For all of those who have been away or asleep for the past two days, Google has introduced a new search product called Google Instant.
With Google Instant, when you type a query into Google, the results are streamlined with each letter you type. So, as you’re typing a query, results (both Paid and Organic) change with each letter typed. Based on what you’ve typed so far Google does a search and lists results that are common completions of your query.
Compared to the power steering feature of a car, the product was rolled out Tuesday at Google’s Search Event in San Francisco and is now available in the US. The feature is also expected to roll out overseas in the next week and will eventually expand across all platforms including mobile (much like the auto completion function).
If it is used (users have the capability to turn it off), Google Instant will certainly change the way searches happen, which demands the question, what does this mean for SEO?
Opinions from around the Web…
TechcrunchTV caught up with Marissa Mayer, Vice Present of Search Products and User Experience, after the Google event yesterday and asked this same question. Mayer answered, “Search becomes easier but it’s still search. The ranking remains stable so people who have optimized their site to achieve a certain outcome that’s still the outcome when users use those queries. So we really think it will be a smaller affect for the SEO community.”
Steve Rubel of Edelman Digital disagrees. In his post, Google Instant Makes SEO Irrelevant, he writes, “Google today launched an ambitious effort to speed up searching. But what they really did is kill SEO.” He continues with the point that no two people will see the same web as results change so quickly.
“Once a single search would do the trick – and everyone saw the same results. That’s what made search engine optimization work. Now, with this, everyone is going to start tweaking their searches in real-time. The reason this is a game changer is feedback. When you get feedback, you change your behaviors.“
Matt Cutts weighed in, suggesting Rubel’s headline is a bit dramatic, but offering his opinion that overtime, yes, Google Instant could change search engine optimization.
In his post, Thoughts on Google Instant, Cutts writes, “The search results will remain the same for a query, but it’s possible that people will learn to search differently over time. For example, I was recently researching a congressperson. With Google Instant, it was more visible to me that this congressperson had proposed an energy plan, so I refined my search to learn more, and quickly found myself reading a post on the congressperson’s blog that had been on page 2 of the search results.”
I can see his point that this may change the way browsers who are casually surfing for information may find this feature useful. For instance if I’m looking to go on vacation and I search for “trip to europe” –
I can quickly browse the results, easily changing them as I scroll down Google’s predictions (trip to europe cost, trip to europe planning, etc.), and then read Meta Descriptions to identify informative sites. The feature is nice for research-based searches, but what about other types of searches?
If I’m quickly looking for a specific answer, not doing extensive research, I’m not sure I’d use the feature for a couple of different reasons. First, Google Instant doesn’t seem to work well for local based queries. For example: doctors offices in Bloomington, IN, hair Salons in Bloomington, IN, restaurants in Bloomington, IN, etc. When I tested these, all of my queries needed to be completely typed before relevant information was listed. Geo-modified search queries are incredibly common and I don’t see how the new feature will really increase the speed here.
The second reason I may not pay attention to the feature is if I’m in a hurry, which is most of the time. If I know what I’m looking for and just need to pull up the website, I’m going to ignore the Instant results and complete my query as I have always done, knowing it will definitely give me what I’m looking for. For example, colts website, nike, Toms Shoes, etc. If I know the brand or the service but I’m just not sure of the URL, I know these queries will give me what I’m looking for.
Third, for most of my searches I use the search function within my browser. I rarely go to Google.com. The Google team is working on adding this feature to the browser search box but this may not be available for months.
FYI: Location Matters
One note to make about the feature is that location does matter. Type in a “W” and most likely the first result is you’ll see is weather for the location near you (or your IP address registration). Sam Diaz from ZDNet.com took this a step further and tested the same query from two different computers (one located in Silicon Valley and one located in Philadelphia). Screenshots provided in the blog post show that when typing the letters “ea” in Philadelphia, the first result is the official fan page for the Philadelphia Eagles. When typing “ea” in California, the first result is news on “earthquakes”.
On a side Note: Yahoo’s Lost Opportunity?
According to Stephen Hood, one of Yahoo’s former product managers, the company was working on something nearly similar to Google Instant 5 years ago. The product was called LiveSearch and from his description it sounds right in line with the features of Google Instant. So, why have you never heard of it? In his post, “Google Instant is an example of how Yahoo could have won in search”, Hood explains that due to a more conservative nature in management at the time, Yahoo would only release it on a smaller search engine (AllTheWeb).
Hood also points to a Blogscoped post on the AllTheWeb Livesearch feature back in 2006. The author of this post gave a quick review of LiveSearch, saying: “though it might be one of those good-looking search tools that you still don’t end up using on a daily basis. And while you change between pages, the actual speed before results get displayed is about the same as when you’re at Google.com and hit return.”
I think this person may have been on to something. While we’ll have to wait a while to see if this catches on with users and how exactly it’s going to change SEO, what do you think? Is Google Instant a feature you’ll use very often?