Sep 14, 2010

Google Instantly Changes the Pharma Search Landscape with Instant Search

Last week Google announced Google Instant, a change in the presentation of search results that will fundamentally change the way we search. Google Instant, which is being rolled out now, uses the autocomplete feature to populate search results that evolve in real-time as you type. So, rather than having to type a complete search query and hit ‘Enter’, Google Instant predicts your search query as you type it.


In the example above, Google instantly displays predictive search results for my query as I type each letter in my search for “Cimzia.” As illustrated here, I have typed “cimz” – with Google predicting and serving up query results for the product before I even complete the word.

Try it for yourself and let me know what you think of the real-time results refreshing with every letter typed (the constant refresh and flashing of results takes some getting used to).

So, what does this all mean for phama advertisers?

Google Instant presents implications for all industries, including pharma and healthcare companies. The feature will change the way that we search for information, affecting both what we search for and how we interact with search results pages. Patients and healthcare professionals will be no exception.

Placement is everything

Google Instant reinforces the importance of appearing on the first page of search results. Greater prominence is now being drawn to the top of the search results page as we’re able to adjust our queries and fine-tune results on the fly. We’ll become less likely to enter a query and scroll through multiple pages of results to find the information we want, making a first page, upper fold position increasingly significant. Typically, Google does not display pharmaceutical product websites at the top of search results for many unbranded disease or condition-related search terms (the top spots are typically reserved for sites like Mayo Clinic, WebMD, Wikipedia and other .Orgs). Now more recently, this has even become true for branded keywords due to the introduction of Medication OneBox. This means that paid search advertising will be critical to sustaining qualified pharmaceutical website traffic as searchers become less likely to sift through results.

Effect on ad impressions and click-through-rates

Expect your paid search ad impressions and click-through-rate (clicks/impressions) to change. Up until now, an ad impression was defined as your ad appearing in a search results page after a user completed a search and hit ‘Enter’. Google Instant demands a new definition of an ad impression now that both the organic (nonpaid) and paid search results are constantly updated as a searcher types. Google has decided to measure an impression in one of three ways:

  1. the users hits ‘enter’ to complete the query,
  2. looks at the search results for over three seconds, or
  3. clicks on a link from the results page.

Long tail impact

Many industry observers are predicting Google Instant to be the death of the long tail keyword. For years paid search advertisers had focused on the more targeted long tail keywords (‘treatment for type 1 diabetes’) as opposed to broad, short keywords (‘diabetes treatment’). Long tail keywords typically result in more qualified traffic at a lower cost-per-click (since paid search utilizes a bid-based pricing model, long tail keywords with less competition are less expensive). Now that predictive instant search results have entered the picture, the long tail keyword strategy may become obsolete as searchers find themselves not needing to type in the complete search query to access the information they’re looking for.

Two Tips for Adapting to Google Instant

1. Make sure you ads appear for disease/condition search terms. Think of it as a reverse long tail keyword strategy. If you’re advertising a treatment for pulmonary hypertension, make sure to bid on ‘pulmonary hypertension’ and not just ‘pulmonary hypertension treatment.’ It may seem like a no-brainer, but up until now many advertisers have reasonably avoided or placed less emphasis on disease/condition keywords. In addition to being more competitive and more expensive, the thinking was that traffic from disease/condition keywords may be less qualified since searchers may have been looking for information about the condition as opposed to a treatment option.

However, in an instant Google has made the disease/condition keyword critical. If patients are searching for a treatment option and begin to type in the disease term, in many cases they will instantly see relevant search results containing treatment options. So rather than needing to type ‘pulmonary hypertension treatment,’ they’ll be able to find what they need by typing ‘pulmonary hypertension.’ As a result, pharma advertisers will need to optimize their campaigns and shift greater focus and advertising dollars to the short tail disease/condition keywords.

2. Perform robust keyword research. Google Instant reinforces the need to conduct ongoing keyword research and optimize campaigns for Google Suggest – the feature in search results that autocompletes with a popular keyword suggestion. Optimizing for suggested keywords is not a new strategy within the SEO landscape. However, this technique is more important than ever now that search results are served instantly, making searchers more inclined to act on a suggested search rather than complete the intended query. This means that the Google-suggested keywords will receive more traffic than ever before, making it critical for pharmaceutical advertisers to optimize their websites and paid search campaigns for these terms.

So, what do you think of Google Instant? Are there any implications or recommendations for pharma marketers that I haven’t touched on? Please provide your feedback in the comments.

Posted by Arly Iampietro (@arlyi), Digital Marketing Specialist at Roska Digital Advertising.


  1. Great post!

    My concern with this is, if we now have to start bidding on the broader term keywords Google will punish us with high cpc, they have us both ways, we can't ignore it, but it's going to sting.


  2. Thank you Paul! And I'm with you on the concern about the increased competition and raised CPCs. Smart move by Google, but unfortunate for advertisers.

  3. Excellent post and thorough explanation. In my blog post I advocate a more cautious approach and suggest monitoring the impact before making changes:

    Eileen O'Brien


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