For Google, faster search means a better experience for consumers. But making search faster means speeding up the web as well.
Today Google unveiled a host of new enhancements for search, including search by image and new tools to make mobile queries easier. But it also is attempting to make the web itself faster by pre-loading web pages in search results for those using Google's Chrome browser or other browsers with a special plug-in.
Called Google Instant for Pages, Google now pre-loads the page in search results that Google predicts a user will click on, saving as much as 10 seconds and potentially increasing the number of impressions in a user session. A standard web page pulls data from as many as 70 different sources; but with Google Instant for pages, all that happens before the click occurs.
"What we have found is that even if we shave 15 milliseconds off a search, users search more and more," said Google search fellow Amit Singhal at an event in downtown San Francisco. "And that is better for everyone, including Google."
It's an extension of Google Instant, a feature rolled out last year that gives users search results as they are typing a query. As Chrome product head Alex Komoroske said, "There's no waiting for text or images to load; they're just there."
Mr. Singhal said that pre-loaded results will only be available for main search, not for any of the ads that Google serves as relevant to the query. He added that they'll be monitoring it to see if it's a product that can be used for advertising. Google Instant is available today in 32 languages.
Google presented data that showed the online search for information as essential to modern life. While PC-based searches peak on Monday and cluster during work hours, mobile searches peak on Saturday and when people generally aren't at work. This trend has accelerated with the proliferation of smartphones.
"In the past two years, mobile search traffic has grown five-fold. Mobile search today is growing at a comparable pace to Google in the early years," Mr. Singhal said.
Mr. Singhal presented graphs showing that while there are ebbs and flows in desktop searching behavior, there are no such highs/lows when it comes to mobile. On desktop search, people start searching when they get to work and stop searching when they get home -- with an hour drop in the middle of the day for lunch. Desktop search behavior drops off during the weekend, and yearly patterns show a drop during winter and summer holidays.
"There is no summer slump or Christmas calm for mobile search -- it just keeps going," Mr. Singhal said. This information is extremely useful to advertisers, who normally experience these slumps along with desktop search results. So improving ads for mobile is clearly an important moves for advertisers who want equally good results all year long.
Another significant innovation is search by image. A user can either drag and drop an image or paste the image's URL into the query box, and Google will find similar images on the web. A boom in potential product searches -- shoes, household items, cars -- improves the potential for e-commerce, turning search queries into shopping trips.This type of search works best for objects that have been well documented on the web, executives said.
Even though there is no facial recognition in search by image (a fact that Google emphasized several times during the event), if you search for an image of a celebrity, Google will compare pixels and find images that are similar to the face of that well-documented visage. An additional image feature is Google Instant's extension to image search, changing the images below the query box as users type.
A third development brings mobile innovation to the desktop -- users can now use voice search on any device. According to Google, voice traffic has grown six times over the past year, and every 24 hours users speak about two years' worth of speech into the system. Until now, voice search was only available on Android mobile devices.
Now, users will see an image of a microphone inside the search box and clicking on that device will allow them to speak their query. Complicated queries -- like long sentences or difficult to spell words -- appear to work as well as simple one-word searches. Google enters as many as 230 billion words a day into the language bank, allowing for multiple accents and pronunciations. Languages will be added in the next few months, but for now Google voice search is available in English.
The new features come as Microsoft's Bing has made inroads in certain categories of search, such as shopping and travel.
Said Mr. Singhal: "In the search game, the fastest innovator wins."