From a technological perspective, what is most exciting for users is the intuitiveness of the system. As one Google engineer noted, the launch of “Google Instant” represents the single largest change to Google’s search services in its history, making search interactive, rather than passive. Moreover, this change is the closest the 12-year-old company has come to realizing its founders’ ambition of building a search engine that reads its users’ minds. As users begin typing, the search engine’s algorithms predict possible outcomes. As more characters are added, Google Instant shows in black the text the user typed, while “the prediction” text appears in gray. While Google Instant is revolutionary, what is even more exciting is the fact that this historical change is one of over 500 changes that Google has made to its search products since the start of 2010. These changes, have not only optimized users experience, but enabled the company to maintain a leading position within the competitive online space. Currently, more than 1 billion users now visit the site each week, and if predictions are correct, that number is set to grow.
While most of the commentary regarding Google Instant has been positive, it is important to note that the launch of the product has also introduced uncertainty into the search arena. Most of this uncertainty has centered around advertising and click through rates. The click-through rate that advertisers use to determine how often search engine users click on their messages is calculated by dividing the number of impressions of the ad that are served up divided by the number of clicks. But with Google Instant, identifying what exactly constitutes an impression remains unclear. Google says the average search query is 20 characters long, so in theory it could show 20 different sets of search results (with accompanying ads) each time a user types in a request. To adjust for this, Google says it will only record an impression once a set of results – and ads – has been displayed on the screen for three seconds. But will that be enough time to allow users to also take in the advertisements? While the three-second rule could be adjusted, Google executives recently admitted that they do not know how users will interact with search results, and consequently advertisements, particularly as the search experience migrates from a static to a fluid process. Will this uncertainty impact advertising revenues? Corporate profitability? If the new feature works as advertised, users should find their way more quickly to relevant results. On the other hand, if the new service complicates advertising effectiveness, practitioners of SEO and SEM may need to relearn the art of getting the right result and the right ad in front of users, while Google may need to introduce more refinements to ensure that it advertising revenues stabilize.