Google Instant – Does It Matter At All?

by seoibiza on 13, September, 2010

So now all the hubub and melodrama about Google instant has died down a bit and we’ve a little time to have a play with it, to watch traffic on various sites, read a few more sensible articles,  its all starting to seem like a lot of fuss about nothing at this point.

Firstly, as far as it’s affecting our actual searching, zero, because for several years now we have been using the top browser box on Firefox (with de-personalized search addons obviously)

depersonalized search is essential

We’ve watched traffic closely on two large high traffic sites, and less closely on many much smaller ones, and well, thankfully not very much has changed there, despite some interesting reports from various places.

The main thing we really wondered is whether people would actually:

  1. like it – there have been reports of car-sick style queaziness in usage
  2. even notice it, because the movement is mostly out of direct eyeline

Well having done the “Mum, come here, do a few searches for me..” test a few times with various  people’s mums since then, we’re fairly confident most mums wont notice any difference at all, for several years, if ever.

And this is also backed up in a slightly more scientific fashion by a great blog post (that we recommend you go read the whole thing) on the Essential Travel blog here No One is Looking at Google Instant and some (not so) striking results, partially quoted below.

“On Google, please search for anything you search regularly”

“Again on Google, please search for something you buy or need to buy online”

1. Users Are Unaware Of Google Instant Results

Not a single user in our tests clicked on the Instant search result in lieu of a selecting a site from the regular SERP.

Google Instant SERP vs Regular Serp

This is based on a sample of 14 searches performed by 7 users of mixed internet usage experience, with each one being asked to perform 2 searches:

Here is the heatmap version of the same search:

instant fail.

Evidently, users are so darned intent on getting to the end of their search phrase they have no inclination to gaze anywhere else.

As I mentioned, we’re working to increase our sample size, but let’s be clear about one consistent finding;

No clicks went to the Instant search result.

2. Our Users Did Not Utilise Google’s Suggested Search Terms


Of our 14 tested searches, 2 resulted in a selection of an auto-complete term. Interestingly, both times, it was the same user which suggests that search habits may be behavioural:

Google Autocomplete vs. Typing Whole Phrase

3. If Users Don’t Pay Attention To Google Instant, Does It Change Anything At All?

Google Instant changes Adwords profoundly. With regards to natural search, nothing changes for the moment.

As a wise colleague of mine pointed out, “as with all new features added to any website, if you don’t clearly point out the change and its benefits, not everyone will notice them never mind be impressed by them”. Average Joe doesn’t know Google Instant exists, and so long as your website is reliant on Average Joe, rather than Geekazoid Steve, you might not see a great deal of change in your traffic.

So we wont nick the whole post, although we almost have anyway, however as we’re relatively confident the Essential Travel crew are good lads and as we think they have nailed it exactly,  ie that this is is precisely the scenario we’re looking at with Google Instant,  we are very grateful someone applied eye tracking resources to back up what were previously only our strong hunches.

So the question has become:

If the SERPs move while you type in the middle of the Forest, but no-one sees them, do they really move at all?

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Phil Jordan 14, September, 2010 at 11:39 am

We decided to run the eye-tracking experiment as a sanity check. It seemed to us that our average customer probably wouldn’t “get” Google instant. We’re planning to put one or two videos of the experiment up on the blog soon so you can see how our subjects searched.


seoibiza 14, September, 2010 at 1:06 pm

Hey Phil

Indeed, as indicated by our not-so-scientific “mum” tests the “average” (ie non-web-savvy) user has no idea there’s any changes at all.

But as the comments on your post say, Google are not stupid and so we have to wonder what the actual business reasons for this are, and whether or not they have been successful.

and the last funny little side effect we have started noticing over here now (so could be a Telefonica exclusive of course) is that far from increasing overall search speed the Google homepage keeps freezing mid search and then coming back with instant switched off.

..and it never used to do that at all, on Google “slow” or whatever we should be calling the last version now.


Nemek @ Matter Solutions 15, September, 2010 at 12:37 am

I think that while some users might not notice the Instant results at all at first, eventually they will catch up that they don’t have to complete their search phrase to see the results.

And when (if) that happens we will see even more pressure to rank for (or bid on) the more popular searches than. I can see this happening especially when the phrases are very closely related (no change of intent, but change of wording, i.e. ‘consultancy’ might get cannibalized by ‘consultants’).

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