Google Announces Chrome-Only Instant Pages

Google Chrome LogoAt the Inside Search Event recently, Google announced the upcoming Chrome-only feature, Instant Pages. Instant Pages is a Google search engine feature that will only work with the Google Chrome browser, in which Google will actually load the page for the top search result in the background in cases where Google is very confident in the search result. Thus when a user clicks on that first search result, the page will seem to load instantaneously. This feature has some SEO implications, but is mostly a user experience improvement.

The pre-rendering technology that lets the browser load the page in the background — including images and java script — will be released in an upcoming Chrome update.

Google was very specific that the Instant Pages background rendering will only be triggered on searches for which Google has a very high confidence. For example, if you’re searching for “official Nike website” Google can be pretty certain what site you really want to reach, whereas if you search for “Los Angeles welders” there are a number of sites that could qualify, and that search phrase likely wouldn’t trigger the Instant Pages pre-rendering.

Google Instant Pages Advantages

The advantages of the new Instant pages feature is an improved web experience for users — assuming Google guesses correctly. You can type in a search, quickly see that the first result is indeed what you’re looking for, and when you click on the result the page you want instantly opens without having to wait those handful of seconds for it to render.

It’s a minor improvement, certainly, but in today’s web world users are eager to hit the back button and likely to leave a page if it takes more than 5 seconds to load. Google is very focused on site load speed — which is why it’s a part of their ranking algorithm — and I definitely think they are absolutely right that it is an important factor for web users.

Instant Pages Disadvantages

There downside to Instant Pages happens if Google guesses wrong about when to pre-render an Instant Pages result. If you type in a search query that triggers Instant Pages, the background pre-rendering of the top search result could actually cause any other link you click on to load more slowly.

SEO Impact of Instant Pages and Speculation

The SEO impact of Google Instant Pages is fairly minor, though could become more significant with time. While Google isn’t always the best at figuring out what site to rank first, they are quite good at knowing when their first result is the right one (high confidence) — which is an important distinction. This means that the vast majority of the time pre-rendering is triggered, it will be for a very focused search and the page that is listed first is the result that the user would have clicked on anyway, with or without Instant Pages.

Just because you are first in the search results doesn’t mean that your page will trigger Instant Pages — Google has to have that very high confidence that your site is exactly what users were searching for. Not just the best option, but the exact site the user wanted to reach.

However, there is a possibility that if Instant Pages seeps into browser consciousness, users might be more inclined to click on that first result — after all, they don’t know if Instant Pages is pre-rendering it or not. So they might think, “Hey, these all look pretty close. But if I click on the first one I’ll get my site instantly, so I’m going to try that.” In other words, if Instant Pages becomes well-known to users it could increase the click through rate on the top search result (which is already staggeringly high).

In the area of speculation, we have to wonder how Google will leverage this new technology if it works out well. After all, Google’s business isn’t delivering quality search results: their business is selling ads. They just know they can sell more ads if they deliver the best search results (and the best ads). Thus I wouldn’t be surprised to see Google roll Instant Pages out to the top ad result as well at some point in the future.

After all, it’s not in their interest to make the organic listing more attractive than the ad listings — that’s why the ads appear on top. They want to deliver the most relevant ads possible because they want you to click on their ads, and only move on to organic results if the ads fail.