Google Instant took flight yesterday from the ashes of some mysterious logos and via a live transmission on Google's Official Youtube Channel. What was announced was arguably the biggest change in the user interface (UI) of search engine results pages since search engines were invented and one of the most sophisticated engineering projects for Google since Caffeine. Ben Gomes, Distinguished Engineer at Google, had a great phrase to summarize the announcement, "Google Instant seems so obvious, that in retrospect, you'll wonder if search could have been any other way."
1. Backstory: Google Instant Was Not Born Yesterday
The product innovations that foreshadow Google Instant have been in development for over the last 10 years. They are:
- Improved Spelling Corrections
- Google Squared integration into universal search results
- Google Realtime
- The Caffeine index
- Google Suggest (Autocomplete)
- Starred search results
- Google MentalPlex (an April Fool's Day joke)
With that in mind, it would be fair to argue that Google Instant is of equivalent significance to marketers as the Universal Search update, which previously amalgamated their video, news, blogs, maps and image search properties into one search engine results page (SERPs). As was the case then, lost real estate for organic search results presented new opportunities for the savvy marketer. The same is likely to be true now.
2. Core Features Mean Less Key presses
Google Instant is a much faster interface and promises to save users 2-5 seconds per search.
- Streaming Search Results - relevant search results are displayed as you type. There is no need to press 'enter/return' key or click the search button.
- Predictive text - Google Instant offers predictions of what you are searching for as you type. These predictions display in light gray text as a continuation of your query. A match to your needs can be autocompleted with the hit of the 'tab' key.
- Scroll to Search - search suggestions/predictions display below the search box and will automatically display those results as you select them with your 'arrow down' key.
3. Present Availability - Coming to a Browser Near You
It is worth emphasizing that a comparatively small proportion of all Google users will see Google Instant. Those people not signed into their Google Accounts, or not searching from within the countries listed below or who only search directly from their browser will NOT see streaming search results for awhile to come.
- At present Google Instant is only available in the USA, but it will be launching in the UK, France, Italy, Germany, Spain and Russia within a week.
- The service is only available to users signed into their Google Accounts
- The service works on these browsers: Chrome v5/6, Firefox v3, Safari v5 for Mac and Internet Explorer v8
- Browser based search plugins for IE 8, Firefox, Safari and Chrome are currently in development and expected to be completed by the end of the year.
- Google Instant will hit mobile devices by fall of this year.
4. YES, You Can Turn Off Google Instant
As this feature functions for signed in users only, turning off Google Instant is extremely straightforward:
B) You can adjust your settings via the Google.com/preferences page (as shown below - click to enlarge).
5. How Does it Affect Paid Search?
Google's official line is that, Google Instant does not affect the underlying algorithm of paid search ads in any way. However, they go on to say in a blog post that it "changes the way we think about [ad] impressions." The key takeaways for paid search account managers are that an ad impression will be counted if:
- User chooses a query from the suggestions (by hitting enter or clicking the search button).
- User clicks any link on the search results page.
- 'The 3-second rule': AdWords will count impressions for every ad served where the user is inactive, and stops typing, for more than 3 seconds.
6. How Does it Affect Search Queries?
In much the same way as described above for Google AdWords accounts:
- Google Webmaster Tools accounts may see an increase in impressions for search terms.
- Sites that rank well across both broad and long tail terms may see a spike of impressions on broad terms as results are streaming whilst the user narrows their search.
- Importantly, the autocomplete feature of Google Instant will pass the search term referrer as the full predicted keyword, even if the user clicked the result with a partially formulated search phrase.
7. YES, You Can Track Google Instant Behaviors Using Web Analytics
There are a couple of ways you can do this:
- BASIC: Segment your reports to track search queries from Google that come via these browsers: Chrome v5/6, Firefox v3, Safari v5 for Mac and Internet Explorer v8. However, this method will only track the fully predicted keyword referrer, and you will need to add more browsers as they become supported.
- ADVANCED: Some bright sparks at Semetrical have already identified a unique parameter within the Google Instant that passes along the inputted characters into the search field. Look for the parameter 'oq=' and you will see that it matches your current text input - see screenshot below. To get your account setup to track the actual inputs against the referrers, checkout Semetrical's guide on how to track Google Instant in Google Analytics. This method will enable you to track the actual query input against the predicted referrer, which means you can see how many search suggestions your site appears in.
8. B Stands For Back In Business (But Only Big Brands Benefit)
A crucial innovation to keep your eye on is that one letter search query inputs trigger predictive results. Right now, it's not completely clear how often the predictive engine is updating and whether this will follow general trends, hot trends or simply high volume terms in general. A search for the letter B, currently predicts 'bank of america' as the full term, with 'best buy', 'bing' and 'bed bath and beyond' as suggestions. These are all household names so one would suspect that these are simply designed to be shortcuts based on longterm demand.
However, some surprises can be found from analyzing all of the suggestions on every letter. There is anecdotal evidence that Google may also be predicting specifically current trends or hot trends. For example the letter 'I' suggests 'Inception', 'L' suggests 'Lost' and 'J' suggests 'Jersey Shore'. The latter is particularly conspicuous amongst the other suggestions and the fact that streaming results focus on the TV series, rather than the location. By contrast, Google Squared results, listed as 'something different' are focussed on location. As Google tweaks it's predictive results, expect to see more 'trending topics' in the suggestion box.
9. Stop Words & New Opportunities
Google Instant is as family conscious as any other Google product. Meaning that defamatory phrases or 'adults only' phrases will not be offered as predictions. Streaming results will draw a blank and you will be prompted to 'Press Enter to search'.
However, other opportunities surface via suggestions and Google Squared. Check out the screenshot below (click to enlarge) and you will see that the well known phrase "do unto others" has been parsed by Google Squared, and triggered an ad based upon it's classification as 'the golden rule'.
That got you thinking huh? It's also worth noting that in nearly all cases Google Squared also shows up direct competitor products - so it might be start looking into how it is classifying your website - so you can appear on the 'try something different' list on brand name searches for your competitors.
10. What Does it All Mean?
There is a lot of speculation now as to what it could all mean. This is what i think:
- It's a bigger opportunity on mobile devices than it is on desktop. Mobile users tend to be signed into their Google accounts so theoretically it should massively increase the number of mobile ad impressions served.
- Streaming results may encourage paid search account managers to try targeting broader terms as this will promote a lot more movement in AdWord listings.
- Personalization looks like it is on the agenda because coupling signed in users with predictive search will eventually pave the way for demographic based keyword targeting. Anecdotally, there is already evidence for location based personalization. For example, when i search for 'carpet cleaning' it shows me predictions for NYC - try the same search from your IP Address or via a proxy - does Google Instant localize your suggestions?
It does not mean Google have killed SEO as some speculate. But that, Ladies & Gentlemen, is another story.