Google’s web search (and web search infrastructure) team tries to do several things well:
- We try to return relevant, useful results. Hundreds of people work on lots of improvements to our ranking algorithms.
- We try to return your search results really fast.
- We try to improve our search user interface (UI).
The first three things aren’t highly visible. Average users might not notice changes like Caffeine (improved indexing) or a better algorithm to detect hacked sites–although we have seen effects like users searching more when we deploy a fresher index. A bunch of people at Google have come up with amazing ways to make your search results faster. We’ve shared many of those insights to help make the web faster as a whole.
A key insight behind Google Instant is that if we want to get people answers and solve their problems faster, we can help with that by improving our UI to help you formulate queries more quickly (and then doing a bunch of hard work under the hood to answer that query too). 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.
Here’s some additional questions, along with my personal take:
Q: Does Google Instant kill search engine optimization (SEO)?
A: No! Almost every new change at Google generates the question “Will X kill SEO?” Here’s an video I did last year, but it still applies:
Q: Will Google Instant change search engine optimization?
A: I think over time it might. The search results will remain the same for a query, but it’s possible that people will learn to search differently over time. For example, I was recently researching a congressperson. With Google Instant, it was more visible to me that this congressperson had proposed an energy plan, so I refined my search to learn more, and quickly found myself reading a post on the congressperson’s blog that had been on page 2 of the search results.
Ben Gomes mentioned this during the Q&A, but with Google Instant I find myself digging into a query more. Take a query like [roth ira v]. That brings up Autocomplete suggestions like [roth ira vs traditional ira], [roth ira vanguard], and [roth ira vs 401k]. Suddenly I’m able to explore those queries more just by pressing the up/down arrow key. I can get a preview of what the results will be, add or subtract words to modify my query, and hit enter at any time. The ability to explore the query space and find out new things will inevitably lead to changes for SEO. When I was in grad school, I had a professor who mentioned that peoples’ information need often change over the course of a search session. Google Instant makes that process even easier: people can dig into a topic and find out new areas to explore with very little work.
Finally, Steve Rubel’s headline on Google Instant Makes SEO Irrelevant is too big of a claim to be correct, but the point he makes is that Google Instant includes personalization, and personalization changes SEO. Well, that’s common sense in some regard (see this interview from 2007 where I make that point). But that doesn’t mean that SEO will die. I’ve said it before, but SEO is in many ways about change. The best SEOs recognize, adapt, and even flourish when changes happen.
Q: I don’t like Instant! I’m turning it off!
A: We provide that option right next to the search box, but I’d encourage you to spend some time with it first before you have a knee jerk reaction. Instant is a great way to learn more about things you’re not an expert on, and it can save you time. As the Google Instant page mentions, “If everyone uses Google Instant globally, we estimate this will save more than 3.5 billion seconds a day. That’s 11 hours saved every second.” With over a billion searches a day and over a billion users searching each week, that adds up to 350 million hours of user time saved a year. That’s 500+ human lifespans saved a year by this feature if everyone used it.