Breaking Down Real-Time Search

This past week, Google set the search and social media world abuzz with the launch of real time search results. In a nutshell, real time search provides streaming data on Google's first search engine results page (SERP) that displays as it happens - everything from tweets to RSS content from blogs and news sites.

As an example, let's say you do a search for "bcs bowl." You are now going to see something like this on the first SERP in Google.

The highlighted area feeds in the applicable results as they happen, beginning the minute the SERP loads. This certainly puts an interesting spin on search, but in it's current state, is not as big of a game changer as some may think.  Here's why:

  1. The current space allocation to real time search content on the first SERP is minimal and is still overshadowed by the news, paid, and organic results.
  2. Google has expanded the length of the first SERP to accommodate for the real-time results. Thus, there are still 10 organic results on page one. Had they decided to keep the first SERP the same length and reduce the number of organic results to accommodate, that would have been a big deal (and would have ticked a lot of people off - namely, those who were placing #8 - #10 for the term in question)
  3. The real-time results are a "flash in the pan" as they scroll in real-time. Depending on how hot the term being searched, those real-time results will have only a moment of glory (e.g. Tiger Woods, Twilight, etc.). There is, however, an embedded scroll bar to let you peruse the real-time results that have rolled in since the SERP was loaded. And one must assume Google has safeguards in place to prevent a Skittles type of fiasco.
  4. Real-time search will be important for news, celebrities, sports, and other popular and high-interest queries. However, people looking for a "minneapolis dentist" or "jeep commander seat covers" will still rely almost exclusively on the paid/organic listings due to the lack of real-time content around these longer tail phrases.
  5. While there is merit to seeing real-time results from news sources, I fail to see the value integrating Twitter streams matching search queries into the results. It seems to add spam/clutter on an otherwise squeaky clean Google SERP. For all the talk of Google keeping it simple, it is possible that Bing is forcing them to succumb to feature creep with Bing-like features.

That being said, all of the points above are based on the way Google has chosen to treat real-time search right now. Should they make changes (e.g. more real-time search real estate on the SERP, "archived" real-time results that shows info prior to your query, the ability to toggle tweets on/off, etc.), it will be an entirely different game. For now, real-time search is something to keep an eye on as social content becomes more and more prevalent.