A few weeks ago we discussed the then-new Google Instant, and the impact it would have on people’s search behavior. Well now, a month after its launch, the results are in.
So, what happened? Well a study was conducted that looked at search behavior a week prior to and a week following the launch of Google Instant. In that time, over 800,000 visits from various high traffic sites by search term length were examined, and they showed that there was virtually no change in the searcher’s behavior as a result of the Google Instant change.
Now, another few weeks have passed, Google Instant has become more familiar to users, and therefore results may have changed since that initial first week, right? Well, let’s see… This time, researchers looked at search behavior for the two weeks preceeding the Google Instant rollout, and for the four weeks after the change occurred. Over the total six week period, 2.7 million visits were analyzed (and that’s a LOT of analysis!).
Now, one may expect that after the rollout of Google Instant that there would have been a higher percentage of longer tailed keywords (because Google Instant “predicts” a longer tailed keyword than the user actually types in, if users were actually utilizing that result, they’d select the long tailed keyword that was predicted more frequently). Instead, there was little change demonstrated in the percentage of longer tail visits.
The most significant change seems to be that one word visitors seem to spend little less time on site, which may or may not have anything to do with the result of Google Instant. However, when longer tailed keywords are examined there were absolutely no changes in time spent on page or page views, suggesting that the belief that Instant would increase relevancy don’t seem to be correct.
The biggest change seems to be a 3% increase in the number of three word phrases to two word phrases searched for. So, yes, there could be a slight impact of Google Instant there, but it’s really quite small.
Overall, it appears that Google’s visitors haven’t really changed their search behavior at all since Instant was released. Maybe this is because the results suggested are not what visitors are actually looking for, or maybe it’s just that visitors know what they want to search for and don’t want Google’s interference.
Personally, Google Instant hasn’t changed much for me at all. If I want to do a search, I perform it normally. As I type fairly quickly, the amount of time it takes to type a single word is usually not much longer (if any) than the time needed to scroll through potential results (if Google doesn’t instantly provide me with the term I’m looking for).
For example, if I were to do a search for: “best weight loss diets”… the first thing Google does, when I’ve typed in the first two words, is suggest the term “loss”… well that’s exactly what I want, but I don’t want to search for “best weight loss” I want “best weight loss diets”… as a result, I can either type the next two words, or I can scroll down the suggestions, one of which is “best weight loss diets”. Now, as my fingers are on the keyboard, it’s just as easy to type the final two words as it is to either use my mouse to select “best weight loss diets” or the arrow keys to select the same term. And, ultimately, I’m still getting the exact same search result whether I type in those final two words or not.
However, I guess there are situations where I may not know exactly what I want to search for, and thus typing in a couple of words could provide me with good suggestions. Maybe. Or maybe not? Simply because when I perform a Google search, my typical behavior is to type in the search terms and hit the enter key. However, if I type in a search term now, even if the word appears that I want, if I hit the enter key it doesn’t work. I actually have to select the term with the mouse or the arrow keys, which is something I’m unlikely to do because it isn’t my habit to search that way.
Of course, I can’t speak for every single user of Google here. We all perform searches slightly differently, and where one may appreciate not having to type in an extra word or two, others will continue to perform their searches as they always did.
If you are a website owner though, and you are concerned that Google Instant may affect your site’s popularity, then make it work for you instead of against you. Type your own site’s most used keywords into Google and see what suggestions Google comes up with. Are you using those search terms on your site? If not, then do so! If your site is optimized to Google Instant’s suggestions, then you’ve got an even better chance of scoring a hit, particularly if the user in question does happen to like the suggestions offered.