I personally haven’t noticed much hype in the UK press about the latest change to be made by Google to its searching system, probably because it still seems very patchy in its roll out into the UK at the moment.
For those of you who haven’t heard, Google have made a potentially massive change to the way their search works… note: NOT to the results themselves, but to the way it displays them. Here’s some more information straight from the horses mouth: www.google.com/instant.
In a nutshell, they have started to deliver results as you type. Using some dynamic technology they start serving results that match the search that you enter as you type it in letter by letter – changing the results as your search phrase builds up. The concept is that users read quicker than they write – so, as they type in their search phrase, as soon as the result they want pops up on screen they can click on it, saving them time – and giving Google a USP over its competitors.
At first thought this seems to me to be slightly naive and could be a negative step for Google. Why? How many of you out there actually touch type? What’s the point of displaying results changing on the screen whilst you’re staring at the keyboard? If you ARE touch typing then you normally have a search phrase in mind that you’re typing in – so I watch in amazement as Google starts trying to guess my intention after just the first few key strokes – and without fail gets it completely wrong until I have finished typing in the phrase I had in mind! Google should look at their own data – search strings are getting longer and longer as people get more savy about their searching and enter longer searches to get search results more appropriate to their needs. Showing search results based on just a few key strokes goes completely against this – and will give huge amounts of visibility to companies that happen to rank well for short phrases (which will probably all be big brands, due to the nature of the search algorithm).
To be fair it might well benefit one of the largest categories of searches made on the web: ‘navigational searches’ – this is where people don’t know, or can’t be bothered to type in, the url of the website they want. e.g. ‘www.websanity.co.uk‘, but instead just search for the company name e.g. ‘websanity’ and click on the first result in the list. I have read claims that these kind of searches account for up to a third of all web searches, and I’d say it was possibly over half judging by the typical Google Analytics results that I see for many clients – which often comes as a shock to many of them.
So, maybe with this change Google is recognising the volume of navigation searches and this will help more people than it hinders; either way Google Instant is going to make waves, but from an SEO point of view it just re-emphasises the importance of keeping plugging away at it and engaging with your clients through every possible channel.
Maybe they should give Google Instant a catchy strapline: “Search results – quicker, not necessarily better”?