Google Instant – display results as you type

No, Google hasn’t branched out into groceries – yet. Google Instant is not a brand of coffee but a new search and display feature that shows changing results as you type your search. Google says that it is actually display before you type because it tries to predict your full strategy and delivers results for that search. As you add more terms the predictions and the results change:

“Google Instant is search-before-you-type. Instant takes what you have typed already, predicts the most likely completion and streams results in real-time for those predictions—yielding a smarter and faster search that is interactive, predictive and powerful.

The list of predicted searches – they are the same as Google Suggest – appears below your search box. If you spot a better strategy you can scroll down the list to select it.

Google Instant

I found that Google does eventually run out of predictions. In some cases it was after only three terms: in others it took seven or eight before Google gave up but carried on changing the results as I typed in extra terms. If you are a more experienced and advanced searcher who uses search commands such as ‘filetype:’ or ‘site:’ you are suddenly presented with a blank page. This totally confused me at first and I thought that Google simply did not have any results for my search. In these situations Google reverts to ‘old style’ search, so just carry on as normal and press enter to view your results.

Note: You have to be signed in to your Google account to see Google Instant.

Not everyone will have Google Instant right now:

Google Instant will become the core search experience on for Chrome, Firefox, Safari and IE 8. We’ll also be offering Google Instant to our users in France, Germany, Italy, Russia, Spain and the U.K. who are signed in and have Instant-capable browsers. Over the coming weeks and months, we’ll work to roll out Google Instant to all geographies and platforms.”

I am guessing that IE 6 is not included in the “all geographies and platforms” as Google has already withdrawn support for it in some of its other services, for example YouTube.

The idea is not new. AlltheWeb – owned by Yahoo – was trying out a similar approach with its Livesearch a few years ago. I found it extremely useful because you could quickly spot if you had a gone a search term too far. The progression might go: OK-ish results, relevant, even better, superb, total rubbish. It was then easy to remove the last term you had typed in to get back to your superb results list. When further development of AlltheWeb stopped Livesearch was discontinued.

Alltheweb Livesearch

Another good idea abandoned by Yahoo and later taken up by someone else. Some of you may also remember Yahoo Mindset which gave you a slider bar to change the emphasis of your results to find more shopping or research oriented pages. Google now has a fewer/more shopping sites option in the left hand menu on its web results pages.

My first impressions are mixed. Sometimes the predictions work, sometimes they don’t and I don’t find it as easy to take in the changing display as I did with AlltheWeb Livesearch. I think that is because Livesearch had the search box on the left hand side of the screen and I find it easier to glance across the page rather than down to monitor what is happening to my search.

Find Google Instant distracting and want to turn it off? Either sign out of your Google account or click on the Settings link in the top right hand corner of the screen. The option to turn it off is at the bottom of the Settings screen.

Further information is available on the Official Google Blog –  Search: now faster than the speed of type

9 thoughts on “Google Instant – display results as you type”

  1. Update on turning Google Instant off: an option is now appearing next to my search box on the results page which says “Instant is on”. Click on this and you can scroll and select “Off”.

  2. I have played with Google Instant. I don’t like it one bit. Your analysis seems to have overlooked the reason why Google Instant is there. Why is google trying to give us instant search suggestions? More money from more searches – AND without giving you the option to turn it off – show me a Google homepage where you no longer get search suggestions (I managed it but by banning a bit of Google javascript – But, having reviewed the feedback so far on Google’s forums, most DO NOT LIKE the fact that you no longer can turn off autocomplete (search suggestions). I have never selected search suggestions as I find it intrusive that Google thinks it can tell me what I want to search for. In any case, Google’s trying to get me to select a pre-determined keyword phrase that makes it the most money in its advertising. Google has turned into a monolithic beast of a machine, ignoring the reason it set up in the first place. Unless Google enables the ability to turn off search suggestions, watch as droves head to Bing.

  3. Hi Paul,

    Many thanks for your feedback. Google Instant can be turned off but you are right in that Google have removed the option to stop Google query suggestions from the Settings page. You can still do it if you use Google SSL at but that is no help whatsoever if you want to use a country version of Google as I often do. To be honest I rarely pay any attention to the suggested queries and most of the time I start my search from the Google Toolbar where I have suggestions turned off. More irritating to me is that Google Instant only gives you 10 results per page, turns off the Wonderwheel and messes up several of my Firefox add-ons.


  4. HI Karen

    I agree with you that Google Instant is seriously distracting, and for that reason I would be surprised if it survived to a non-logged-in rollout. Unless of course, as Paul said, the financials are too good to miss. That said, Google is in the business of user satisfaction and won’t do anything to harm that. Otherwise it’s a long steady road to loss of market share.

    And although I don’t like it myself, this cloud has a silver lining in that the top recommendation for ‘hypnosis’ it ‘hypnosis downloads’, which benefits our site nicely 🙂

    All the best


  5. Hi Roger,

    I agree that it will all depend on the majority of users’ responses. I have switched off Instant because I want to be able to see more than 10 results per page and I find the wonderwheel a useful way of identifying and exploring alternative strategies. But if most people continue to find Google delivering relevant results at or near the top of the list then Google’s market share is safe (as long as Bing-Yahoo or someone else comes up with something totally mind-blowingly fantastic!). And as you and Paul say if it benefits Google’s revenue stream it stays.

    Interesting that your site is benefiting from the changes. I’ve just noticed that traffic to my own pages via Google has increased significantly since Instant started. It may be a coincidence and I need to look at the stats in more detail to try and see what is going on. I’ll probably end up none the wiser though and the stats may drop back down to previous levels.

    The one thing about it that is now really beginning to drive me mad is that there is no way I can predict how Google is going to behave when I do in-house workshops. It is so browser version dependent. But then the results I see on a training room PC when I an doing a demo are always totally different to those I see on my own pc 🙂

  6. Hello all
    These comments refer to Google Suggest, Google instant is not displayed.
    My operating systen is XP Pro SP3 + latest updates.
    My browser is IE8 + latest updates.
    Google Suggest cannot be turned of as it could in IE6.
    I have found that on my system typing a + or – sign first then your search words stops Google Suggest drop down box. It seems a pain at first but you soon get used to it. Hope this is useful.


  7. Hello Karen
    Glad it helped.
    I’m am a very old boy and get more and more set in my ways, almost by the day but I have never liked being told what to do or people telling me what they think is best for me. I like to decide for myself. The way that Google have set this Google Suggest / IE8 combination up have taken away a choice that I feel I need. Typing a + or – sign first then my search words after it, I meant to say straight after it – no gap, is a small price to pay to get my choice back.
    Take care

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