Google Searchers Use Autocomplete Most, Ignore Google Instant [Eye Tracking Study]

Google’s Instant Previews pane increases the importance of post-click-through behavior, while local search plays a more significant role in queries lower in the purchase funnel, according to a new eye-tracking study from Rosetta. They also found that autocomplete is a widely used feature in Google search, while Google Instant has little affect on searcher behavior.

Recognizing that the world of search is ever-evolving, Rosetta set out to test assumptions about five different Google search features: Instant, Instant Previews, Places, universal search results, and autocomplete. Understanding how Google search users interact with results in different search scenarios is an important step in paid and organic search campaign planning.

Rosetta performed their tests in-house, using 11 participants over a period of two days. Users were given three tasks to perform online and asked to view images of predetermined search results. Their results were then analyzed with eye gaze videos, heat maps, and focus maps.

Importance of Google Places Presence

Rosetta found that local search plays a significant role in those search queries lower in the purchase funnel. Specifically, their study found that queries with local listings rarely resulted in clicks on location links, though most users said they interact with the map when looking for a specific place.

They warn that a missing or incorrect listing could entice users to opt for competitors instead. This isn’t new, but is another confirmation of the importance of local listings, which we also looked at in our recent reports on studies about the impact of local results in SERPs and what draws users eyes in Google Places and Maps results.

Universal Search Results Attract User Attention


Again, this isn’t new information, but Rosetta did set out to either confirm or challenge current beliefs about different search elements and how they affect user behavior. They did find that image results captured and held the attention of searchers.

Users also reported that they prefer to look at results pages with images, especially when shopping online. They recommend optimizing with visual elements to win more real estate on the results page and potentially prevent competitors from owning this space.

Google Autocomplete Most Widely Used Search Feature


In this study, Rosetta found that participants used Autocomplete more than any of the other tested features. It was used to correct spelling mistakes that could have led to different results, and to drill deeper into certain subjects.

Though companies can’t control or influence which terms show up in autocomplete, Rosetta recommends that marketers revisit keyword strategies frequently and use data on which terms appear in Autocomplete to address potential relationship management concerns. It may also be an opportunity to identify new keywords and terms.

Google’s Instant Previews Pane Unfamiliar But Interesting to Participants

Though most of Rosetta’s participants had not used the Instant Previews pane before, the majority said they would now that they knew about it. Landing page design is an important consideration, given that users can see it before clicking and are therefore influenced to click – or not – based on this visual preview.

As for Google Instant, the study found that users simply didn’t engage with this feature. Eye tracking showed that they were more focused on completing typing their search query into the search bar than viewing the results appearing lower on the page. In the instances in which Google Instant was used, it was because the user could not remember the exact name of the brand.

Rosetta concluded that organic and paid campaigns are therefore not affected by Google Instant, though they do recommend ensuring high rankings for brand and brand modifier terms.

Let us know what you think of the results of Rosetta’s report in the comments.

Related reading

The state of SEO 2019 - Infographic
Amine Bentahar voice search speaker
Moz Local Search Analytics and industry trends: Q&A with Moz’s Sarah Bird and Rob Bucci
Why we need to think of entities and the future of SEO