Google Instant provides the clearest evidence for years that Google is still prepared to throw its engineering might – and its wallet – into raising the stakes in the search business.
This turns out to be more than the one-off launch that we wrote about last month. Rather, Instant has become a rolling series of changes that together amount to a very sizeable challenge to anyone else who wants to stay in the search business long term (are you listening, Microsoft?)
This is how Johanna Wright, director of product management for search, described the latest twist to Instant, unveiled on Tuesday: “We’ve had to take images of every page on the Web, and to know where every word on the internet sits.”
If Google Instant is everything that Google hopes it will be, the entire industry of search engine optimisers and marketers has some work to do.
The new search feature, launched at a slickly staged event at San Francisco’s Museum of Modern Art (Google is finally learning some of the Apple magic), predicts a user’s intent and returns results as a query is being typed. With each additional keystroke, Google says it can make a fresh calculation of the most likely search query and show instant results.
In theory, as Googlers on hand like Marissa Mayer and Sergey Brin were quick to point out, this should make no difference to the eventual results or the adverts that users click on. The ranking algorithms remain the same. But in practice, Instant could have far-reaching effects.