Are the new Google Instant Pages short-term responses when consumers need long-term solutions?
Last week, at the Google Inside Search event, the online advertising and search giant introduced several new features specific to mobile and desktop search. Google product events always have a curious cadence and this event was no different. Between raucous employees in the crowd and the painstaking effort to explain the smart technology behind the innovation, Google events can often obscure the real potential of the new features. One brief and obscure event element was Google's definition of search. Bing has positioned itself as a decision engine and Google has stepped forward and proclaimed that search is about removing barriers from what you seek, preventing your train of thought from being derailed.
One newly announced feature designed to do just that is Google Instant Pages. Instant Pages takes the Google Instant feature (launched last year) and moves the concept forward by anticipating the most popular searches and producing cached entry points with no page load delay. Not since Tom Cruise and Anthony Edwards proclaimed their undying need for speed in "Top Gun" has a duo seemed so singularly focused as Larry Page and Sergey Brin are with improving the speed of searching on Google.
Google Instant pages is the latest advancement designed to shorten the amount of time an individual user spends on a single query. There are billions of queries every month on Google, so the idea that a vast majority could be impacted for the faster is a compelling feature for Google and a technological advancement worth trumpeting. The problem is that Google is inexplicably obsessed with the immediate gratification moment of the individual search rather than viewing the lifecycle of a search journey.
Apparently, the way Google feels it can best assist in this manner is to speed up the search process for a user. That is helpful if what I am seeking is of a nature that one query or even one session is enough. But what happens when I need multiple data points from different sources to further my decision? Or when the realities of life, work, family, etc. interfere with my ability to drill into a topic. As I've said before, search is an output that comes from a personal desire to either discover new information or to reach a destination in our decision-making process. Either way, search is often a process or journey, and three seconds saved here and there are nothing to dismiss, but it is not what people ultimately will reward with future behavior and usage.
What people want is a search service that enables them to store and accumulate knowledge as they progress through the process. When conducting our latest Search and Social in the Purchase Pathway research, we found that consumers say they use search for pricing and product research. We also found that the average purchase in high consideration categories such as consumer electronics and cellphones had nine to 11 touchpoints between search and social media. This suggests that consumers will repeatedly search and use the channel for refinement as they become more educated.
Our findings also revealed that in the abovementioned categories, it was taking on average two months to reach a final purchase. And that data point is the one that suggests what Google is trying to do with Instant and now Instant Pages are short-term responses when consumers need long-term solutions. What users of search engines need is the ability to catalog their knowledge as they accumulate it. As people move from search to search over the course of weeks, not seconds, the ability to reference what they have found previously and what they clicked on can enable a more fluid and positive experience.
Google Instant Pages further enhance the destination phase of a searching pattern. I want to know the weather or events taking place in London next week and it will help me. But, the discovery phase that exists in an overwhelming majority of searches is still being underserved. Google states that it wants to help avoid the derailing of your train of thought, but it is building the track for the set with a short attention span and need for instant gratification. Enabling the track with a run long enough to serve this multi-step, multi-session journey consumers are taking to a conversion decision would be a truly ground-breaking effort worth speeding up development on for the market.
Chris Copeland is chief executive officer of GroupM Next.
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