We waited patiently to learn what big announcement Google was going to make, having been told it would be “huge” and a game-changer. And then it arrived — Google Instant Search. No longer do you have to hit the enter key after typing in a search query to see search results — they appear below the search box as you type in your query. Start typing any old thing and voila — any old thing appears below the box. The suggestions appear as soon as you start typing and change as you add letters to your query. If you see that Google has provided you with just what you were looking for at the exact moment you are looking for it, you can save yourself a nanosecond and click on a result. Actually, Google claims it will save 2-5 seconds, but I’m not so sure.
Google warns that “feelings of euphoria and weightlessness” are to be expected, but how about nausea? I don’t know about you, but having the bottom 2/3 of my screen constantly change as a add more letters to the word or phrase I am typing into the search box is disconcerting and mildly annoying. Distracting? Did I mention that? After entering just one character, you get results. How the heck does Google know what I might be interested in amongst every piece of information in the universe that starts with a given letter? And do I see a propensity for those early letter entries to bring up huge advertisers? Only a coincidence? Some samples:
With “a” I get Amazon, AOL, AT&T, Apple, and the letter “a” — why is “a” at the bottom?
With “b” I get Best Buy, Bank of America, Bing, Bed Bath & Beyond, and finally “b.”
With “c” I get Craigslist, CNN, Chase, Costco, and finally “c.”
Thank goodness that “q” brings up the word “quotes” first of all, but it is followed by — you guessed it — QVC, QuickTime, Quiznos.
Even “z” is not immune — Zillow, Zappos, zip codes (yeah), Zumba, then “z”
But further to the issue is the fact that this is not an innovation in search. Actually, Yahoo tried a similar approach to search a number of years ago — on September 15, 2005 to be exact. They called it “Instant Search” and it was amazingly like the new Google “Instant Search.” In the Yahoo case, “[a]s users type, Instant Search Immediately displays the most relevant result for the most popular queries directly beneath the search box” (from the Yahoo press release announcing the beta of the product). Yahoo’s product only showed the top result to you and provided an easy way to access it via Ctrl-Enter, making it more like Google’s “I’m Feeling Lucky” button than their version of Instant Search. Yahoo did experiment with a version closer to that which Google is offering later via AllTheWeb Livesearch in May 2006, but the entire experiment never really caught on and Yahoo eventually dropped it.
Even more intriguing is what effect this may have on the way we approach optimization. The effectiveness of keywords may be at stake, given that users may be lured off to a different site showing for the first few letters of a keyword rather than one showing for the entire keyword (and how does Google figure out which one is ranked highest now?). Participating in AdWords may be a more important strategy than ever before if it helps you appear sooner in the typing of a partial search query, especially if more ads overall are shown. And will people choose to modify their query before even checking out anything beyond the results that instantly show, meaning that anything showing below the fold is likely to never be seen, making positions lower than about 4 on a SERP a virtual no-mans-land?
What do you think? Do you like the idea and think it will help you find what you are looking for more quickly? Or do you think you will find it distracting? Am I just being paranoid at seeing the propensity for the results to feature big business? Can Google read our minds? How is this going to affect SEO and SEM? I’m interested in knowing what you think in the comments.