What Does Google Instant Mean for Search?

Google rolled out Instant today. In the old days (that is, yesterday), you typed in your query, clicked the button, and waited for Google to think about it and hand you a list of possible resources for your query. If the search didn’t bring up what you wanted, you adjusted your search, clicked again, and waited again.

You waited, Google tells us, for an average of 9 seconds.

Now, you’ll type in your query and Google will start searching right away. You’ll see search suggestions, as you did yesterday, but you’ll also see suggested results right off. You may not need to click on the “Search” button at all.

The savings in time, Google assures us, are significant. Not for you alone, maybe — in testing, Instant saved people up to 8 seconds, which isn’t long enough to make a cup of coffee — but added all together, it could add up to an aggregate cup of coffee a day in your office.

We were embarrassed to find that we had been using it here in our office for a couple of hours without even noticing. Once we caught on, though, we tested it and found that it probably did give us those eight seconds, as long as we were looking for something obvious.

We looked for the name of the client we were working on at the time, and the name and website popped up after just a few letters. We looked for the client plus the word “reputation,” and Google sat, chastened, waiting for us to click “Search.” It gets better as it gets to know you, though, so your favorite searches ought to become obvious over time.

What does this mean for search? Not much — with one assumption. Google says ranks won’t change. The object of Instant is to give people what they want more easily and consistently. So, assuming that your SEO is focused on helping the people who want what you have to offer to find you, Instant will be a good thing.

Let’s look at some concerns:

  • Everyone’s web will be different. Not a problem. Google has been offering different sites and suggestions to people for quite a while. Actually, Instant doesn’t do very well, so far, in offering me things in my physical neighborhood. Yesterday, Google never got confused about what state I’m in. But your customers, the people who actually want what you’re offering, will be offered you more consistently, so that could be a good thing. You just have to make sure that Google can tell what your site offers, so that it can make good decisions. That’s the same as before.
  • Google will only suggest the top ranked sites, so lower ranked sites will have no chance. I can see this being an issue. However, when I searched for things I routinely buy online, I saw the same sites I always see. If you think that your prospective customers are more likely to bypass the top ranked sites in order to find you if they click a button first, you’re working with different data from what I see. There may be less space above the fold now, but the sponsored links are gone from the top of the listings, so I think it’s six of one and half a dozen of the other.
  • Google will only give people what they look for, not things they might want if they happen by and see my wonderful deals. This, I think, is the real concern. If you’ve been accustomed to gaming the system, or trying to, Instant search may not work as well for you. Since there’s feedback, and users tend to adjust their queries more quickly, they’re less likely to get tricked into going to a site that doesn’t really have what they want.

Time will tell. At the moment, I think that Instant will be good for white hat SEO. I think it will be good for students, too — a lot of my students just type in one word, click “search,” and hope that Google can read their minds. For  people who aren’t very good at search, this could be an enormous help. For those of us who use search a lot, it might give us time for another cup of coffee.

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