Google is beta testing Google Suggest. As you type, Google provides search query option for the searcher to select from, if they wish. This is similar to features Internet and other browsers offer when filling in forms. In those cases, the browser might remember what it is you typed in on a previous occasion and bring it up to allow you to quickly fill your intention.
This is relatively new and I have not fully vetted it all through my thought processes, so my opinions my differ as time goes by, however in my opinion, this is not about search relevancy, but more about the bottom line.
SEO is all about learning search patterns and optimizing a site for keywords based on 1) relevance and 2) market targeting and 3) search activity. By offering suggestions, Google is essentially herding searchers like cattle to the money, not ours, but theirs.
Think about it, Google can, at their will, use the suggest feature to try to direct people to keyword phrases that produce the highest revenue for them from the sponsored ads. Maybe I’m paranoid, but this certainly seems like a plausible scenario.
Next to each phrase is the number of results available for each query. How is the user helped by knowing this? Heck, nobody clicks past the first few pages, why do I need to know how many results total there are when I only look at the top 30 anyway. Is that an indicator of relevance for me? I think not.
By offering suggestions, Google is potentially making search results less, not more, relevant. The suggestion trys to narrow a query into a pre-set mold, thus eliminating many, many relevant search queries that don’t necessarily fit that mold–or produce ad clicks. It takes the thinking out of searching. Many will like that, for sure, however less thought will NOT help fine-tune your search. Certainly the searcher is free to type their phrase as they wish, but by offering suggestions it is implied that you’ll get better results by choosing from the list.
I don’t like it, but I don’t see how Google loses. They can deliver more searchers to their higher paying ads while making the searcher feel as if they are being directed to the best set of results. Searchers get “helped” into pre-set categories while businesses targeting less competitive phrases lose out, essentially narrowing the pool.
Google may index over 8 billion pages, but by directing searchers with the suggest feature effectively relegates billions of relevant pages into search obscurity, never to be seen by the light of day.