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Google Instant Search

Written by Terry Van Horne   
Thursday, 09 September 2010 06:35

Google Instant Search: The Future Face of Google Search

It is September 8/2010 and myself, Dave and Steve are waiting patiently for the event to start. At the beginning of the event the Google staff were talking about the evolution of search (starting in 1950) and finally Internet search before and after Google. The most intriguing of these info bits was the matter of fact way they announced Google has reached 1 billion users per week. This definitely makes the 500 Million users facebook "claims" pale in comparison to the Search Giant.


Google Takes The User Experience to the Next level!

Instant Search Launch CollageThe lead-in to the new product, Google Instant Search, mentioned Eric Schmidt's keynote "Autonomous, Fast Search Is ‘Our New Definition" from Berlin’s IFA home electronics event which I covered on the Trail today in Google's New Definition of search. Google Instant search uses predicated search techniques to determine the users search intent. Basically Instant Search is Suggest on Steroids with a touch of Intellisense (M$ developers have seen this for years). I have seen similar .NET search applications, however, as the Google engineers pointed out the scale of this is massive compared to what I saw in those applications. Of course the results also didn't change as you typed!

The Google Instant Search page provided the following info about where you can find this new search and the browsers that support it (it is very browser dependent) . Note the bold is mine in order to highlight how to get Instant Search results in Countries where it has not been rolled out... say Ca. for instance.

Instant Search is starting to roll-out to users on Google domains in the US, UK, France, Germany, Italy, Spain and Russia who use the latest browsers (Chrome v5/6, Firefox v3, Safari v5 for Mac and Internet Explorer v8). Please note, users on domains other than can only access Google Instant if they are signed in to a Google Account. We will continue to add new domains and languages over the next several months.

As a developer who understands the computing power needed to scale the architecture to the extent it has been I was blown away. Not only are the results changing as a you type it is also predicting what you may want with each letter added.

The demo was super fast and search results were changing as the user entered the letters, however, on my machine I definitely had a bit of lag which did take away from the effect of the results changing as letters were typed in. Still it wasn't slow to the point where it was annoying or taking a great deal away from the user experience.


How Instant Search Could Change SEM

The last point that must be made is that this is taking Personalized Search to another level so the affect on SEM and SEO is hard to say right away. It is certain that user search behavior has become a much bigger and important part of the keyword discovery and research phase. I have always been skeptical of one word query volume because the way it converts suggests that these queries being treated as traffic may be a mistake. Perhaps the query was edited to a broader term before the user actually clicked a listing.

SearchEngineLand writer John Ellis's post Will Google Instant Kill The Long Tail? highlighted the affect instant search would have on long tail search terms. The affect on the longtail was brought up almost immediately in the conversation we were having while watching the launch event. Another glaring change was how AdWords was affected. The first concern was this could affect impressions which can affect QS (Quality Score) the black-box that is Google Adwords bid system.

Counting impressions with Google Instant happens in three different ways.

  • Any click – If the user starts typing, then clicks anywhere on the page, an impression is counted. Whether that’s an ad, spell check, or link, it’s counted.
  • Search Selection – An impression is counted when the search button is clicked or a user selects a query.
  • 3 Second Rule – When the user stops typing and does nothing for 3 seconds, an impression is counted

Source: Google Support and Google's Inside Adwords Blog has more PPC info


How Instant Search Could Change SEO

First and foremost as illustrated in the following screencaps Google has taken large chunks of screen real estate above the fold. This is the equivalent of Boardwalk in Monopoly. Note how the query refinement/prediction affected the listings in prime positions on the page. I chose Las Vegas because I had seen the results in the SEL post and know that "type" of query space will have characteristics that will trigger Universal Search Listings and Paks of Vertical results. My screen resolution is 1440 X 900.

Instant Search Screen 1: 2 Listings and 2 Ads

Giving Google the benefit of the doubt there are less than are 2 listings above the fold. The map results are taking a lot of the SERP space with paid listing getting the most visibility

Instant Search Screen 2: 1 Listings and 4 Ads

1 listing above the fold; 3 ads and map results taking up most of the Prime SERP space and note the ads are all for Las Vegas hotels cheap so in the data whether that is attributed to Las Vegas hotels; Las Vegas h or Las Vegas hotels will be what I'm looking for in the data. Note the difference in the relevancy of the ads and the lone editorial/organic listing.

Instant Search Screen 3: 4 Listings and 1 Ads

Here is a more traditional type result with 4 listing above the fold and 2 ads in the Prime SERP space and note the ads are predominantly for Las Vegas hotels cheap so in the data whether that is attributed to Las Vegas hotels; Las Vegas hotels c or Las Vegas hotels cheap. I note cheap is in the title of the first editorial/organic but is in the headline of many more ads.


The SERP space above the fold will vary by the browser; resolution setting and device. The point is that the space above the fold to hit with SEO targets are decreasing quickly. Lastly Google said that this will not affect rankings... right... but they did say that search behavior will change. Yes don't forget that isn't a metric you find in a tool.

Watch how people search with Instant Search. The time you spend learning about user behaviprwill provide more actionable information than any tool or traffic estimator. So hold on kiddies cuz the Steve Rubels of the world will swear this is the end of SEO and the unwashed SEO masses will be flocking to take advantage of the uninformed.


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