Google changes the game… again

While today’s big Google Instant announcement doesn’t directly affect what we’re doing here at Strangeloop, it’s still incredibly exciting because it validates our core value proposition: Speed matters.

When Google (or Google!, if you want to be a stickler) first launched back in 1998, it took a radical new approach toward search engine ranking. At the time, other engines ranked results according to how many times the search keywords appeared on the page. But Google’s Larry Page and Sergey Brin theorized that search results would be more relevant if they were determined by how many other sites (and the authority of those sites) linked to a page.

While page relevance has no doubt been a huge factor in Google’s success, it’s arguable that this success is also due to the fact that — between its sleek interface and zippy performance — it has always been committed to delivering a fast, user-friendly experience. Before Google Instant was unveiled, the average search query on Google took just under one second, which is pretty great. I’ve been doing all of my searches today via Google Instant, and my slowest result has been 0.3 seconds. Super great.

But great as all that is, it’s not the real game changer. In my opinion, the real game changer is this:

Google is going to fundamentally change how people search.

Think about it:

You’re typing your search terms, and you (almost) instantaneously start getting visual feedback. While scanning this feedback, you get ideas for adding new terms. You still haven’t left the search field, but as you’re adding and refining your keywords, your search results are getting more and more relevant until you nail the exact link you need. Again, all without leaving the search field.

So, good for you. According to Google’s estimates, you’re shaving 2-5 seconds off every search query, which will ultimately save something like 350 million hours of total user time in a year. But beyond all these attention-grabbing numbers, what does this mean — in practical terms — for site owners?

Here’s what I think:

Eventually, page 2 search results are going to be irrelevant.

We’re not going to be able to pat ourselves on the back for getting our sites listed on page 2, because users are going to get everything they need from page 1. Page 1 will be the new bar. The companies that hit that bar will be the companies that are ready to squeeze every last ounce of performance from their sites.

I’ve read a few tweets and blog posts where Google is taking some heat for its so-called “myopic focus on response times,” but I think these people are missing the point. Google has found a truth that it is exploiting to the max: When it comes to the web, faster is better, and there’s no such thing as “fast enough”. Saying otherwise is what’s myopic.

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