Google has unveiled changes to the way it presents search results in what it described as one of the most significant updates in its 12-year history.
The new approach is intended to help users find results more quickly, though some search experts said that indirect changes to how users conduct their searches could also have a wider impact on the many businesses that advertise on Google or rely on traffic from the search engine.
The new feature, called Google Instant, displays full search results as users type in queries, without waiting for them to finish typing or to hit “enter”. “It’s searching before you type – we’re predicting what query you’re likely to do and giving you results for that,” said Marissa Mayer, Google’s head of search products and user experience.
The approach should shave two to five seconds off the average search, Ms Mayer said.
Sergey Brin, co-founder, said the technological advances that had contributed to the new feature highlighted “a little bit of a new dawn in computing”, as companies such as Google, Apple and Amazon experiment with new user interfaces to make it easier to find and use information.
Google said it could not yet determine how far Google Instant would change search behaviour, but some analysts said the impact of the launch could reverberate through the online economy that has built up around the Google search service. “It’s potentially enormously significant,” said Greg Sterling, a US search engine analyst. “Anything that changes the way people interact with search results will affect the many businesses that rely on search.”
He and other analysts said that search users could be drawn to the top results that Google returns as they type their queries, giving extra prominence to companies whose websites come out high in search results. By putting greater emphasis on the top results, the change could have important implications for any business that uses so-called search engine optimisation to try to gain prominence in search results, Mr Sterling said.
Google executives said the new feature should not change the search results that users eventually click on, since the underlying relevance algorithms used to determine the order in which results are shown had not changed.
Danny Sullivan, editor of Search Engine Land, an industry website, said that while the changes might have a marginal impact, suggestions that they would undermine current search engine optimisation practices appeared overstated.
Some analysts also predicted that the Google Instant would change the way that search engine users interact with advertising, since adverts will also appear linked to Google’s predictions about what a user is interested in.