Suggesting queries is becoming a pretty standard practice on search engines these days. You know, those drop-down menus that are populated as you type with things you likely mean. They’re useful, but Google just made them more useful.
Previously, when you types a query into Google’s search box, the menu would drop down giving you a range of possible search terms and how many results each would return if you select that one. Clicking on any of those would take you to a results page. Starting today, when you start typing in the search box, the suggest drop down is populated with a number of interesting things including direct links to pages, personalized results and even sponsored ads.
For example, if you start typing “TechCrunch” into Google with this feature enabled, you’ll see the first result in the drop-down menu is an actual link to our site. That cuts out the results page middle-man and saves time. There won’t be hyperlinks populated for all queries, but ones where Google is pretty sure they know what you’re looking for, you should see them on, we’re told.
That’s a great feature — but it also opens the door for Google to do something potentially much more interesting. With hyperlinks now in Suggest results, Google can also start serving ads in the results drop-down. And it’s already experimenting with it for a limited number of sponsored links.
This is Google serving you ads before you’ve even done a full query — just based on what you’re typing. And it’s pretty genius because presumably, companies would bid to get placed in these drop-downs just as they do for search result pages. And the click-through on these things must be massive.
But that’s getting ahead of ourselves. Google is very much downplaying that aspect right now, only saying that its experimenting with a limited number of sponsored links and that the feature is not open to new advertisers at this time. But you can bet it will be one day, and it can do nothing but help Google’s ad click-through rates.
[Above: What Suggest previously looked like.]
Another nice feature new to the drop-downs is personalized results. If you use Google’s history feature, you can see sites or results that you’ve used in the past get populated at the top of the drop-down. And if those aren’t actually relevant to what you’re looking for, there’s a “Remove” link to kill them.
Something else useful that Google is doing with Suggest is that even when you’re on a search results page now, you can use Suggest to further tailor a search. What I mean by this is, say your first search was for “roller coaster,” when you get to the results page, if you start typing in the search box again, you’ll get results based around that original query. So if you were to type “biggest,” Suggest would give you a drop down with “biggest roller coasters” suggested. It’s a subtle feature, but nice.
A final small feature is that the “Google Search” and “I’m Feeling Lucky” buttons have been placed in the drop down as well. Previously, the drop down obscured the view of these. And as you’ll notice in the screenshots, Google removed those silly tallies telling you how many results each query had. Most people were just confused by them, and it’s not like they helped rank the results in the drop down, Google says.
Yesterday, I gave Yahoo some grief over their search product on the consumer end after a lackluster state of search event. This is the type of stuff I like to see — just small, little useful features. They don’t necessarily have to be game-changers — at least not until Google starts selling those sponsored links in the drop-downs.