Google Instant Is Anything But a Time-Saver

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at least three pages of preliminary results, for Skype, Safeway, and Sausalito.) That means there are many, many more opportunities to stumble across something you weren’t really looking for, but that might interest you anyway.

“They are making the bet that users are going to be interested in having their question change on them in mid-typing,” says Ray Grieselhuber, the founder of GinzaMetrics, a Mountain View, CA-based startup developing a real-time search engine optimization (SEO) platform. “It may speed up each individual search, but it may cause you to spend more time searching in general. Which is great for Google…When you look at it in that light, it makes a lot of sense.”

Why would Google want you to distract you with stuff you didn’t know you wanted to know? Lots of reasons. The company might, for example, be looking enviously at Facebook’s stunningly high time-on-site statistics—32 minutes per visit, according to Alexa, compared to just 12.8 minutes for Google. (Update: ComScore reported today that Web users spent 41.1 million minutes on Facebook in August, which was more than the 39.8 million minutes they spent on all of Google’s sites combined.) It wouldn’t be surprising if the company were working on various ways to make more interesting as a destination site—a place where you might want to spend a little time exploring before you click off to the next page.

And don’t forget that Google is run by computer scientists who get a kick out of anticipating people’s information needs. In a now-famous (and oft-misinterpreted) remark to the Wall Street Journal, Google CEO Eric Schmidt said, “I actually think most people don’t want Google to answer their questions. They want Google to tell them what they should be doing next.” I don’t think Schmidt meant to come off as Big Brotherish; he was just saying that Google ought to supply information tailored to whatever users are doing, at the instant they’re doing it. Matt Cutts, head of the team at Google that’s responsible for detecting spam sites, made the point this way in a blog post about Google Instant on Wednesday: “Peoples’ information need[s] often change over the course of a search session. Google Instant makes that process even easier: people can dig into a topic and find out new areas to explore with very little work.” The more new areas they find, of course, the longer they’ll spend on Google—and the more likely they’ll eventually click on an ad, earning Google a pay-per-click fee.

Let me be clear: I’m not suggesting that Google Instant is simply designed to draw out the search process. For certain kinds of highly goal-driven searches, such as product searches, it may be faster than the old method of typing out your whole query, then waiting to see what comes back. But if you’re open to suggestions—well, you’re about to get a lot more of them.

“Search intent is a big part of the equation in whether this is really helping efficiency, or increasing the time that you’re searching,” says Jim Yu, CEO of BrightEdge, a San Mateo, CA-based SEO startup I profiled in June. “If I’m looking for size 12 Air Jordans, this gets me much closer to buying something faster. If I’m in research mode and just trying to find information about a topic, it’s going to get me a broader set of topics.”

2. The AdWords Theory

Even before Google’s press conference was over, the blogosphere was buzzing over the question “Is SEO dead?” In its white-hat version, anyway, SEO is the process of adjusting the content of your website so that people can easily find it through search engines, using the keywords that would come to their minds most naturally. The answer most experts are giving to the question is that … Next Page »

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Wade Roush is a contributing editor at Xconomy. Follow @wroush

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