Google reveals real-time search
If you have used Google Search over the last month (and I'd be amazed if anyone hasn't), you may have noticed that Google is sometimes delivering search results as you type. Will this latest development change the search engine landscape?
All of you will already be familiar with Google's last improvement to its search interface which it dubbed Google Suggest. As you type in the search box on Google's home page, Google shows a constantly changing list of suggested terms in a drop-down box which match what you have started to type. That took a bit of getting used to but now I find it very useful. According to Google, the average search takes 25 seconds, of which 24 are spent typing out what you want to search for, and this box of suggestions can save valuable seconds and avoid simple typos.
Some of the Google suggestions are quite funny. For example, type in "When will" into the Google search box and the suggestions include "When will I die?" and "When will the world end?". Other questions openings such as "When can" produce equally quirky suggestions whilst my favourite, "Can Je" pops up with the offering "Can Jesus microwave a burrito?" But I digress.
This month Google began rolling out Google Instant which takes the Google Suggest concept to the next level. Some of you may have noticed it already. With Google Instant, not only does Google show a suggested terms list as you type, but also shows the first page of search results in real time.
Like Google Suggest when that was introduced, I am finding Instant takes a bit of getting used to and first impressions are that it doesn't seem quite as useful or intuitive as Suggest. When Google offers suggested search terms in a drop down box, they are clear, simple and in the eye-line so you can see them as you type. With the instant search results, the eyes have to move further between each keystroke and I think people will find it harder to assimilate the information. But it is growing on me, and it may dramatically change the way people use search engines in future, and with it, the way sites are promoted through search engines.
The first thing I've noticed with Google Instant is that the sponsored links at the top of search results become much more prominent. Indeed, for some search terms, you are only seeing the sponsored links and not the organic links beneath them. As sponsored links are how Google earns its money, perhaps getting people to click more often on the sponsored link is the driving force behind these changes. On the other hand, I am finding that the sponsored links down the right hand side of the search results becomes even less obvious when using Google Instant, and that surely means it will be less attractive screen real estate to potential advertisers.
On the subject of those keywords, leaked documents from Google revealed that BP normally spends about $57,000 per month on Google keyword advertising. During the month of June when it was fighting a PR rear-guard action, BP was purchasing keywords such as "oil spill" and spent in the region of $3.6 million.
It also occurs to me that this development will change the way that many so-called "SEO specialists" will try to game the search engine. Suppose people get used to seeing the relevant results after typing just the first few letters. If my site has been optimised to provide good results for the term "Hydraulics" for example, then I might well be coming out at the top of normal searches for that term. However, if my competitor artificially optimises a page on his site for the term "hydra" then he might be grabbing customer's attention through Google Instant before they ever get to see my site in the legitimate search results.
Search Engine Optimisation these days invariably means optimising for Google but it is not as clear cut as many people think. Google is increasingly profiling its users and returning search results which are customised to what they believe that particular user is interested in, based on their past search history and geographic location. In other words, when I search for Hydraulics, the site that comes out at the top of my results page is not necessarily the same site as at the top of your results page. This is also reflected in Google Instant. Type A into Google Instant on my development computer and Amazon is the top result. Do the same on the one I use for online shopping and Argos heads the list.
In order to avoid presenting potentially embarrassing search results, Google Instant also includes a filter for words and word fragments which may indicate violence, hate or pornography. Google disclosed this after reporter Irene Slutsky, a descendant of the famous Russian mathematician Eugen Slutsky, asked why typing in her surname was not producing any instant search suggestions. Apparently, Google considers Slutsky to be inappropriate.
29th September 2010
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