Fast Company

Google Instant Scores 98% Adoption Rate, 2% Opt-Out

Google Instant

When Google launched Instant back in September, users were confronted by one of the most radical makeovers of online search in years: a results-as-you-type search engine, which flashes answers to predicted queries with each key stroke--without having to hit return. Many worried of the impact such an overhaul would have on SEO and ad impressions, while others wondered whether the system had an inherent brand bias. (To which Google responded again and again.)

Over at Co.Design, our own Cliff Kuang delved into the new feature's design flaws. (To which Google responded.) Wikipedia even has an entire category dedicated to negative reception (sourced solely by a "Google Instant sucks" search on Google), and USA Today went so far as to suggest at the time that Instant might be another flop in the vein of Google Wave.

Since then, have Google users shunned Instant as a disruptive technology, or welcomed it as the new template for the way we search the web?

The answer to that question, six months later, is emphatically in Google's favor. According to Ben Gomes, the lead engineer on Google Instant, the engine's newest feature has had a remarkably small attrition rate: Roughly 98% of users are using Instant, leaving around just 2% of users who have opted out.

"We've seen good results with Instant, even after launch," Gomes tells Fast Company. "We found [we have] have a very low opt-out rate."

Though users have the option to return to traditional type-and-click searching--"We kept an opt-out, and in fact made it really prominent," says Gomes--it appears users were impressed by Instant's speed. Since launch, Google users are typing 5% fewer characters, and reaching results 10% faster than they were with traditional search. On average, says Gomes, users are seeing results about 4 to 5 seconds quicker than they were before the company introduced Instant.

Still, Instant's low opt-out rates should not be the only measure of its success. If Instant were an opt-in feature, rather than the default, would 98% of Googlers voluntarily choose to turn it on? No, just as 2% of users are likely not the only ones interested in turning it off, regardless of how prominent the opt-out option is.

And Google of course knows that popularity doesn't correspond always to a product's excellence. Gomes says the Instant team is still fiddling with the interface, and trying to polish timing parameters. Additionally, the search giant is looking to integrate Instant with the Google Toolbar and Chrome browser. "We have room to improve," says Gomes.

It's not uncommon for companies to face significant backlash when redesigning a product, especially with such a high-traffic service as Google. Facebook revamps have been known to ruffle a few (million) feathers, for example, and after Digg's infamously botched relaunch, the site lost roughly a quarter of its visitors.

But this certainly isn't Google's first rodeo, even in major search engine overhauls. In 2008, when Google unveiled Suggest, the query predictor tool that helps users complete searches before they're typed, the company was sure to include an opt-out option, just in case.

Google Instant

That option didn't last long.

"We got rid of it because almost nobody opts out," says Gomes, who calls Suggest the "unsung hero" of Instant that we now "take for granted."

With 98% of users hooked up to Instant, is it time for Google to get rid of its opt-out option too?

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13 Comments

  • Russel L

     98% Adoption Rate is total bs.When ever i use google now I have to punch a key or two,hit search just to be able to go to preferences to turn off google instant.Even though I only use google instant to shut it off,I have no doubt this is regestering on google computers as another person adopting it.Thats where the 98% comes from.

  • Brian M

    Google's figure has to be completely inaccurate. Opt-out is a cookie based process. So, you opt-out and Google puts a cookie on the particular MACHINE that you're working on. So, these days how many people have their browsers set to kill their cookies when they log off? I'd say a large amount of people, which means every time they launch their browser, they're opted in again. 98% opt-in can't possibly be a true representation of how many people like instant search (which is awful). It's just a measure of how many people are sick of opting-out each time they launch their browser.

  • theropodx

    I also wonder how many people (in the 98%) click on search terms they weren't originally going to look for...no way to know but I bet it happens a LOT.

  • Franz Allan See

    Interesting. I never knew that there was an "opt-out" until I read this article. That's probably because I always press the 'Enter' key and never press the 'Search' button, thus the scope of my vision is always from top to bottom (with a very limited left to right). I wonder how many users are like me - never opting out because never knew there was an opt-out.

  • theropodx

    Drives me crazy when people equate "the majority" with "the correct way." I figure 2% probably equates with the number of power users. Seems about right since pretty much everybody from grandmas to 2-year-olds is online now. This is why I don't like Macs or Vista/Windows 7. Each successive version of technology gets more and more dumbed-down to the lowest common denominator.

    I understand why companies do this but they need to keep tech-savvy users in mind and ALWAYS give an option to turn off these dumbed-down "features." Removing the disable option for Suggest was very irritating. Never understood why I would want to see a ton of unrelated searches as I'm typing out my search string.

  • Bob Jacobson

    I would like Google to deal with the persistent problem of how to filter 3,300, 333,000, or 3,300,000 returns on a search of a common word. The Instant does it in a slight way, but I have always had this feeing when using Google that the gem in any particular search is 42 pages in -- yet I have no way of getting there intelligently. If a search could display results in categories, rough though they be, that might help. The more refinement available to me as a user, the better I would feel using Google.

    Google's still the best despite Bing stealing its results and packaging them as its own, as Google has alleged and Microsoft all but admitted. But what about all those unseen search results? Help us, Google!

  • Jon Parks

    I agree with other comments here. While it is a nice feature, the 98% adoption rate seems to be overblown. How many users really know how to turn off the feature. Better yet, how many really care to take the time to turn it off? With that said, I like instant and it has been helpful in some searches, but the part I like best is that Google is willing to continue tweaking it (like most of their products) to make it just a little bit better.

  • Don Jarrell

    Maybe Instant was the decisive point for Google to *stop* resolving www.google.com to www.google.com/ig for registered users, as those two pages operate differently in this important way (with or without Instant). That's a great step forward for me. Now they just need to make "Web" in the nav bar on the iGoogle page (www.google.com) an active link to make it more immediate to go from my Home page at iGoogle to the search page with Instant.

  • Wally

    I really like Instant most of the time. Instant is limited to 10 results and there are times when I want to return to my preference of 100 results. Right now, I opt out to go to 100 results and then, when finished, I opt back in to get the speed of instant. If opt out was removed, I would appreciate the ability to change the number of results (knowing I will be slowing down Google Instant by a few milliseconds).

  • John H

    I don't trust the 98% adoption rate; especially since every time I disable the feature it's reenabled somehow. Removing the opt-out for Suggest at least makes some sense because it's not very intrusive; Instant on the other hand is distracting to me.

  • Jesse Skeens

    I sure hope they don't, count me as one of the 2%. One thing I hate is that it always seems to re enable itself and when I turn it off it clears out my queury so I have to re enter it again.

    Suggest is a good feature but I dont need to see the results splashed across for so many unrelated searches.

  • Brian Batchelor

    Thats the beauty of it...its not intrusive. I like it, but don't really seem to use it. I keep it because its only adds to the search with no negative aspects. Its a nice feature but don't think it is a "game changer" like everyone thinks. Its merely an add-on.

  • Louann Oravec

    I like the new instant search format; it save time not having to weed through all the choices.