Google Instant’s ‘blue arrow’ could see clicks stolen from natural results

This morning, Greenlight observed that Google has introduced keyboard navigation into its Google Instant search results. The first result in the search engine results pages (SERPs) now has a blue arrow next to it. The user can move up and down the listings with the arrow keys on their keyboard and press enter to get to the result they want. Were this to remain permanent, it could actually prove to be yet another Google feature that would be a hindrance to search marketers. In the case of paid search, it almost endorses the first result, potentially stealing clicks away from natural results.

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As Matthew Whiteway, client services director, highlights in his post about the Impact of Google Instant on PPC, new Google features often raise more questions than answers for search marketers.

Google will likely argue the blue arrow navigation makes search faster and easier; using your keyboard to help you explore instant search results, without the need for a mouse or a touchpad. The ability to scroll down using your arrow keys could mean you check a wider range of listings.

However it's hard to ignore that this feature draws further attention to the first search result on the page. Users will not necessarily know that the blue arrow can be moved, and the arrow almost endorses the first result; one of the best calls to action an advertiser could wish for.

When a search query is highly competitive, the first result will more than likely be a paid search ad, increasing the chance that someone will click on the paid listings. Could this start a bidding war for the top positions in the paid results?

Advertisers may see click through rates tumble in lower positions, especially in the right hand side of paid results, where the arrow needs to be moved several times before it reaches the ad. Subsequently the need to appear higher will be enhanced, and advertisers will bid more to place themselves in the coveted top positions.

And how could this affect SEO and the natural listings?

This feature, along with additions such as ad sitelinks and product extensions into paid ads, further highlights paid listings to users, potentially taking the clicks away from natural results, and earning Google more money for every click.

The initial effect might be limited. Like a lot of new Google features this could be a short lived test, users also need to be logged in and have Google Instant switched on. However if it remains, this could lead to some marked changes in the paid and natural search landscape.

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