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Google Instant: Could It Be Instantly Successful Globally?

Google Instant certainly got everyone talking. Just about every SEO and blogger worthy of mention felt it necessary to comment on this new innovation, so of course Multinational Search has to take its turn too. But rather than merely speculate, we can use comScore’s release of findings on the impact of Google Instant in the US to give us some pointers and answer some questions for the rest of the world.

comScore’s qSearch product takes a very interesting approach to evaluating search volumes. With Google Instant updating search results sometimes with every keystroke, if every result was counted Google could claim it had increased its share of search, when in fact the increase was due solely to the same number of people carrying out exactly the same number of searches.

Does Instant Affect Search Market Share?

comScore recently updated its description of how it measures share, introducing a new concept called “explicit core search”. What comScore is trying to do with this is measure the “explicit” searches which really means the share of searches which have been intentionally made by the user, rather than results automatically offered by the search engine. To do this, they have taken account of the fact that some searches which have been automatically and predictively offered by the search engine may result in the engagement of the searcher en route—even though this was not their original search intention. This is done by taken note of “pauses” during the search session (you might like to note that the next time someone offers you a coffee during your Google search session, you might be adding to Google’s apparent search share!).

According to comScore’s September release on US search share, in terms of total search volume, Google gained 2.4% during the month, but its share of the new concept of “explicit core search” increased by only 0.7%. Google Instant is still relatively new, of course, but it looks like we should expect an increase of 1.7% in Google search share purely as a result of the automated queries being added to the total—and a lower increase of under one per cent for the new attraction that is “instant.”

Rolling Out Instant To The World

Now that we’ve put that little analysis to bed, we can consider the impact of Google Instant on the rest of the world. Google is planning to spread Google Instant throughout the world but its first locations in the initial launch were the UK, France, Germany, Italy, Russia and Spain in addition to the US. Actually, if you use Google.com in other countries, and have enabled Google Instant in your settings, you can see Google Instant everywhere as I proved in a recent experiment from a hotel room in Prague. But it won’t appear in your local version of Google and it may be turned off if Google considers that your internet connection is too slow.

One quick aside from a UK perspective: I was somewhat amused by Google’s choice of the name “Google Instant” as in the UK “instant” has become a somewhat pejorative term for products that are quick—but of poor quality. “Instant coffee” is not something you would offer to your guests. If you had no choice but to offer that, you’d probably name the relevant brand name or say “I’m sorry we only have instant coffee.” I wonder if that will evolve into “I’m sorry, we’re only getting access to Google Instant…?”

It’s interesting that Google chose to include Russia in its initial launch—a market in which they’re not number one. This is clearly an aggressive marketing act on their part and I was prompted to write this post following a conversation with a senior source at Yandex (the number one search engine in Russia) who reported to me that “instant” has had little impact on market share in Russia so far.

Instant Linguistics Or Not?

For me, the interesting question concerns whether the Google Instant approach works linguistically, or whether certain languages and cultures will, for whatever reason, find it to be either a significant advantage or disadvantage.

In this context, we have to mention mobile search. Google Instant is not rolling out to mobile search platforms—yet. Google fully intends to do this. For me, this is probably when the world will really discover the power of Instant. With miniature keyboards and large clumsy thumbs and fingers at work, I think mobile search shares will be significantly impacted in Google’s favor. This will also have a significant impact globally because there are many markets where the “web” is accessed much more frequently via mobile than via desktop for the simple reason that mobile infrastructures work when the landline versions don’t deliver. There are many examples of this in the far east, Africa and Latin America.

Instant will also have an impact on cross-cultural searches. In other words, people who are searching in languages that are not normally their own, will find the suggestion facility a great help. Arabic-speakers, for instance, have been known to search happily in English but have appreciated the help given to them by search engines to correct the spellings so they get the correct English result. (I’m not suggesting that Arabic speakers have more problems spelling than others; rather, switching from left to right to right to left spelling isn’t easy and in any case this is more to do with a high proportion of Arabic speakers getting an English education than other cultures!)

Ubiquitous China?

Chinese searchers, however, may find Google Instant less appealing. For a start, it almost certainly won’t be available in China anytime soon for purely political reasons. Additionally, when a language has thousands of characters—rather than an alphabet of 20 to 30 characters—simply inputting characters becomes more complex and can involve multiple key strokes to create one character. The process of inputting those characters can often involve choosing a selection of possible options from a box on the screen obscuring everything that goes on behind it.

For such searchers, the benefit of Google Instant is likely to be less obvious. It’s also true that in many cultures that use alphabets other than English, the searcher has to constantly switch between alphabets even to navigate the web. This involves a lot of looking at the keyboard and the feedback from Russia is that this might be a factor in the limited impact of Instant for Russian-speaking searchers. It will certainly be interesting to see how this evolves going forward.

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