My Thoughts About Instant Search

You might have noticed that google is rolling out its instant search feature. Although the hype is over


I am writing here and now my thoughts about this old news enhanced with some background information gained through jetwick. First, a screenshot of google instant in action:

(Click to Zoom)


This search is called ‘search before you type’ – it will trigger a search from the first suggestion it gave to you and so, it can guess your intent of the query and delivering matching results faster. At least this is what google hopes. In the example google will get wikipedia from the suggestion and trigger a ‘wikipedia’ search instantaneous.

‘Search as you type’ or ‘incremental search’ is an old idea and not really useful for web content, I think. Even google implemented this some months ago for other products – that idea also contains a bit of the new ‘search before you type’ feature.

Now one might think that the ‘search before you type’ is what google-developers can be proud of, but google-developers are not the first guys who ‘invented’ this, there were/are nearly equal examples from Yahoo in 2006 (!):

Watch it in fullscreen, please :-)


or via Bing API from Long Zheng:


(And there is a video of the officials from Bing too, showcasting its ‘new’ stuff)

The main difference is now that only the google-leads takes the risk to deploy this feature to its main site in all countries! BTW I’m sure: if it does not work as expected for the users or SEOs, google will remove it (or un-default it) after a certain time interval.

But maybe this big change is not so big as google hopes and not so many users will use this feature (you can turn it off) or weren’t affected because they are already using scroogle or their browser’s searchbox. My guess is that ‘google instant’ was and is a really nice and brave marketing campaign: a lot of news appeared about this feature in the last week. Even ‘old school’ newspapers like zeit.de or our local one had a whole site for it (and humph, yes, I am making indirectly advertising too for them now :-/). So without any additional dollars google polished its image a bit after being wrinkled in the last weeks (Network neutrality, street view here and there in Germany, …).

My personal experiences

The performance of google’s implementation is really great. No, only one word is necessary: fantastic! I know, that must be that hardest part of the whole thing and that’s why they roll it out partially.

BUT: I don’t like to be interrupted while typing. And displaying new results again and again are definitely an interruption. It’s a nice way to advertise similar sounding terms or for people wasting their time with browsing or searching for things. For me this means that I’ll see the stackoverflow site after 6 characters instead of 13 + ENTER. For me this is not a big benefit – I’m fast at typing – and it doesn’t weight out the disruption (ok, I’m using scroogle in my firefox searchbox, but thats another topic). So, I prefer the version of Long Zheng a lot, where you have to select the suggestions to update the results. With this version you would type 6 characters and select the suggestion – a very useful feature which I am missing at google! I like it that much that I implemented it for jetwick.

Another design issue with google’s instant search feature is the following. To see all results – including the first – the results have to be displayed below the suggestions. Compare this to the normal search where the suggestions overlap the first result(s). The problem now is that the number of suggestions will vary – depending on the query and as a consequence the results are moving up and down. The Yahoo and Long Zheng’s solution mentioned above, solved this easily: they put the search box on the left and the results on the right. I’m not sure if this is the best solution because the search terms sometimes can be lengthy, but its better than google solution.

At the end I am curious about three things:

  1. How yahoo/bing, ask.com and all of google’s competitors will follow … ok, if they want follow at all ;-)
  2. The difference of google’s electricity bill (or in tons of CO2)
  3. The main ‘abc’ companies. Ah, okay someone already did this job ;-)

Updates

Chrome will implement the same feature.

Bing is a decision engine.

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4 thoughts on “My Thoughts About Instant Search

  1. Interesting points. Bing’ response seems to be that they are not as concerned about speed of results as Google, rather they are a decision engine and so want to get the right result to their users, not flooding them with so many options.

    I agree that there has been such a lot of buzz around Google Instant but has everyone really seen it – a lot of people use their toolbar to search, or may not be logged in and so haven’t seen it or, like me, use the firefox google home page – some people may just be switching it off as it is quite annoying.

    The fact that Yahoo and Bing did not roll out the technology they had but Google had the balls to do it suggests that Google will stick with it. The new story around Yahoo seems to be that there was no big bucks developer support.

    Thanks for the great post and the link to the ABCs

  2. This is a clear attempt to increase the money made through PPC ads! You now have to go through 7 times more ads than before to get to the actual results that you are looking for because it does a new search with new sponsored links for every letter.

    As mentioned before, there are some searches that now, due to the space taken up by STUPID suggestions, now only show 1 or maybe 2 actual search results instead of paid ads above the fold. Meaning you have to scroll down to see any actual results, which defeats the whole purpose of Google instant.

    This is definately the worst update Google have ever done. It is pointless and cumbersome. I do not want to be told what to search for. I also do not want Google to search things for me of which I have no interest.

    If you went to a restaurant with someone and they ordered everything for you without knowing what you liked it would probably drive you mad, i know it would me.

    Google, we all know how to use a search engine. We do not need to be told what we should be searching for, we have managed fine up until now. Get rid of Instant or your already falling market share of search could be irreparably damaged. Bing is now offering a great service and is a real competitor.

    Do you even remember what a competitor is? Because you better remember, and fast, or your stupid gimmicky updates are going to detroy your position as the top search engine.

    I really hope that you do sort this out, remove instant, and apologise for the moment of madness. We will, on the whole, forgive you and people will still use you (or come back) but do not let anything like this happen again. You are on your final warning now Google. One more “great idea” and they will be partying in Bing headquarters I assure you!

    To conclude, get rid of “Google Instant” and maybe do some better market research before trying to “improve” search in the future.

  3. Ben- your comment made me laugh, a lot! I love the ranting on Google Instant. It is extremely annoying to know that the only reason Google rolled out with it is for the increase in revenue from Adwords they will now undoubtedly see – already their largest revenue stream. For years, Google have told us to focus on the longer-tail where we see conversions but now we will all need to bid on stubby short words in order to appear earlier in the user search landscape which will be expensive and competitive (likely to be competing against a wide variety of verticals that are not from the same sector).

    The other impact, only smaller resolutions, appears to be more sponsored links above the fold therefore a higher likelihood that users will click on the sponsored links, as these appear below the suggested terms.

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