Published on February 21st, 2013 | by Justin Revell
Google Instant: The Guide
Beyond a shadow of a doubt, Google has fundamentally altered how we view the world and find information on the web. Since it took a commanding lead in the web search market during the past decade, it has consistently defied expectations and innovated in unprecedented ways. While new platforms like Android, Google+ and the cloud-based Chrome get all the press, Google’s search engine continues to evolve in subtle ways. One unheralded tweak that many forget about is Google Instant, an incremental search feature that’s played a much larger role in the refinement of web search than most users have realized.
Classic Google Search, Instantly
Initially debuting on September 8th, 2010, Instant has become a regular part of many users’ web search experience since then. Google Instant provides immediate results as you enter a query that change with each successive letter. Born as an offshoot of Google Suggest, it’s been available as an experimental feature since 2008. In addition to query prediction, it bases results on things like freshness, region, language and a user’s Suggest history. Instant also performs deduplication and automatic spelling correction as you go. Unlike traditional search, it relies on SafeSearch by default to weed out offensive content.
User Experience, Pros The most powerful reasons behind the creation of Instant come down to the end user experience. Google’s quick to cite statistics about how the average web search prior to Instant took roughly 9 seconds. With predictive typing and instant results, they’ve managed to reduce that time substantially and save users between 2 and 5 seconds per search. Faster, more relevant results keep users happy. They also improve Google’s ultimate bottom line. If users are happier with the overall effectiveness of web searches, Google can boost ad revenues and reinvest them in other technologies that will help the company to maintain its edge.
Besides saving people time during searches, Instant also improves results for the majority of users by prioritizing fresh, trending content. By basing results on a user’s personal search history as well as their location, it serves up relevance in new and unexpected ways. On the downside, it curtails the ability of users to display more than 10 results per page. In addition, it only works on searches performed on Google’s home page or issued from Google SERPs pages themselves. If Instant isn’t your cup of tea, of course, you can always disable it from within the Preferences section of the Google Chrome browser.
Instant’s Impact on SEO and Search Results
One initial worry of many marketers and Search Engine Optimization gurus was whether or not Instant would affect organic results, paid listings and the long tail of search. The official stance of Mountain View is that Instant will in no way affect rankings or SEO best practices. For the most part, that claim has been confirmed over the last two years. In some cases, it even helps out lower-ranked sites by crediting them with impressions as they pop up in incremental search results. Likewise, PPC ads also get impressions when users click on a page mid-query.
The seemingly insignificant introduction of Instant was actually a critical step in the progress of search. Without disrupting the feel and performance of Google, it quietly built a bridge to the future of more intelligent search technology. In retrospect, it was a harbinger of things to come such as Siri and Google Now. Search programs will continue to evolve and grow, perhaps at one point developing into true artificial intelligence or at least a reasonable facsimile of it. While no software tool is perfect, Google’s Instant is an innovative feature that has impacted search for the better.