Google Instant – A Quantum Leap Forward in Search?

The big news in tech last week was Google’s announcement of a new search feature – Google Instant. The promise of Google Instant is that it will provide instant search results as you type into the google search bar, changing dynamically with each new letter entered. This represents a remarkable innovation in web search which will help everyone make smarter google queries as they view the instant feedback. But other than removing the need for the “search” button and the enter key on our keyboards, what other advantages or paradigm shifts will Google Instant lead to?

The big question on everyone’s mind is how will this change affect where my company’s page or my best news stories appear in search results? Page ranking will stay the same. There’s no effect on where the web links that matter to you will appear in search results. What will change is the rate at which you can view these search results and experiment with different combinations of search terms to view the web results in real time.

So why bother to make this change if after you’ve entered your search query, nothing actually changes? Matt Cutts, a google software engineer explains it clearly on his blog: “Google typically returns search results in milliseconds, but it takes several seconds for you to type a query. In other words, the limiting factor on a typical search is you. With predictive search and instant results, you can often get the answer you want much faster.”

What are the benefits for a user? Speed of results, instant feedback, and it “takes the effort out of searching”.  As Google puts it, Instant is “search-before-you-type”. Its predictive powers will read your mind, or make an educated guess based on the letters you’ve already entered and offer you several options for what you’re probably looking for.

“It’s like power steering or power braking. Once you have it, it will be hard to go back to the old way,” said Marissa Mayer, Google’s Vice President of Search Product and User Experience, during Wednesday’s live blog of the announcement.

Frankly I’m not sold on the speed advantage for search on my desktop or laptop. Most of us type pretty fast these days and the difference in the speed of results is on the order of < 1 second. For mobile however, or particularly the iPad (where I type at a Mavis Beacon Level 1 pace) the advantage is much more tangible.

Jenna Wortham of the New York Times pointed out in a first reaction tweet during the live blog – “waay more excited for Google Instant to debut for mobile. right? thats where shaving seconds off search time will matter more.”

Web users in the US and Europe will be able to experience Google Instant now and it will be coming to mobile users in the next few months.

So what else is Google Instant good for? Well, we’ve invented a little game you can play with it called “Go Go Google!” The idea is to test how many letters you can enter before the Instant results stop changing. You have to think of a word and start entering it one letter at a time. Your score is the number of letters you enter before the instant results no longer change. For example, one might think the longest words yield the best scores, however, the longest word in the English language,
“Antidisestablishmentarianism”, stops changing after the 6th letter “a-n-t-i-d-i”. My current personal best is 7 letters with the word “alimentary”. You can get as far as “a-l-i-m-e-n-t” before the results stand still.

Try playing a round of Go Go Google yourself, it’s a great way to experience the new power of Google Instant and learn how it works. If Google Instant is the internet equivalent of power windows and steering, we all just got a free upgrade from the dealership.

And if your last name happens to be “Slutsky”, apologies from google, you will not be eligible for instant results.