Google has been tinkering (again) with search. And when Google tinkers, people sit up and take notice. Yesterday, Google trotted out its new search mechanism: Google Instant. Because you can never get your results too quickly.
Google Instant is essentially an enhancement of Google’s search function, rather than an overhaul. Essentially, Google will now offer you search suggestions as you type, in real time, real fast. Results immediately start springing up as you type your query, and they change as you add keywords. You don’t even have to press “search” anymore. Because we read faster than we type, predictive results give you a chance to switch gears during search – as you peruse changing results, you can improve your search if you notice the results are not quite what you had in mind. Google believes that its new, enhanced, predictive search will result in three benefits: (1) faster searches; (2) smarter predictions; and, (3) instant results. It also believes you will shave anywhere from 2 – 5 seconds per search query.
Questions, anyone? Yes, you can turn off Google Instant – simply click the link next to the search box or visit your settings page. Yes, you can get it if you are in the US, UK, France, Germany, Italy, Spain and Russia and use Chrome version 5 or 6, Firefox version 3, Safari version 5 for Mac and Internet Explorer version 8. No, it won’t noticeably slow your internet connection and Google will preemptively be turning it off for particularly slow connections. Yes, you can still do it the old fashioned way and type your entire query and hit enter if you wish. No, it is not yet mobile, but it should be later this fall.
No, according to Google, it will not change search results. But the Web is a-buzz and a-flutter about this very point – just view the list of posts on Techmeme alone (link here). The big issue for Web-izens is how it will change “search engine optimization” or the ability to tweak web pages to rank higher in search engine results.
Ultimately, this sort of predictive searching should change search behavior. If you are being shown what is wrong with your search from the query box, you aren’t likely to click on a few links to double check your results. Furthermore, it is very likely that the instances of one- and two-word searches will diminish – searchers will be encouraged to enter more and more terms, refining their search on the fly, until they have what they are looking for, even if it takes a whole paragraph in the search box. There is no doubt in my mind that Google Instant will turn peoples’ heads in directions they hadn’t thought of when their fingers first hovered above the keyboard, ready to strike.
Striving for the top of the Google results list is still important – searchers will still see your site link scroll below the box as they enter relevant keywords. And really, there is nothing wrong with having Google help you form your query. Like any suggestion, you can take it for what its worth: in this case, the value of a product of fairly complex machine algorithms that adapt and learn over time, and personalize your Web experience. As long as I am still able to control the outcome via alternative search methods, sites and filters, I am fine with a suggestion or two along the way, particularly if I am looking for something as mundane as the weather in San Diego this weekend.
When I challenged Bing as a search toy compared to Google (link here), I wasn’t too bothered by it for myself, inasmuch as I practice good research methodology and know to check multiple sources for my answer(s). Of course, now I have to check multiple sources within Google itself to ensure I am getting a bigger picture on issues that matter.
When it’s all said and done, my feeling is that an extra tool in the box is not a bad thing. It will be interesting to see how Google Instant fares in the short term, and how Web searchers evolve in response to the change in the long term.