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Google Instant Search: The Complete User's Guide

Google Instant promises to change the way people search. Speaking at today’s announcement, Google’s Marissa Mayer called it a “fundamental shift in search.” As with any big Google announcement, there are questions: Who can use Google Instant? Can I opt out or turn off Google Instant? Why am I not seeing it when I do a Google search?

Answers to those questions and more are below, in our Google Instant User’s Guide.

What Is Google Instant?

Google Instant is a feature that predicts what you’re searching for and shows results as you type. It uses Google’s autocomplete technology to show predicted search terms in a drop-down box, and begins to display search results below the drop-down.


As you continue to type, both the predicted queries and the search results change.

Google says there are three benefits to using Instant: faster searches (it saves 2-5 seconds per search according to Google research), smarter predictions that help guide user searches, and instant results that let the searcher see results without clicking a search button or pressing enter.

Where & When Is Google Instant Available?

Google Instant only works for searchers in the US or who are logged in to a Google account in selected countries outside the US:

Google Instant is starting to roll-out to users on Google domains in the US, UK, France, Germany, Italy, Spain and Russia who use the following browsers: Chrome v5/6, Firefox v3, Safari v5 for Mac and Internet Explorer v8.

If you don’t yet see it, you can try enabling it via this special URL:


Signing in to Google may also help enable it faster, too.

Additionally, it only functions on searches from the Google home page or from the search box at the top of a Google search results page. It doesn’t work

  • from your browser’s search box
  • from the Google Toolbar
  • from iGoogle
  • from other places that access a Google search
  • if you’ve previously disabled Google’s autocomplete feature
  • if you’re using Google SSL search
  • if you’ve disabled Instant (more below on this)

Google also says Instant will be automatically disabled when they can detect that a searcher has a slow internet connection.

Google Instant is not available yet for mobile searches, although Google promises that this is coming soon.

How To Disable Google Instant

Unlike some of its product/feature launches, Google has already built in a way to turn off Google Instant. In fact, they’ve built in two ways:

1.) There’s a small “Instant is on” link to the right of the search box on a search results page. You can click that link to toggle between “on” and “off.”


2.) On your search preferences page, there’s a new option at the bottom for Google Instant.


How Google Instant Works

Google Instant is localized. The predictions and search results that Google Instant displays will change depending on where Google thinks you’re located. In my case, if I begin to search for “hotels,” Google recognizes that I’m based in Washington state. The predicted queries are all state-focused, and even the second organic result is for a Seattle hotel.


Google Instant is personalized. As you can see from the above, that organic search result for Seattle’s Hotel Monaco is a result I’ve visited several times in the past. During today’s announcement, Mayer confirmed that web history and personalized results will flow into Google Instant.

Not Safe For Work content is filtered. Queries that may be considered offensive or lewd don’t work in Google Instant. In these cases, Google stops showing search predictions and search results, and instead displays a “Press Enter to search” message below the search box.


As you might imagine, there are some inconsistencies with how this aspect has been implemented, and no doubt Google will continue to tweak what it considers to be (in)appropriate for inclusion in Google Instant.

Does Google Instant “Kill SEO” or Impact Rankings?

In my opinion: no chance. As long as humans use search engines (like Google) to look for information online, that content will need to be optimized. A well-rounded approach to content development and optimization should actually benefit from Google Instant. More than SEO, it should impact how users search and find valuable information and/or the products and services they’re seeking. Good SEOs will adapt to any changes in searcher behavior that Google Instant brings about.

As for search rankings, Google specifically says that nothing’s changed:

The basics of Google search are the same, including how results are ranked and how Google determines relevant results.

Google Instant may also lead to higher impressions (in Google Webmaster Tools) for your web pages as they move in and out of Google’s search results as people type. For example, my U2 site may appear in the search results as a person types “u2 new” (as in “news” or “new album”), but it will disappear if that query becomes “u2 new zealand concerts.” Google has just published an explanation of how impressions will be counted with Google Instant:

  • the traditional count method – when your site is displayed in search results after a completed search
  • if the user begins to search and then clicks any link on the search results page, including an ad or “related search” suggestion
  • if the user stops typing and the search results appear for at least three seconds

Does Google Instant Ruin My PPC Ads?

As you can see from the screenshots above, targeted pay-per-click ads continue to show as they normally would. You might even notice on the “hotels” screenshot above that Google Instant showed a locally-targeted ad for a hotel in Spokane. Google says ads are now being shown for predicted queries, and the ads will change as searchers continue to type.

Google says ad impressions will only count in three situations (much like the organic impressions listed above):

  • the user clicks anywhere on the page after beginning to type a search query
  • the user chooses one of the predicted queries from Google Instant
  • the user stops typing and search results are shown for at least three seconds

For more on Google Instant and paid search, see our article, Will Google Instant Kill The Long Tail? Also, this AdWords help page may answer your questions about Google Instant.

Final Thoughts

What remains to be seen is how Google users will respond to Instant. And how many will adopt it — i.e., don’t a lot of people search right from their browser search box or from the Google Toolbar?

I’m somewhat suspicious of the claim that it speeds up searches; it seems to me that many users may actually be slowed down as they stop to read and consider all of the predicted queries and search results that are now being displayed automatically. On the other hand, I do think that it may train some users to be smarter searchers.

What are your thoughts on Google Instant? Comments are open.

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