Shoppers will love Google’s latest change; the rest of the world will begin to realise that the company appears to be seeking cash, instead of really trying to help us find things. Yesterday, amidst much fanfare, Google launched a changed to its system claiming it was providing “search at the speed of thought”. This is patent nonsense of course; your thought has to be translated into muscular movement in your fingers to type some words, which then have to be searched for by Google and then the results have to be transmitted back and you have to read them. In the space of even the quickest Google search you’ve had several more thoughts – including, perhaps, “Google is trying to control me”. Why?
The changes that Google started yesterday mean we get “instant search results”. As soon as you enter one letter, results are provided. As you type more letters for your keyword the results change. So have a go at typing in single letters and see what instant results you get. Some 90% of the time you get a shopping site – a is for Argos, c is for Currys, d is for Debenhams, e is for eBay and so on. Yet pop over to Google Zeitgeist (where Google shows us the most popular search terms) and you will not find most of those words. Last year, for instance, the most popular word beginning with “t” was Twitter, according to Google’s own figures. So what does it give you if you type in the letter T now? Yes, that’s right, Tesco. In fact the entire front page of results for the letter T are Tesco because it has assumed you want Tesco, when actually most people who start typing with the letter T probably do not want Tesco at all – and Google’s own public data suggest that to be the case.
So why is Google giving us skewed results? Well, Google loves brands. Over a year ago Google changed its algorithm to favour brands. You don’t suppose that by doing so they make themselves more attractive to advertisers with big money do you? Only recently I was with a director of a big brand who spends several million pounds a year on Google AdWords. Why? I asked. They were already number one on Google for every single one of their most favoured keywords, without advertising. They were also a “tip of the tongue” company for their subject thanks to TV and press advertising, costing them millions more. Why did they advertise on Google? They had no real answer other than “well you have to don’t you?”. Err…no…!
According to Google, we love brands. According to much recent research, the impact of brands is lessening and we are much more likely to buy things our friends recommend, even if we have never heard of the brand. As social tools become more omnipresent, we rely less on brand name and more on value and recommendations. As the world is going in one direction, Google appears to be going in another.
There is one other problem with the Google Instant search – it interrupts your thinking. You could get diverted away from what you did want. Type in T for Twitter and before you know it you are buying a new TV at Tesco.
Next time you are on Google, look to the right of the search box – there is a small pop-up link. Click on it and switch off “Instant Search” and while you are at it, if you use Google Toolbar, make sure you uncheck the “suggestions” option in the “Manage” area.
After all, who do you want to be in charge of your search thinking? You or Google?
At the moment, these changes suggest Google want to be in charge of your thoughts and take them over to direct you to their favoured shopping sites. This could be a change too far for Google, especially in the emerging world of social search. Shoppers will love the Google change – but the rest of the world might not.
Graham Jones is an Internet Psychologist who studies the way people use the online world, in particular how people engage with businesses. He uses this knowledge to help companies improve their online connections to their customers and potential customers and offers consultancy, workshops, masterclasses and webinars. He also speaks regularly at conferences and business events. Graham is an award-winning writer and the author of 32 books, several of which are about various aspects of the Internet. For more information connect with me on Google+