Will Google’s New Shortcuts Change the Search Game?

3 min read

Remember how hard it used to be to use the internet? Dial-up? Glacial upload and download speeds. The disappointment of not hearing, “You’ve got mail!”

And we thought it was great. Because at the time, it was.

How times have changed.

Thanks to the ongoing innovation arms race between Apple and Google (and perhaps in response to a growing expectation among consumers for everything to be stupid-easy), Google has introduced shortcuts in search.

Wait, what are shortcuts in search?

Shortcuts in search, announced March 21, provides an app-like experience for mobile search—no typing or talking required.

Need to know of the score of the game? Tap the sports icon. Have a hankering for red curry and need to find a Thai place? Easy. Tap restaurants. Get directions, check the weather, book a flight, or translate foreign languages with a few taps. It’s meant to mostly replace using the Google search box (or at least that’s what Google is hoping). Here’s a video of how it works.

Why shortcuts? Because searching is too hard.

Typing an entire search query into your phone is nightmarish. Tiny keyboards, long queries, too many typos, too much backspacing—and we’re still embarrassed to use voice commands in public. We have all the information in the world at our fingertips, and it’s not close enough. So Google’s bringing it closer.

But here’s the thing: Is tapping around to find an answer any easier than just searching for exactly what you need?

No, it’s probably not. But it’s new.

Creating a good digital experience is mostly about newness and ease. Is it easy? Is it fast? Does it mean less work for my fingers that are too busy typing text messages to bother searching for red curry?

A good digital experience is also about introducing new conveniences we didn’t know we needed. And a good UX designer shouldn’t wait for a user experience to become downright awful before creating a better one. The best digital innovators, like Google and Apple are always thinking several steps (or years) ahead. What will users get tired of next? Our search is good, but it always has to be better. What we are doing today is okay, but don’t get comfortable, because it won’t be good enough for tomorrow.

What does this mean for search rankings?

How will Google rank these new shortcut search results? How will this impact content marketing? What about paid search ads? These are all good questions and Google offers surprisingly few answers.

This form of searching also allows users to set preferences, so they will always see personalized search results, which doesn’t feel very organic. Understanding what this means for search will be hard to know until Google knows how many people are really using the shortcuts. So basically, we’ll have to stay tuned.

Will this take off? 

Who knows? The cons: It’s not available worldwide yet. It also feels like in trying to make something more convenient, Google might actually be making things more complicated. And finally: This has far-reaching ramifications for, you know, the entire internet—the whole search and digital world as we know it. No big deal.

The pros: The convenience of shortcuts in search seems like a possible game-changer for mobile users. This is also a new way of thinking of about search, and presents boundless new possibilities. It’s not quite organic search because it’s personalized, but it’s not paid search either.

Whether or not this takes off really might not matter in the long run, because it’s has already got us thinking, “Typing in a whole search query on my phone really is too hard!” And once we start thinking that, we’ll never unthink it. The innovations will follow.