Google Instant: Game Changer or Evolution?

The latest major Google announcement is the arrival of what it terms “results before you type”.  Google is now trying to predict what you are searching for and giving you results before you’ve even completed typing in your search phrase.

So is this a truly significant change, or just Google reminding Apple that they can also do hype?

I think there will be many subtle impacts but probably the biggest is that this is another USP for Google.  Instant is an incredible feat of software engineering, even by Google standards. Microsoft et al will be a long way off being able to copy it.  Most users will like Instant and as they won’t be able to get it elsewhere, they will therefore be less inclined to move away to other search engines.

Other Search Marketing Impacts

It raises many more questions than answers at this early stage.

  • Will it change the way we do SEO?
  • Will it increase clicks on PPC?
  • Will it reduce long tail searches?
  • Will it reduce clicks lower down page 1 and beyond?
  • Will it change the way people compose key phrases for searches?
  • Will keywords still be passed in referrer strings?
  • Will it make it more difficult to bury bad news about you?

I’ve got theories on most of the above but I’d like to hear your thoughts in the comments.

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18 thoughts on “Google Instant: Game Changer or Evolution?”

  1. Those of us that are aware of the technical challenge that ‘Instant’ must need in order to perform recognise the value of it – I suspect it will also require less search time because we will find more quickly what we were looking for?

  2. Attacat Joel says:

    @colingilchrist That’s certainly one of the initial thoughts, that the real-time updating provides some many potential pages and answers to shorter search queries that users might not need to progress to long search queries u2013 they may have already found their information. But then there’s also the chance that, as the results are more instant, users will refine their searches more readily to find exactly what they want. nnIn truth we don’t know exactly what will happen and we’re eagerly awaiting the first few weeks of search data (discounting the obvious ‘playing around with it’ period!).

  3. Jamie McHale says:

    – Will it change the way people compose key phrases for searches?nnYes, I think it probably will for regular/power search engine users. There is now quicker feedback of the results that a particular search query will generate. I think people will chop and change their query until they see recognisable results on the page. nnThis perhaps means less time for a search result or an advert to make an impact, as people may spend less time digesting an individual results page. I imagine this will reduce the results from beyond page 1, as you can quickly reform your query to get better/more relevant results.nnI’d also be interested to see if the clicks on the various placement of ads are affected. It seems that the eye will naturally be drawn down the autocomplete box and onto the search results – perhaps ignoring the adverts that are placed to the right?

    • Attacat Joel says:

      Interesting thought on the eye-path from search queries Jamie, certainly something that I’m sure they’ve tested! How much users interact with the Google suggestions must surely be a big part of Google’s ongoing strategy, as real-time search places more prominence on this aspect that Google actually retain control over. A sneaky way of driving up auction costs for particular search terms ads?

  4. rosscbrown says:

    What I find interesting about Google’s Instant is that at first it seems to be a step backwards in terms of speed. More effective search, rather than more efficient search, if you will.nnHow did I interface with Google Search before Instant? Well, using Chrome as my browser, I typed my search terms right into the browser bar and *boom* I’m on a SERP. In fact, maybe I didn’t even have to visit a SERP to find what I was looking for.nnNow, in this brave new “instant” world, I first have to navigate to Google, then enter my search term – or part thereof. On on that note, I’m really interested to see how Google go about integrating the Google Instant experience into the browser.nnYou ask two questing that I feel are somewhat related: “Will it reduce clicks lower down page 1 and beyond?” and “Will it change the way people compose key phrases for searches?”. My gut feeling on this is yes, Google Instant will shift focus to the first page of results and people will compose different key phrases.nnThe real power of Google Instant is in the ‘feedback’ you get when searching. You can instantly (um.. yeah) see if the key phrase is returning the results you are looking for and if not alter your terms as you go. Google is now coaching users to use better, more appropriate, keywords – all based on feedback from the first page of search results.nnOne final thought on PPC. A complex search phrase used to return one set of results and one set of AdWords. Now, you could see three sets of results and associated ads before reaching your desired results page. I know how easily I get side-tracked on the Internet – I very much see myself clicking on an AdWords placement that catches my eye long before I finish typing the search phrase that takes me to my desired results page.nnn

    • Attacat Joel says:

      Indeed, regarding brower-based searching a fair number of searches are initiated through a browser search box or Chrome’s ‘all-in-one’ address bar and thus will not be dropped into the real-time experience so to speak. This, and people who can’t touch-type and thus look at the screen as it updates, could account for a significant portion of searches!

    • Tim Barlow says:

      “Now, in this brave new “instant” world, I first have to navigate to Google, then enter my search term – or part thereof. “nnI think it is inevitable that it will be rolled out to tool bar and Chrome before long.nn”Will it reduce clicks lower down page 1 and beyond?”nnI agree but I think that the number of results that can get in front of users may actually increase on a per “search” basis. The transitory pages a user sees on their way to a result becomes the new second page.

      • Jamie McHale says:

        Seems like your prediction for a roll out to the Chrome toolbar was right:nn

  5. Barry Dewar says:

    With regards to PPC, given that it’s Google’s cash cow you can be fairly certain that they have tested the hell out of it to make sure that it’s not steering users clear of those all important sponsored links.rnrnI also think that the mobile version of the system will have a bigger impact when it rolls out. Will we see *only* PPC results on a smaller device? When I use it on my netbook I only get 1 natural result and 8 PPC ones!

    • Attacat Joel says:

      Yep Barry, if anything this could increase the visibility to users of generic, short-tail, high-cost PPC search ads, pumping more money into a certain search engine’s coffers!

    • Tim Barlow says:

      On the PPC question, there are a lot of people who share your sentiment that Google wouldn’t do this if it didn’t generate more paid clicks.nnI think this view probably doesn’t give Google enough credit. Their first customer has always been the searcher and improving relevancy has always been their biggest driver. So it is possible that they would introduce a change that will drop the proportion of paid clicks on a “per search” (however you define that now!) basis but in the long run will bring in more revenue because they will retain their customer for longer.

      • Barry Dewar says:

        I’m not suggeting they’ll get more paid clicks. I can’t see that people will begin to ignore natural results simply because the interface has changed. Even if they do it will only be short term before they realise that much of their reults are not relevant.rnrnIn fact, I’ve a suspicion that there will be a bit of a backlash from surfers as their habits have been pretty well set in stone for 10 years. Power users may well switch it off once the novelty has gone while casual users may well get bored with clicking on things that are not relevant to their search terms.rnrnIt’s going to be fascinating to see what a good month or so’s research begins to tell us.

        • Tim Barlow says:

          Shock horror! It seems you don’t believe that paid listings are as relevant as natural listings ;)nnI think it will probably be a lot longer than a month before we get any real insight but we shall see.nnSeeing the results on your netbook this morning was quite revealing. Certainly the natural listings have been pushed a good bit further down the page (yet again!).

  6. Attacat Joel says:

    If you’re interested in Tim’s question of referrer strings being passed on for Analytics, real-time search is Ajax-based and the URL string updates dynamically also meaning that full referral strings are passed through. However, if a user clicks on a result mid-way through typing a word the search term within Analytics will show with the ‘part-word’ as Google’s suggested completed word. To access the part-word takes a bit of Analytics filtering…

  7. Craig McGill says:

    I think – in an era when Google’s usage recently dropped and people use Twitter, Facebook and other trusted networks for most of their links – this is an attempt to stay relevant. I’ve posted a bit more about it here: nn

    • Tim Barlow says:

      Hi Craig. Thanks for coming by. To echo the point I made on your own blog, I feel you are right that Google have a fight on their hands for all the reasons you suggest.rnrnHowever Google Instant, to me, has little to do with that fight. Social Search, Real time search, Google Me and Caffeine have much more to do with that fight. Instant is just an incremental improvement (probably!) in Google’s best known service.

  8. Tim Barlow says:

    So a month on, speculation continues. There’s been an incredible hype. In my opinion the hype is out of proportion compared to the search marketing significance. We’ve seen much bigger changes this year which have gone largely unnoticed in comparison.

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