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Today Google has launched a major update to it’s search engine results pages, or more specifically, the way they are retrieved.

The update, called “Google Instant” alters query retrieval so that search results will now be retrieved in real time as they are typed into the search box (with no need to hit enter or click ‘search’). For example, a person doing a search for “cornwall beach holidays” may see results for “cornwall” and “cornwall beaches” retrieved and displayed in real time while they typed in the search.

Google Instant SERP

The searcher will see the results for “cornwall beach holidays” as soon as it is typed, and if the results were not those expected, the search can be refined in one motion, for example adding “self catering” at the end of the query. In effect this speeds up and streamlines query refinement.

This is achieved using a technology called AJAX, which stands for Asynchronous JavaScript and XHTML. The data for each search is effectively ‘pushed’ to the page, using the same technology that powers things such as live weather data and breaking news tickers on news websites. A use of such technology would not have been feasible until recently on a site with such a broad appeal as Google due to prevalence of slow Internet connections. This update could quite likely have depended on the infrastructure and query time improvements delivered in the Caffeine  index/algorithm overhaul this year.

This is likely to have some significant effects on search. It’s likely to be the biggest and most obvious change to the way we search since the invention of PPC ads. I think it’s quite possible that searcher habits will noticably change, as will the way search volumes and data are reported.

Significantly, the algorithm shows autosuggested results rather than just what is typed in. For example, typing only the ‘c’ in cornwall in the search box brings up results for “craigslist”, the first autosuggested result. This could have a significant effect on keyword volumes for some searches.

A few other tweaks to SERPs have been noted around the net, such as increased whitespace between results.

It remains to be seen what effect these changes will have on search marketing. This could be a big winner for Google in terms of maintaining their dominance of the search market, and a change that their competitors may not have anticipated. But it could also be a red herring feature that drives users away to competitors like Bing.