In a Google Instant, Search Habits Changed

I originally wrote this post on the blog here:

Yesterday we saw one of the more colorful Google doodles roll out – and today we understand what they’re up to. Google’s answer to Microsoft’s Bing ‘Discovery Engine’ is Google Instant – their extension of Google Suggest to include actual results.

What is Google Instant? As users to the world’s most used search engine are typing to find their latest car insurance, consumer electronics, and directions to their local Starbucks (as if those are needed) they’re now getting different results as they type.

As an example – typing car insurance, you’re may get seven different sets of search engine results (SERPs) before you get to the final listings.

The Fundamentals of Google Instant

  1. These are all Ajax based search results that are now displayed real time, but definitely different from the “Ajax SERPs” spotted in the wild late 2009.
  2. It seems like they only appear as you’re logged in – but that may just be part of Google’s roll-out plan. (update – since we wrote this, they’re now appearing in non-logged in sessions).
  3. It is present on the home page and results pages – and while related to the Suggest keywords, you don’t see the effect when typing browser query fields. It will be interesting to see if/how Google attempts to integrate this feature into the combined search field and address bar (the Omnibox) in their browser Chrome.
  4. The corresponding links go through gateway URLS – Google redirects to the ultimate pages.
  5. You can turn it off.
  6. Paid listings change too!

So what’s the impact?

  1. Keyword ordering will change search volume queries as first keywords results will frame and determine subsequent words. Keep an eye out, especially if your business is centered around longer-tail terms.
  2. Certain demographics are going to be affected more – fast typers will be affected less as they fly by the variants, slow typers more as they have a chance to see and react to the alternatives (unless you’re so slow that you’re staring at the keyboard instead of the screen).
  3. Your CTRs are going to go crazy for a bit. On their webmasters blog, Google has said that some of those results are going to be listed as impressions. The criteria are:
    • If you click on any listing on a page,
    • if you view the auto listings for more than 3 seconds, or
    • if you click anywhere else on the page.

    If you have systems in place that use CTR for marketing metrics, these will be out of whack for a bit.

  4. Branding opportunities abound for paid search ads that do come up in those early queries.
  5. Make sure you examine where you and your competitors rank for the words that start your key phrases. It may be time to focus a bit on those head terms.
  6. When the query suggestion box is still extended normal results are pushed even further below the fold. When ads are present and the first result contains sitelinks, typically mid-page results are now being pushed even further down. It appears that initially Google displays a blue box describing the feature that takes a notable amount of space, but eventually stops displaying this presumably once users see it enough.

One quick quote from a user we watched searching:

“It’s changed how I search.   Instead of going to the second page of results, I now just refine my search term until I see the appropriate response.”

There’s a good chance that Google may dial these back – or at least tweak the frequency of change or the layout of the results. If there are more people who feel like that user than are discouraged by the flashing results, we’re likely to see these stick.

Stay tuned – as next up we talk about how this has started to impact the search industry.