Google Instant

So Google Instant rolled out on Wednesday and was closely followed by an explosion of tweets, blog posts, news stories and articles.

Believe it or not most people won’t even come across Instant results in their daily browsing.

Lets take a step back – What is Google Instant?

In short Google Instant is a streaming set of results that updates/changes as you type, you can have a go of Google instant here.

Google Instant is a great piece of technology, in that by using statistical probability Google predicts what you are searching for and with every letter typed automatically update the search results at the same time, whilst also minimising server load. The New Scientist team takes a brief look at Instant and look into server load.

Google states that Instant will save the average user between two and five seconds per search.

Google instant does not impact rankings. It changes the result set as you type.

Instant is Insignificant, currently

As I touched on earlier, currently Google Instant is insignificant and really shouldn’t be getting as much attention as it is. James over at Latitude in my view wrote the best post on Google Instant. His post looks at how many people will actually end up using Google Instant in the UK, and the figure is astonishing when you compare it to the amount of attention Instant has been getting in the news and the blogosphere – it’s 2.1% of the UK online population. Yep just 2.1%.

It seems the search community has panicked as Google launched a piece of technology where the impact is unknown; the result is hype and a lot of it. And with hype comes people rushing and publishing poor guidance and ‘what you must do now’ type posts. Given that Instant currently only affects 2.1% of the UK, are you really going to change strategy right now for an update that only affects 2.1% of the UK?

Let’s not forget that as this 2.1% of Instant users are signed into Google, they’re getting personalised results as well (a small percentage will have this feature disabled), but again another factor to consider.

If your target market is not the UK then I’d suggest crunching the numbers to see what the usage of Instant will be in the regions that you are targeting.

Even though Instant usage is small, PPC advertisers will see all impressions of three seconds or more counted as an impression, those of less than three seconds will not be counted.

The Future

As previously mentioned, currently Google Instant has a small user base and thus minimal impact. However all digital marketers should keep in mind that this is only the first stage in the roll-out:

  • Instant is yet to be launched on mobile and according to Google it will be released soon, which is important as mobile is a fast growth area for Google
  • Instant could be rolled out to all users in the future

Given the above two points we should all be monitoring web analytics to see what impact Instant has, if any over the coming months. Based on the results plan a strategy in the event that Google instant is fully released as default.

How do I track the impact of Google Instant

The analytics side of Google instant becomes slightly complex. In Google as we know it today, the keyword used in the search is passed as the referring keyword. With Google Instant the actual keyword typed is not passed as the referring keyword, instead Google passes the predictive keyword i.e. what the user typed in (the black text in the search box) + the grey predicted text that Google appends in the search box, this gives us the predicted referring keyword.

To track referrals from Google Instant in Google Analytics set up a new profile (this ensures you don’t screw up your main profile). To get close to accurate results have a read of the post by semetrical – the metrics they have setup will track the old style Google Suggest as well as instant, but it will give you an idea of the referrals from Instant.

In other analytics packages you should be able to setup a custom report where you show all keywords where the referring URL contains a parameter which is unique to Google Instant.

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