need to make money.  Its unreasonable to expect them not to want to make a profit.

What Ive always appreciated about Google is that in addition to trying to make a profit, theyve historically spent a lot of time trying to provide a great product " one that helps people find what theyre looking for, full stop.  When Tom Critchlow reported at the SEOMoz training seminar earlier this year that 20-25% of the queries Google sees today are queries theyve never seen before, I wanted to clap my hands.  This is what the search experience should move toward: tell the search engine exactly what youre looking for, and it will return exactly what you want " including some ads for products youd totally like to buy.

Apparently, Google felt differently.

Why Google Instant is a Scam

With the introduction of Google Instant, the search behemoth is attempting to predict your ultimate search term as you type and show you results for that term, instead of waiting for you to type the whole thing on your own.  Around the same time, Google introduced drastic changes to its Keyword Tool for AdWords advertisers, cutting the number of available suggestions to a pool of most popular terms instead of the more comprehensive data available before.  Coinciding with the launch of Instant Google also discontinued the Wonder Wheel.

Why did Google do these things? Money.

Google Instant is a simple numbers game of supply and demand.  By showing results as users type, Google is trying to shrink the total pool of keyword phrases people search on " because the ads you see as you type are based on Googles hypothesis of the ultimate search term, not on what the user has typed in so far.  Combine this with limiting the Keyword Tool, in an effort to shrink the total pool of keyword phrases people bid on.  All of these changes are designed to drive up competition on a core set of phrases, thereby driving up advertisers costs per click.  Who benefits?  Not searchers.  Not advertisers.  Just Google.

What You Can Do

The good news is that so far Googles efforts seem not to be working.  However, Googles aggressive moves toward limiting the keyword set are unlikely to stop at Google Instant " not when theres money to be made.  Search marketers need to be ready for the next wave.

Heres what you can do:

Stop Using Googles Keyword Tool. Like toolbar PageRank, this data is now meaningless and often misleading.  Smart search engine marketing companies should start adapting their "don't worry about toolbar PageRank" speeches for clients to include "don't worry about the Keyword Tool."

Paid Search: Get Ready for Higher CPCs. This is one area where PPC marketers are going to have to make a concession " CPCs are going up for your more competitive terms.  This is the time to be tracking keyword performance not just to the conversion level, but through to the lifetime value of a customer; you better know exactly how much youre willing to pay for a high-competition term.

Organic Search: Tap in to Fresh, Trending and Seasonal Topics. Its more important than ever for organic search marketers to be adding new content taking advantage of the latest trends and seasonal topics to capture new search traffic.  Googles Query Deserves Freshness algorithm favors new, fresh content (rather than the older, more link-rich content usually topping the charts) when it notices a query has rapidly growing search volume.  Make sure youre continually creating new, topical content to take advantage of interest spikes in your industry " including the natural seasonal fluctuations in your market.  Not only will this allow you to drive traffic outside of the Google-limited keyword set (should Googles nefarious scheme succeed), it will also make you look like a smarty-pants thought leader with your finger on the pulse of your industry.

Which you totally are.

Ruth Burr

Ruth Burr has been working in SEO since 2006, both in-house and agency-side. She's currently working as the Lead SEO at SEOMoz. Ruth's passions include data-driven decision making, quality content, and grilled cheese sandwiches.

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13 Responses to “Why Google Instant is a Scam, and What You Can Do”

  1. If I find Google Instant incredibly useful, how is it a scam? You said searchers didn't benefit – I think thats just plain wrong. I've benefited and from all the ux tests I've seen, i'm not the only one

    • Ruth Burr says:

      Anthony – can you elaborate on what about the new interface you find more useful than the old interface? The feedback I've been getting has been either indifferent or loudly negative.

  2. Bojan says:

    Google days are long gone. In era where Facebook and Twitter exist, who will give that much attention to Google, when there are various means of getting traffic?

    Google instant is overrated and people I know dislike it, hence this is not a major game changer.

    Google Keyword Tool always gave false data. I believe anyone experienced in SEO knew this for quite a while and used various other methods.

    • Ruth Burr says:

      People who are experienced in SEO and in PPC already know not to trust the keyword tool implicitly, it's true – but there are countless business owners out there struggling to manage a paid search program on their own. They're the ones who are going to be most negatively impacted by the switchup in tools.

  3. Michal says:

    Seen Google's "Watch this space" campaign for display ads? If not, see it. This is where it is going. User will enter their query, instant & preview will be showing Google Pages to the user and we will only be able to advertise on CPM basis on Google Pages. We will only be choosing keywords in ad groups to tell Google what attitude should our audience have so they can target it better.
    Yes, there are no Google Pages yet, but as Place Pages are already here there will be more with content scraped from webmasters. Why share with Adsense publishers? :)

  4. Great post Ruth. I can't agree with you more. Every time Google does something significant, it always has their bottom line in mind. I wrote a post when it launched highlighting some of these issues: http://www.austin-williams.com/blog/post.cfm/google-instant-how-will-it-affect-your-search-campaigns

    So far, I believe the results are proving this was a money making move since Google has potentially tripled their ad display with instant. Not to mention the move with Places – more opportunity to display ads. Such a love/hate relationship we're forced to have.

  5. [...] Why Google Instant is a Scam, and What You Can Do, Search Engine People [...]

  6. Tony says:

    Your post should titled "Google instant will make webmasters life much harder"
    And takeout the part where you say searchers are not benefited. How? bigger option thats how. When you search for something you dont always have the perfect sentence in mind. Google instant gives you result everytime you type. More often than not, one of those links will catch your eyes.

    So far I've seen the argument for against are based on people prespective as webmaster.

    Did you guys forget that Google search engine was meant for users and not webmasters? you know, those people that actually click ads and buy stuff?

  7. Jon says:

    Dude thank you so much for this post. I felt there was something behind the scenes going on with Google Instant, but I didn't really understand whey they are introducing this. Now I know.

  8. Eren Mckay says:

    Thanks so much for this insightful post on Google Instant. I had been wondering why in the world they wanted to create something like that. I had a hunch that it was a way for their pockets to fill up but couldn't quite pinpoint the "why". Now I understand "why". I've found that Google Instant is very annoying and other people that I've talked to also think the same way. I just hope that searchers that are going for the long tail don't get too distracted by this feature.
    All the best,
    Eren
    .-= Eren Mckay recently posted: Yellow Duck Baby Shower =-.

  9. Google is in business to make money, whatever that takes. Did you ever really believe the whole "do no evil" thing?

    No it isn't evil to make money. As a business, they are supposed to try and improve their bottom line.

    However, it is my belief that some of these changes are going to cost them users rather than help them continue to dominate the number of searches done on the web.

    "did you know" helps spammers get more traffic. See http://seo.pn/google/did-you-mean-did-you-mean-did-you-mean-googles-tired-question/12/22/2010/admin and http://seo.pn/google/did-you-mean-did-you-mean-did-you-mean-part-2/12/23/2010/admin

    The author of this post has it right about google instant as well. None of these are designed to really help users. They are to help google and the adsense spammers, which both help google make more money
    .-= chris mcelroy recently posted: Did You Mean Did You Mean Did You Mean Part 2 =-.

  10. Chris Ulrich says:

    Ruth,

    Even though this is an older post, it still underscores the financial goals at the big G. With ever changing tools, Google is trying to make it "easier" to "do it yourself" with PPC / Adwords, but really they are channeling people into more expensive ads, and in doing so, drive up the ad costs by putting more bidders in the tool. I miss the good old days of "finding" true "long tail" keywords, and not being spoon fed by G…

    Chris