Google recently announced Google Instant, their new "search-before-you-type" service. Google Instant purports to predict what you are searching for based on the characters you've already entered into the search box, perform the search, and return the results to your browser before you have finished typing. Try Google Instant for yourself. Here's a Google-produced video that describes Google Instant in more detail: Google claims that Instant offers such advantages to searchers as Faster Searches, Smarter Predictions and Instant Results. Many of these features were already available with Google Autocomplete, so the real difference is real-time predictive search results pulled into the browser. And this looks like a game changer for PPC and SEO. Here's why:
Results are predicted and pulled in after only a few characters are entered by the searcher (in this case, three characters - "cre" - pulled in the results for "credit cards").
The suggestions push the natural results down the page. This is different to the old Autocomplete model where, for the most part, results are browsed whilst suggestions are not on the screen, allowing more screen real estate for results.
As a result of the above, there ten ads and only one natural result above the fold.
It gets worse. The matched term is the highly competitive head term, "credit cards". The searcher may have been en route to entering a niche tail term but now they have been distracted into searching a narrow range of head terms, which are expensive for Adwords advertisers and highly competitive for SEO - and only one natural result is visible above the fold anyway, versus ten paid results!
The Adwords auction thus becomes focused on smaller baskets of highly competitive keywords, rather than a long tail of cheaper keywords, and natural results take on a lesser prominence. The net effect of Google Instant could therefore be more head term searches, fewer tail term searches, more high-cost ad impressions and clicks, and fewer low cost ads and free natural results clicked. If this is Google's commercial intent then it looks like a great idea - for them. I'm not sure if searchers or most advertisers would agree, which is why I think that, over time, Google Instant will have to change.