Feb
13
2011

Switch Off Google Instant Or Embrace It? The Pros and Cons of Google’s New Search Tool

Google Instant is Google’s latest update to its world-beating search engine. This remarkable new technology now anticipates the searcher’s query as it is being typed into the search box and delivers instant search results while the searcher is still typing. It’s an amazing thing to see all the results change moment by moment as you keep typing, but not everyone is thrilled. Is Google Instant a great idea, or are there problems here that we should all be concerned about? Should we just switch off Google Instant?

Google Instant Explained

Google has been giving us search suggestions for quite some time. The suggestion box appeared under the search query entry box as we entered search terms, and proposed related search terms based on Google’s counts of similar queries made by other users. It is important to note that these were merely suggestions that the user was at liberty to ignore – and many users did exactly that. But Google Instant takes this process much further. Now, unless the feature is manually turned off, Google will actually deliver the search results as you type, even if you’ve only entered a couple of characters. The idea here is to both speed up the search process and give you ideas you might not otherwise have thought of.

An integral part of this process is Google’s evolving capability to deliver personalized search results. Google keeps a record of every search you make (though not forever). It uses this history to anticipate what you are most likely to be looking for. This used to be quite apparent when you were logged into one of your Google accounts, such as Gmail, but is not dependent on log-in status as Google knows your IP address. This personalization even extends so far as ensuring that you are served Adwords ads that are tailored to your interests when you visit websites that display these ads (the Display Network).

The Benefits of Google Instant

There can be no denying the speed at which results are delivered, and Google’s competitors, Yahoo and Bing, have nothing that compares to this. Many people are simply blown away by the computing power on display here, and marvel at the volume of information presented as they type. Certainly, searchers will be exposed to web content that they had never expected, and in many cases this may lead to better outcomes for the end user. The process of searching becomes more of a two-way conversation between you and Google’s massive database, rather than a one-way flow of instructions. There is an element of interactivity here that is absolutely fascinating, and breathes new life into the search engine concept. Google has long been the dominant player in this market, and hopes that improvements such as Instant will solidify its lead. But are those hopes unfounded?

The Dissenting Opinions

A small but eloquent minority of web users and internet marketers are profoundly disturbed by the advent of Google Instant. Some people find it visually annoying to have the screen constantly changing. Some fear the impact this will have on keyword research for search-engine optimization, a task that bedevils many a marketer. And others resent the intrusion of Google into the user’s thought process, seeing it as a Big-Brother-like attempt to manipulate the outcome of the search process by steering the searcher in a direction not of his or her own choosing.

The most disturbing issue here is whether Google Instant will tend, over time, to deliver an increasingly limited number of popular search terms made apparently more popular by Google’s own presentation of those terms to searchers. At this stage, we don’t seem to know exactly how Google is going to count the number of times a particular term is searched for, but if terms are going to be delivered on the basis of popularity it is of paramount importance to tabulate these figures correctly. When the user used to hit ‘enter’ to make a search query, counting was easy. Now it is anything but. Do we count a term as being searched for if the user remains on Google’s suggested results for 10 seconds, 30 seconds, or what? Presumably, Google has an internal answer to this critical question, but they are not always keen to reveal their innermost workings for fear that marketers will attempt to “game” the system.

Should We Just Switch Off Google Instant?

Fortunately for the dissenters, there is an option to simply disable this new innovation. No doubt there will be a few defectors to Bing among those who only want a one-way conversation with their search engine. The time benefits of Google Instant are, in truth, insignificant to the average user and, as mentioned above, the new tool is simply too distracting and confusing for many people. Only time will tell whether Google is onto a winner here. Those who have their doubts – particularly in regard to Google’s possession of too much personal information about us – will find more grist for the mill on the following blog, which gets a little more heated and controversial than we want to be in the current article: Switch Off Google Instant.

 

Note: This article was originally published by this author at Google Instant Pros and Cons.

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