In a bit of twist, Google topped its own search ranking lists this week with the release of Google Instant, which is essentially predictive text that guesses the user’s intent and offers search bar auto fill options and short-tail “instant” results.
But, the reviews are mixed. Some hailed it as useful, particularly for mobile where tiny screens and keyboards make typing a chore. Others wrung their hands over what this means to the multi-billion dollar SEO industry. Still others found it to be just another user-friendly annoyance to savvy tech wranglers who avoid Google Instant entirely by searching from a toolbar.
“Most folks in my circles don’t use the Google home page search,” said Eric Bryant, director of Gnosis Arts Multimedia Communications, an online marketing firm. “Rather, they use the search bar in a toolbar as I do.”
New .. again.
Whatever judgment ultimately befalls Google Instant, one thing it can’t be labeled as is “new”. Yahoo had the technology as far back as 2005 but was too timid to push it forward. Bing’s API also powered instant search services before and will likely do so again.
“The fact that the underlying technology and product of Instant Search pre-exists Google Instant doesn’t change the fact that it is a game changer, both for Bing and search engine marketers,” explained Brian Provost, a Search Marketing expert for Focus, a business research group. “It’s a total PR win for Google, as usual.”
Bing, said Provost, finds itself in a “no-win situation as users are now likely to demand instant search and Bing may simply not have enough data to do Instant as well as Google.”
Beyond general search competitors, vertical search engines have also had instant search long before Google’s “big” unveiling.
“The search functionality Google introduced to the general public this week has been available to ecommerce sites since 2009, and millions of consumers have already used it on sites like Abt.com,” said Sanjay Arora, CEO of Nextopia Software.
However, the point may be moot as users may choose habit over new and improved anyway.
“I don’t think you are going to see Google Instant affect market share for Google or for Bing,” said Rich Kahn, CEO of search engine and search marketing company eZanga. “So this is Google’s newest feature. People will likely be interested to try it out, but will settle back into their old search habits.”
What’s next for search
The prevailing prediction for the future is the expansion of semantic search, which adds user’s intent and the context of meaning to the search function. Google and Bing already use semantic search to some degree “so it may not prove to be a huge competitive advantage but it will definitely be a big boon to users” said Rakkhi Samarasekera, CEO of RS Security Consulting.
“HTML 5 allows for microcontent tagging,” explained Samarasekera. “XHTML never really worked because it was too hard, but with HTML5 you can now tag right in code, use autocode builders like blogging sites (Tumblr, Posturous, Blogger) and even microblogging and social network sites could integrate this automatically.”
The immediate future will also likely see image and music search, both mature technologies, finally come of age in multiple product offerings. The walled gardens of such sacred social media cows as Facebook will open as well. In fact, they are cracking open now.
“Real-time search, another new Google product at google.com/realtime, is in its infancy and attempts to index our social interactions online,” explains Lisa Raehsler, SEM Strategy Consultant and programming committee chair at Minnesota Interactive Marketing Association (MIMA). She said that if Google can link conversations across Twitter using the ‘Full conversation’ link, they will be able to link conversations across different social networks. “This will likely be a data miners dream and a personal privacy nightmare.”
Meanwhile, the future of search fuels many a debate across several fronts.
“Some people say the social graph, some say mobile search is next,” said Ben Fox, SEM and Content Editor for Appliances Online. “I’d say you’re asking the wrong question.”
Fox believes the next big change for search will come “with the next big change in the Web – whether that’s social media that pays you for taking part (like ); browsers with interfaces that are endlessly customizable and let you choose how you see the world; or, a translate function that totally removes language barriers — it’ll change the way we navigate the Web.”
A prolific and versatile writer, Pam Baker’s published credits include numerous articles in leading publications including, but not limited to: Institutional Investor magazine, CIO.com, NetworkWorld, ComputerWorld, IT World, Linux World, Internet News, E-Commerce Times, LinuxInsider, CIO Today Magazine, NPTech News (nonprofits), MedTech Journal, I Six Sigma magazine, Computer Sweden, NY Times, and Knight-Ridder/McClatchy newspapers. She has also authored several analytical studies on technology and eight books. Baker also wrote and produced an award-winning documentary on paper-making. She is a member of the National Press Club (NPC), Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ), and the Internet Press Guild (IPG).