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This is a blog from the Internet Development Team at ILRT, Bristol. We build websites and web applications for a wide variety of customers, many in the UK higher education sector. Continue reading…

The art of now – instant search results

As technology gets faster and more efficient users expect information to be available almost instantaneously. The move to increasing the speed of information retrieval was emphasised recently when Google launched Google Instant.

What is Google Instant?

Google Instant is an enhancement to Google’s search interface. As you begin to type, Google analyses the letters you are entering in the search box, Google then tries to predict the whole word or phrase and begins returning search results. There’s no need to finish typing your search phrase or press the search button.

The result is a constantly changing set of search results that become more focused/relevant as you type. This makes searching more efficient because you can select the result that interests you as soon as it appears and without having to finish typing. You can also back track or add words to refine your search as you type.

For example, if you were searching for ‘windsor’ and the results were all for the town in the UK then you might start typing a new word beginning with ‘o’ after ‘windsor’, to get the search results to focus on Windsor, Ontario.

How will this affect my web site?

Reporting of impressions

One of the key changes is that, by displaying search results as a user types, the number of different pages/sites that a user may see during the course of typing a search query will increase. In response to this, Google has changed how they categorise impressions (a count of the number of times a page from your site appears in the search results) and this is likely to increase the number of impressions reported for search queries in Google Webmaster Tools.

Raised user expectations

The popularity of Google means that users may come to expect similar levels of engagement when using local site search tools. It is, of course, possible to do something similar at a local level but integrating this with existing site search tools may not be easy or cost effective.

Conclusion

Google Instant is an interesting development and one that could reduce the amount of time it takes for users to perform searches. However, there are a number of unresolved issues such as the loss of some functionality, raised user expectations for other web sites and accessibility implications such as how rapidly changing content on the page may affect users with a cognitive disorder.

See also: Search results in an instant – Virtual Training Suite blog

Kieren Pitts – Senior Analyst/Programmer

This entry was posted on 30th September 2010 at 10:35 am and is filed under Briefings. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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1 comment

  1. Google certainly got a lot of attention when they launched this functionality. I’m undecided if it will become the accepted norm or quietly disappear with other Google products. Whilst Google haven’t released a Instant search API or incorporated it into it’s Custom Search Engine (CSE) service some of the functionality can be replicated quite easily using Google’s Search AJAX tools http://www.rsc-ne-scotland.org.uk/mashe/2010/09/instant-cse/

    This page demonstrates how an instantised version of a CSE can be incorporated into my WordPress blog http://www.rsc-ne-scotland.org.uk/mashe/find.php

    Martin

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