Google Instant – What’s it really about?

Everybody in the search world is talking about Google Instant and how great / bad / good / indifferent it is. Everybody has an opinion on it, even if that opinion is that they don’t have a clue what Google Instant is! Whether you are for or against Google Instant, there is no doubt that it has caused quite a stir in the industry. In fact, a couple of young programmers have achieved overnight fame by mimicking the technology and building YouTube Instant (Feross Aboukhadijeh) and ITunes Instant (Stephen Ou). But let’s get down to the nitty gritty…What does it mean for the world of search in general?

Well I for one, find Google Instant incredibly patronizing to searchers. Not only does Google now correct your spelling, but it also does your thinking for you – “You don’t want to search for that…You want to search for this!”. Of course, in reality I doubt very much whether it will influence searchers who, in many cases, already know what they want to search for before typing into the search bar. Of course, if your chosen search term appears in the results, then you may stop typing (saving you precious seconds)…but you could already achieve this prior to Google Instant by clicking on the suggested terms…

So, what does that leave us with? Well, the only remaining answer (in my humble opinion) is the cynical view that Google’s only goal is to generate more sponsored advert views. For every 2 – 3 word search term, instead of 1 page of sponsored listings being displayed, 4 or 5 pages of listings are displayed. Of course, these pages are unlikely to generate the same level of click throughs as non-instant Google results, due to the reduced length of time that they are displayed. In addition to this, it is unlikely to directly generate a large increase in advert revenue as people tend to set their daily / monthly budget anyway. So how is Google benefitting from this?

Well…the answer a cynic might give is that they are skewing the search data for AdWords customers. Think about this, you want to find out the number of monthly searches for a key phrase relating to your business and you see that only 50 people per month are searching for this, so you decide to leave it. However, if these figures showed you that 200 or 300 people searched each month, then you might be interested. The key here is that Google is opening up the doorway to adverts which are not even related to the customer’s search, and by doing this they are boosting the viewing numbers. They are also opening up the availability of space for more adverts, so whilst it is highly likely that assigned budgets will prevent Google from taking more money from each customer, there is now a greater opportunity for people to compete for the same key phrases.

The rise in search volumes will also, obviously, do the Google brand no harm at all and strengthen their position in the market. Bare this in mind, Google currently handles approximately 2 billion searches per day and in 2009 alone their advertising revenue was around $23 Billion (USD). With the potential now to multiply (or skew) the search volume 4 or 5 times that number (not taking into account their phenomenal natural growth) well… You do the maths!