A Month Later, Instant is Having No Impact on Searcher Behavior

A Month Later, Instant is Having No Impact on Searcher Behavior

It’s been just over a month since Google Instant rolled out and we published a first look a week in at its impact on searcher behavior.  A comparison of 880,000 visits from ten high traffic websites by search term length the week prior to Instant against the week after showed virtually no change in search traffic distribution:

We promised an update after a month, so here goes.

We looked at search traffic for the same ten high traffic websites, expanding the view from one week pre and post Instant to two weeks pre and four weeks post.  Keyword distribution data was analyzed as a percentage of the total negating the difference in periods analyzed.

We analyzed 2.7 million visits over the 6 week period. Aside from seriously testing the row limits in Excel and ensuring the Analyst who worked with me on this will stop taking my calls, the data showed things have remained steady:

Visits by Search Term Length before and after Google Instant

The data is telling in what it doesn’t show: if Instant was having a significant impact on searcher behavior we would expect to see things like a percentage of longer tail visits (4+ words) leaking back into the head (<=3 word terms ) as searchers click on Instant results before they get to the end of their intended query.

If Instant was having a significant impact on searcher behavior we would expect to see long tail visits migrate up the head as searchers click on Instant results before they get to the end of their intended query.

Time on site metrics show little change other than one word visitors spending slightly less time on site which may or may not be the result of Instant’s influence.

Moving down the head to longer queries, there are no changes in time on site or page views post Instant, so those who suggested Instant would increase relevancy  in the long tail  thereby  decreasing time spent on site do not seem correct.

Average Time on Site before and after Google Instant

Average Pages per visit before and after Google Instant

Looking at conversions, other than around a 3% shift from 2 word phrases to three, little has changed.  With no corresponding distribution shift in visitor traffic we would be hard pressed to attribute this movement to anything other than a normal flux in conversion distribution.

Total Web Converions before and after Google Instant

By now, after looking at chart after chart of visitor metrics that appear nearly identical from one period to the next you are probably getting the sense that little has changed after Google rolled out Instant with much fanfare a little more than a month ago.  The traffic data suggests searchers are searching the same way they always have and, with a month of getting used to Instant already behind them theres nothing that indicates that will change any time soon.

Are you seeing anything different?

-Nathan Safran
Senior Research Analyst

About Nathan Safran

Nathan is the Director of Research at Conductor and leads Conductor’s research and content team. Nathan is a monthly columnist at Search Engine Land and Search Engine Watch. Nathan’s research on digital marketing has been widely covered in both industry publications and mainstream media such as Techcrunch, Venture Beat and the Washington Post. Prior to joining Conductor, Nathan was an analyst at Forrester Research.

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  • Yallifornia

    Any insight on CTRs of top organic positions? One impact of Google Instant is to force organic results below the fold (on some screen resolutions). Our sense is that CTRs on top organic positions has declined with the introduction of instant.

    • http://www.conductor.com Nathan Safran

      Hi Yallifornia,

      I don’t have any specific data on CTRs for top organic positions declining at the moment, but I might be able to test for whether this is happening–you’ve got me thinking–thanks!!

      -Nathan

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  • The Rayshbag

    Nathan,

    I’m interested in your thoughts on the convergence of long tail theory with short tail optimization. Do you think it’s possible that you actually analyzed too much data in the preparation of this report? The source information could potentially be skewed toward the propensity of the user to “overtype” as it were. In scrutinizing my own logs, I’ve been able to discern a downward trend in the actual click through rate from high value clientele. I attribute this to an acceleration of the “speed-to-click” ratio that has been exacerbated by the Instant Search implementation.

    Your thoughts?

    • Nathan Safran

      @The Rayshbag: Thanks for your comment. Where have you seen the downward trend in clickthrough rates? Overall, since Instant’s launch? Clustered in a particular search term length ?

      Thanks,

      -Nathan

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  • Sebastian

    From what I’ve seen, it has changed and will keep changing, especially regarding choices of search words. The heading is somewhat misleading, atleast what comes to other languages than english.

    • Nathan Safran

      Hi Sebastian,

      Our research shows that searcher behavior did not change when it came to distribution of traffic by keyword length as a results of Instant. The headline is reflective of industry speculation that we would see shifts in traffic distribution because of Instant’s influence.

      Would be interested in hearing more about the changes you have seen.

      -Nathan

  • http://www.fantazzle.com Ryan Parr @fantazzle

    (Just a theory with no data to prove/disprove.)
    One behavioral change that I imagine is happening is a change in the keyword that is searched. With Google Instant, two things could be changing on searcher behavior –
    1. an individual could change his mind on the word he intended to search because he sees a more attractive word in the drop down.
    2. an individual could change the word because he is skimming the results coming up for each word OR even letter that is being typed.

    For example, the user intends to search for fantasy football statistics, but while typing, fantasy football stats is suggested and a quick skim of the results shows a result that he is looking for. Another example that could be happening on a much larger scale is keyword searching on plural vs. non-plural. Whether searchers give much thought in regards to np vs. p, Google Instant will now give them more of a reason to think about what is more relevant since most searches will have both show up.

    • Nathan Safran

      Ryan: Re: #1: Remember Google Suggest (suggestions for search terms that change in a drop down as the searcher types) predates the Google Instant launch in September :)

      The September launch caused the actual SERPs to change as the user enters text in the search box.

      “For example, the user intends to search for fantasy football statistics, but while typing, fantasy football stats is suggested and a quick skim of the results shows a result that he is looking for. ”

      I like this theory–there might be ways for us to test this such as looking at site traffic to see if traffic for commonly searched terms are fracturing off into smaller groups (or vice versa).

      In reality, I wonder how many searchers are really paying attention to the changing serps as they enter their query. As mentioned in the post I think if there were a significant % of searchers that were, we’d see a shift in traffic down the head as users find what they are looking for earlier in the query, but I think your hypothesis is worth testing.

      -Nathan

  • http://www.marshallfoundation.org Paul Barron

    Your research will be useful for academic and K-12 librarians that deal with students’ struggles to construct queries when researching a topic. Even with Google’s Related Searches and Instant features, machine-generated queries will not significantly aid students; there still is the need to learn how to craft detailed queries.