It’s nearly a week since the launch of Google Instant launched to great fanfare. Along with the launch there was a great deal of immediate analysis, hand wringing and cynical comments. Now that this period is over I’m ready to provide my own instant analysis about probably the biggest interface change on one of the world’s most recognizable platforms, how it changes things and what I think it may really be pointing to. The most important thing to consider is that the change is really not that big. I would rank the additional selection tools that Google has slowly migrated into the SERP (Search Engine Results Page), as ultimately more of a significant change. A lot of the discussion around Instant has centered on the auto-suggest keyword fill that Google presents as you are typing your query, but this is really just a slight upgrade to the previous non-instant version which already presented a list of alternative keywords culled from Google’s algorithmic brain. So what is the big deal?
The big deal is in the sum of the parts and not in any single attribute of Instant. If you have used Instant you have seen that not only do you get auto suggestions, but that as you input or select a keyword the actual SERP content changes on the fly. This is significant change and one that Google really likes to crow about. In the name of saving you time and getting you to your results faster, Google is not only suggesting options, but presenting them without the millisecond that occurs when you hit the “Search” button. As you type a query, the list of words automatically updates and simultaneously the page below fills up with ever changing eye-candy. It could be a map, it could be paid search results, it could be images, but what it can be colorful, distracting and seems to focus the user on the upper section of the page.So if auto-suggest along with a dynamically changing page focuses the user on the upper mid-section of the SERP could this change search results? I think it might. As searchers potentially get more focused on the sweet spot below the entry bar the role of the top three paid search ads and more importantly the top 4 or 5 organic results could get more and more important.
Below are examples using one of Google’s favorite search terms: “tennis shoes”. You can see that the non-instant results page on top has a very “boring” background, but actually displays more suggestions than the highly active Instant results page below. My homegrown conclusion is that this is going to make it more and more important for brands to get results into the top section of the page in any way. This will mean getting smarter about organic results by using images and other sources as well as making sure that Adword buys are placed in the now-even-more-highly-favored top three positions.
On the other hand I could be wrong. Google says that they have tested this thoroughly and have found that users are not actively affected by the SERP results until they have finished typing or made a selection from one of the suggested keywords. This of course is the real conclusion that most commentators are drawing from the launch of Instant. It feels like a major change, but we’ll have to wait and see if it really makes a difference. There are concern that complex long tail keywords like “red and white sneakers with blue laces” will be trumped by autosuggestion. There is the philosophical fear that we will all become search borgs ruled by the results that Google feeds us. And there is the very real alarm that top suggested keywords will skyrocket in price in the Adwords auction. All of these will require usage over time to fully digest their effect and to figure out the appropriate solution.
We should also remember that a large amount of Google searches are done via toolbars or other distributed methods and these do not use Instant yet. GigaOm quotes the ad network Chitika as stating that just 18 percent of Google’s traffic came from its Home or Instant page on the first day of Instant’s launch. Ultimately there is another objective may be the core objective for Instant and that is Mobile. As mobile devices continue to grow in popularity searches will need to be easier, more user friendly and less susceptible to the ham-fingered. Google Instant, with its auto-suggestion, instant page revealing and high speed may simply be a rocket targeted at ownership of this rapidly growing space.