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.