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Google Instant certainly ranks as one of the biggest user experience changes Google has implemented since it launched Google search more than a decade ago. And for that reason, it has attracted a lot of press attention, and sparked a significant amount of conversation among search experts.

But is Google Instant really little more than a convenient distraction that masks Google's flaws? Some are essentially arguing just that.

Last week, Danny Sullivan at Search Engine Land detailed how Google's "'focus on first' helps hide [its] relevancy problems." He argues that Google survives because, for the most part, "a few good answers are good enough," and Google generally offers up the good answers where they count: at the very top of the very first page.

But peruse results two through ten, and beyond, and any notion that Google has relevance down is liable to be tossed out the window. Sullivan notes, for instance, that a search for 'search engines' doesn't even bring up Google, and demonstrates how top sites for the keyword 'SEO' seem to be there in large part because they have an abundance of questionable backlinks. It's something I've written about before; for all of the talk about paid links and spam, Google generally seems to do a very poor job at catching individuals who use black hat shenanigans to propel their sites to the top of the SERPs.

Interestingly, Sullivan's opinion of Google Instant and relevancy has some relationship to what Microsoft's Bing director, Stefan Weitz, told USA Today:

We have a fundamentally different philosophy about how search is evolving. It's not about giving you much more links faster, it really is about getting you the information you need to make a decision faster in the format that makes the most sense.

In other words, Google Instant may display results fast, but consumers are less interested in the speed of the search than they are how quickly it ends. Obviously, it's debatable whether or not Microsoft's 'decision engine' helps consumers find what they need any faster than Google, or more accurately, whether Microsoft can convince consumers that Bing can help them find what they want faster than Google.

But even so, the point still stands: Google Instant really isn't improving the quality of search results; it's simply displaying a bunch of links to consumers a lot more rapidly. The question now is whether consumers will find instant gratification in the UI eye candy Google Instant provides, or whether they instinctively know that the more Google changes, the more it stays the same.

Photo credit: smemon87 via Flickr.

Patricio Robles

Published 13 September, 2010 by Patricio Robles

Patricio Robles is a tech reporter at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter.

2393 more posts from this author

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Tom Albrighton, Digital and SEO copywriter at ABC Copywriting

As I blogged here, I think Instant will tend to divert users from an intended long-tail search towards the more generic search results that appear as they type. This is particularly likely if their search modifiers (e.g. place-names) fall after the main/generic term in their phrase. 

The result could be traffic leakage from niche results back to the 'big names' who dominate generic search results. 

almost 6 years ago

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Simon

Glad it's not just me that thinks that Google's search / relevancy algorithm is not all it's cracked up to be. Backlinks are are so easy to game it's almost funny. In fairness though, it does work well enough in most cases. At least, better than anything else currently does. No doubt a better search engine algorithm will be found - probably one that actually understands the documents in the index and understands what the user actually means by his / her search terms and matches the two more intelligently. I've always thought that http://www.conceptsearching.com had an interesting approach to search.

almost 6 years ago

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Phil Cross

I agree, a greater focus on relevance and quality rather than simply speed would be nice; however, I can't help but be drawn to the quote from Stefan Weitz;

"it really is about getting you the information you need to make a decision faster"

Now Bing just needs to start showing results that don't look like the came from a 'random results page generator' and it'll have some room to talk ;)

almost 6 years ago

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James

Instant search is in line with Google main KPis on search - in that it gets you results quicker and means you can use shorter search strings - however ive found it varies in effectviness from distration to enhancment based on Bandwith at your locaiton and the complexity of your search.

So if you have a slow bandwidth, type slow or you are searching for a long or obscure string all the changes on the page can be distracting. However if you speed type or have a simpler search it tends ot be an enhancment.

Its also a great thing to waste time on with... guessing how many letters you will needot type to get a result. try it here http://www.googleinstantsearchcasino.com/

almost 6 years ago

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Y.Goulnik

either way, Google proves again how disruptive it can be to brand owners.

almost 6 years ago

John Courtney

John Courtney, CEO and Executive Chairman at Pay on Results SEO, Content Marketing, Social Media, Digital PR, PPC & CRO from Strategy Digital

"for all of the talk about paid links and spam, Google generally seems to do a very poor job at catching individuals who use black hat shenanigans to propel their sites to the top of the SERPs." Yes, companies openly buying and selling links, it does no-one any favours. Expect Google to clamp down on them big time and know that there is another BMW-like ban coming. Fortunately, there are good quality, approved methods of getting links including quality directories, social bookmarking, articles, blog posts etc.

almost 6 years ago

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William Contestabile

After asking several average Google users i have found that all of them think about what they are going to enter, enter it fully and don’t stop when Google starts bombarding them with results almost all of them are confused by the flickering results. They say that it’s very distracting and annoying. I have to agree with this, it’s nothing special really more annoying than anything for them and for us!

almost 6 years ago

Ed Stivala

Ed Stivala, Managing Director at n3w media

IMO Google seem to have overlooked the basic reality that sometimes making something faster is actually of no real benefit what so ever. Whilst Instant might be "faster", does anyone really care? 

From my simplistic viewpoint, traditional Google acting as a massive table of contents for the internet is useful. Instant seems a rather pointless addition to me. When you then take into account the possible issues around PPC and so on it all starts to look like a straightforward bad idea.

Is it still a "Beta" product? If so it might never make it to full release status ;) 

almost 6 years ago

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Chelsea Blacker

Agreed William. Perhaps I don't hold enough faith in the normal user, but I believe Google Instant is overwhelming, as well as distracting to viewers.  While it does lend people a "bigger" picture of what a topic encompasses by showing suggestion results as you scroll down the suggestions, it's still distracting. 

almost 6 years ago

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http://www.metalfrogstudios.com/

I think that this change will over time end up either being bined or just have more people moving over to Bing to find want they need.

almost 6 years ago

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Rob

Forgive me... but have Google just done something that makes us think a little harder? Why not let the users decide whether it's good or bad. Google are normally pretty good at recognising a failure - and it's their problem if it is. I find it quite handy to be able to refine a search term and get instant results without doing anything else. helps me get to the long tail quicker - then when I've found a set of results which is most relevent I then start to browse. Far from take me less time, it takes me more, but I also get what I want. Search 'experts' may just have to try a little harder at developing useful content and thinking about the long tail.

almost 6 years ago

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Jos Williams, Marketing Director

I'm not so sure about the long tail comments.  My experience with Instant is that in typing the generic I immediately see more relevant key words and it's probably easier to choose from them than it was to think of the right key words in the first place.

Example:  type 'contact lenses' and you will immediately see 'contact lenses uk', 'cheap contact lenses uk'.

Of course, it also shows 'contact lenses tesco' - which probably means it will help the big beasts and start to support incumbents.

I wonder when you will be able to pay for instant sort order positioning?

almost 6 years ago

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Mark

Most of the time the first letters in my search query are too broad and Google Instant doesn't return anything relevant to what I'm looking for, making the first several results distracting and annoying. The main reason I use Google instead of Yahoo or Bing is for its simplicity, and this just irritates me. The suggestions auto-completion they rolled out recently is definitely helpful, and that's all I really need. I'm beating Google would have put a lot of time, effort and money into Instant. And even if the stats show users are not benefiting or simply don't like Google Instant, Google will be too proud to admit they got it wrong, and Instant will be here to stay - let's wait and see!

almost 6 years ago

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Developerholic

I turned Google instant off. They annoys me. i feel like Google is reading my head. yay!

Also, my connection is slow, another reason for me to turn it off

almost 6 years ago

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Andy Hussong JV Attraction Formula

It helps a bit and it really saves time because I don't need to type in the complete keywords that I'll search for since Google Instant automatically generates probable terms

almost 6 years ago

Naval Kumar

Naval Kumar, Founder & CEO - ABSEM Limited at http://www.absem.com/

We provide SEO Services and from an SEO point of view, I agree. But from a PPC Management point of view, we did see our client account impressions increase and hence CTR decrease.

over 5 years ago

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seo agency

I think google movements are just fine, we just need to be flexible.

about 5 years ago

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