Google Instant Roundup

Google InstantIt’s been a week now since Google Instant hit the news desks of IT blogs everywhere.

I’ve started getting a few questions from clients and friends about it, so I thought I’d put together a simple collection of recommended links, and finish off with some of my thoughts. There’s been tons of discussion of course, but for a good summary of the main points, the following 4 or 5 posts will serve you well:

SEObookHow Google Instant Changes the SEO Landscape

Aaron Wall has a good overview of the announcement and summary of the main effects (and if you are an SEObook member a very detailed analysis inside) as well as some interesting thoughts in the comments. Primarily it seems as though the changes are profit motivated, wrapped up in a ‘it’s faster and saves time’ ribbon.

Search Engine LandGoogle Instant: The Complete User’s Guide

Matt McGee provides a good analysis of the user experience, covering what kinds of searches work well and which don’t, as well as how it works (it’s localised and personalised) and how to disable it.

John Ellis covers probably the main concern of SEOs: that Google Instant will reduce the number of long tail searches (ie searches with 4 or more keywords). His post – Will Google Instant Kill the Long Tail? is pretty much on the money as far as I’m concerned.

Danny Sullivan has a great post – SEO is here to stay, It will never die – where he answers the inevitable ‘does this mean SEO is irrelevant now’ questions.  Answer, no. Danny also puts Google Instant through the George Carlin ‘seven words’ test in this post.

PPCblogHow AdWords Counts Ad Impressions with Google Instant

Geordie Carswell clarifies how impressions are counted. Initially some advertisers were worried that their impression counts would be based on the instant search keystrokes. But as per the Google AdWords help, impressions are only counted when a user clicks, presses enter, selects a predicted query or results are displayed for 3+ seconds.

That 3 second rule… BTW here’s a possible gotcha – type a keyword term and hold the Enter key for 3 seconds. When you release you’ll be taken auto-magically to the first result (this result will be the first paid result if some are listed, otherwise the first organic result). Yep – in a competitive field, someone might be getting a bunch of unexpected clicks if they are in the first ad position. This could be good and bad. Good in terms of raising your CTR, bad in terms of sending you possibly inappropriate clicks. [Hat tip to the SEOBook forums (where I’m a member) for first discussing this issue.]

Matt CuttsThoughts on Google Instant

Finally, Matt Cutts finishes with a nice Q+A style post where he outlines why SEO is still important Smile in spite of what some people trot out. Summary: SEO is very important, and gets more important every time Google puts out a major change (not to mention the hundreds of minor changes they release every year).

SEOmoz – strangely, no post from Rand on the Google Instant release…

Here’s the obligatory Introducing Google Instant video, complete with ‘zetabyte barrier’ and ‘magic’ references as well as footage of people being astounded by how useful Google Instant is – ‘oh look at that… I like that’.

To be fair, Google Instant is pretty cool. The impressive part is how they’ve managed to scale this out. As many have pointed out, the technology itself is not that innovative – Long Zheng had a similar concept he dubbed The Real Live Search (based on the Bing APIs) working over a year ago. And Yahoo had their own Instant Search plans as far back as 2005.

Instead what is impressive with Google Instant is how they are providing the results plus advertising so quickly. It’s a massive undertaking.

My experiences so far

Personally, as a user, I quite like the experience.

But putting my SEO and AdWords hat on, what are the effects?

It’s only early days so it’s not yet clear how big an impact this is going to have on SEO and PPC. In the private forums I’m a member of, the jury is still out, with people having varied experiences. With that caveat, I thought I’d share some of my own observations based on my own sites, and some of my clients’ sites.

The summary (thankfully) appears to be that there’s only minimal changes on both organic and paid fronts:


After a week I’m relived that our revenue producing sites have experienced little impact. Our organizing site for example has had a small decrease in organic traffic, mostly in long tail terms (which we rank really well for). This is understandable given that Google Instant is encouraging shorter keyword phrases. Users are getting results immediately – they get distracted and don’t bother finishing the longer phrase they might have otherwise entered (as discussed earlier).

The result of this is that I’ll probably start focussing on optimising for some of the shorter terms again – something I haven’t put a high priority on lately – as shorter terms in our niches tend to have lower buyer intent.

On client sites that have focussed on shorter terms there has been a slight rise in traffic. This is pleasing but isn’t significant enough to say is definitely Google Instant having an impact – it may just be seasonal fluctuations at play. It’ll take a few months to see whether the trends really pan out.


On the other side of the page (ie the paid results via AdWords) we’ve seem an increase in both impressions and clicks. Again this is understandable because in our AdWords campaigns we tend to be top heavy in the shorter terms. Our average CPC is also slightly up.  As our campaigns mature the terms head more to longer tail but when I’m experimenting and looking for new terms to target the terms are usually shorter (and broad match even!). Google Instant means I’ll probably be keeping short terms in campaigns longer…

I don’t run any local campaigns on my own sites, but I do manage them for clients – and this has been one area of noticeable improvement. The click through rate on location based ad groups started increasing on 12 September (a few days after Google Instant was released) – I assume as it started rolling out by default to Australian users. I’ve had specific location keywords jumping from less than 1% CTR to up to 20% in some cases. CPCs are slightly down also, so this is a great result… but I suspect this window of opportunity won’t last long as most PPC managers cotton on to it.


Overall then, the Google Instant changes haven’t had a major negative effect on my SEO or PPC efforts, and there’s even some positive opportunity in the local side of things. So, Google Instant will affect my approach in some areas going forward.

But What About Bing?

Does Google Instant mean I should focus more on Bing?

This shouldn’t really change your attitude to Bing. Because basically, if you haven’t been targeting Bing yet, then you definitely should be! But not because of Google Instant. Instead you should be targeting Bing because it’s now heading to the number 2 spot, and commands close to a quarter of all US searches.

I get asked all the time how to target Bing over Google. It’s not a simple question to answer of course, but when forced I usually mention that Bing tends to favour fresh links – so if you’ve got a blog that’s regularly updated and getting freshly linked to, that’s a nice advantage to have (over a static web site that has an aging link graph). Just sayin’.

All About Microsoft promoting Google Apps

Google certainly knows how to get it’s advertising in the right place.

Take this piece on the ‘All About Microsoft’ blog (one of my favourite blogs by the way – Mary-Jo is a bit of personal hero of mine). It’s a post about Microsoft’s recent white paper (PDF) on improved efficiency in their datacenters. It’s a great result btw – 25% improvements in energy efficiency in some of their existing datacenters – but that’s not what interests me here. Instead check out the big Google ad, all beautifully tailored to fit into the zdnet site.

Google Apps ad

And it gets better. Clicking on the little plus sign in the top right displays this – Links, whitepapers, and even a video:

Google ad expanded

That my friends, is art. A beautifully constructed advertising campaign. Sitting in the perfect position on a site devoted to Microsoft. And on this particular post it’s even more pertinent since the article is about cloud computing – Google’s ad is all about the benefits Google customers are receiving from switching to Google’s cloud offerings.

Whoever devised this Google ad campaign deserves a big pay rise. Hopefully whoever’s looking after advertising for Microsoft has learnt a valuable lesson…

Introduction to Search Engine Marketing

Just realised I hadn’t posted this presentation I gave at the NSW.NET event last month. I was lucky enough to be presenting after Mark Vozzo who gave an excellent introduction to SEO, so my session on SEM flowed on nicely.

In the SEM presentation (embedded below) I went through the following main points:

  • How SEO and SEM work together (and covered the various definitions of SEM)
  • Why you should use paid search to complement your SEO activities
  • Advice on using AdWords effectively including coverage of 3 useful strategies:
    • tight grouping
    • ad positioning
    • bid stacking
  • Facebook marketing strategies
  • Facebook Page tips and Facebook advertising tips

A big thank you to NSW.NET for having me along.

For additional links and resources check out my SEO Resources page.

Using Excel 2010 Sparklines to Analyse Google Analytics

Seriously, how would businesses survive if it weren’t for Excel? :-)

Excel is perfect for analysing analytics data in a variety of ways (eg using Pivot tables and Conditional formatting) and it keeps getting better.

I’m loving Office 2010 and Excel 2010 in particular – it’s just beautiful to use. In this post I want to highlight one of the ‘tiny’ new things in  Excel 2010 that I love. It’s the new Sparklines feature. In a nutshell Sparklines allow you to analyse a range of data and display tiny trend graphs. They’re very handy for spotting correlating trends. Here’s a simple (contrived) example:

 Example Sparklines

In this post I’ll go through an example of how I’ve used Sparklines to analyse some Google AdWords analytics and discover areas of opportunity. There’s plenty of other ways to analyse data– Sparklines are yet another cool way to present lots of information easily.

I use AdWords in my own businesses as well as managing AdWords campaigns for most of my clients. In the following example I’m using real e-commerce AdWords from a campaign targeting USA based customers.

To get the source data I’m using the new Day Parts report in the AdWords Beta section in Google analytics Traffic Sources. This is a new report released by the Google Analytics team recently. The data I’ll use is based on a month of traffic.

AdWords Day Part report

This is a great report – but it has two frustrations for me. First, I can only graph two metrics at a time, and second it  doesn’t pull in the goal names onto the graph:

AdWords Day Parts report

So instead I’m going to pull the data into Excel and analyse it there.

The report includes the usual analytics data (visits, pages/visit, time on site, etc) plus I’ll be pulling goal and ecommerce data to analyse as well (this site has numerous goals configured and ecommerce tracking enabled).

First, I’ll export the data:

Export data from Analytics

And then open it in Excel

Download and opent the Excel export

Once it opens I select the first 21 rows and delete them (right-click and choose Delete) since they only have summary details that I’m not interested in:

Delete summary information

I’m left with just the data I wish to analyse. The first few columns are standard analytics metrics, and columns I, J, K onwards are configured goals (eg Newsletter = percentage of visitors who signup for a newsletter, Checkout = percentage of visitors who purchase a product, etc).

Just the data I'm after 

Currently I have the hour of day as a column down the side – to be useful I want to see that as a row across the top. No problem, Excel’s Paste with Transpose will take care of that for me. I select the columns I’m interested in, and copy (right click on the selection and choose Copy).

Copying the relevant data in Excel

Next, I create a new worksheet and right click in the cell where I want to paste the data, and choose Transpose from the Paste options.

Excel paste with Transpose

Now my data is looking more useful, but not yet in a format that’s easy to understand.

Transposed data

Inserting Sparklines

That’s where the Sparklines come in. I’ll insert a column, place my cursor in B2 and then choose to insert a Line type Sparkline from the Insert tab.

How to insert a Sparkline

For my data range I simply choose the row C2 through to the end

Inserting a Sparkline

Here’s how the Sparkline looks

Inserting the first Sparkline

Next, drag the Sparkline cell down to copy it for all rows. Plus add High and Low points from the Design tab. Last, increase the width of column B so the trends are easier to read.

Sparklines are all inserted

If I want to get really serious I can format the cells properly, add some conditional formatting and re-arrange the order of the rows to bring Checkout up to compare it more easily:

Excel all formatted with Sparklines and conditional formatting


The benefits are:

  1. I can see all of the main goal trends compared to each other in one snapshot
  2. The data is in a format that is easy to send to clients (I can embed them in documents explaining what actions I’m taking on their sites)

Analysing Trends

Now comes the interesting part. Based on the graphs I can easily highlight a few areas to investigate further. For example:

  • Although traffic is highest at the start of the day (Visits)
  • Interaction is highest a quarter way through (Pages/Visit) the day
  • Which is also the time the most Total Goal Completions occur
  • The best time for sales is about a third of the way through (Checkout)
  • Engagement is highest at the end of the day (Avg. Time on Site)
  • Newsletter signups are highest two thirds of the way through (Newsletter)

Final Excel formatting with interesting trends highlighted

(Reminder: the reporting times are in Sydney local time, whilst the activity is in the USA – so don’t be distracted by all the traffic occurring between midnight and 1pm – it’s actually 7am-8am on the West Coast. The best conversion times are between 9am-10am Sydney which translate to 4pm-5pm USA time)

Where To From Here?

There’s a few actions we can take from this.

Note: is that this is just the start of the process – from here I’d investigate analytics more deeply around the times of best conversion. I’d dig deeper into the pages that are visited during that time, etc. But for simplicity (and to avoid an overly long post) let’s consider some example actions I might take:

The first is I could use this to change the AdWords settings. Given that we want to increase the traffic as much as possible around the times of the best conversion rate (Checkout) I might increase the AdWords bidding just prior and during those times using the Bid adjustment Ad scheduling in AdWords:

 AdWords bid adjustment screen

Next we might use these results to help with other traffic sources – for example taking advantage of the higher engagement time at the end of the day. Perhaps AdWords is giving me some insight into the intent of visitors at that time – they’re more into information seeking, than purchasing. Maybe this is a good time to promote information pages on social networks, whilst earlier in the day is better for linking to sales pages.

Finally, you might use these results to influence when to send out email campaigns. Since visitors tend to sign up for newsletters mostly around two-thirds the way through the day, then that might indicate an interest in consuming newsletters at that time too. Schedule email newsletters for that time frame and test further.

Disclaimer: Obviously these are some simplistic conclusions to arrive at so quickly, but they do highlight the benefits of simple comparison trending using Sparklines. Every situation is unique and requires it’s own testing, but I hope you can see the potential opportunities that can be highlighted.


So there’s a simple real-world example of using Excel’s new Sparklines feature to easily analyse data, and make some informed decisions about improving performance. Let me know of any further ideas you may have in the comments.


I’m excited to be presenting with Mark Vozzo (<- SEO guru) at this month’s NSW.NET meeting.
It’s on this coming Thursday morning, June 24. You can register here.

The event is in two parts. Mark will be covering Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) for 30 minutes, and then after breakfast I’ll cover Search Engine Marketing (SEM).

To give you a quick introduction to the event, consider the following screenshots* from Google and Bing. In the green you’ll see organic search engine results, in the red you’ll see the paid ads (eg via Google AdWords)

  SEO and SEM in Google

Here’s how it looks in Bing:

SEO versus SEM in Bing

In our sessions Mark will be covering how to search engine optimise your site to get in the green parts and I’ll be covering how to advertise in the red part.

As well as covering Google AdWords and Bing/Yahoo advertising I’ll also be briefly covering the opportunities on Facebook with regard to advertising.

What is SEM?

I’ll also clarify what SEM is – originally Search Engine Marketing was an umbrella term including SEO, paid search, conversion optimisation and more. These days the definition seems to focussing more on just the paid side of things – which is how I’ll be referring to it.

What is a Search Engine These Days?

Plus I’ll briefly explore what constitutes a ‘search engine’ when it comes to marketing (eg Facebook and Twitter are types of search engines).

Tips and Advice

The main focus though will be on providing advice and tips for businesses using paid search. I’ll be covering strategies for improving the return you get on AdWords using tighter campaigns, ad positioning and big stacking, plus how to use AdWords as a testing input into your organic search engine optimisation activities. Many businesses jump into using AdWords (that’s the easy part) but don’t know how minimise their bid costs, or how to measure what’s working and what’s not. I’ll be highlighting how to do these.

I’ll also outline how to get started using Bing (via Yahoo Search Marketing) in Australia, as well how to setup ads on Facebook with a few key tips (eg the types of pictures to use – Facebook success is largely about the images you use!).

Anything Else?

We’ll also have plenty of times for questions, so feel free to bring along your main pain points with SEO and SEM and we’ll start solving them. (Feel free to leave a question in the comments too)

I hope to see you there.

When: Thursday morning 24 June 2010 – starts at 7:30am
Where: The Grace Hotel, Level 2, 77 York Street, Sydney
How: Register here on the NSW.NET site

* Hat tip to Aaron Wall for the image ideas.