Google is making some changes to the way its search and address bar, known as omnibox, works in the Chrome browser. The changes are pretty small individually, but there’s one important and somewhat unexpected trend running through them all: Google is making it easier to get around the web without having to do as many Google searches.
If you’re in Chrome on a desktop or mobile device, the browser will now try to correct typos in your URL, so when you type thevrege.com or ninteendo.com, you’ll get autocomplete suggestions based on the correct site and not in what is behind. those misspelled domains. The omnibox autocomplete feature will now be smarter overall, predicting the site you’re searching for based on keywords instead of just guessing what URL you’re typing. (In the Google example, you can type “flights” and Chrome could predict that you want to go to Google Flights, whereas before it would only suggest search queries that included the word. However, it will also work with non-Google sites.) Chrome can now also search within your favorites for sites and files related to what you’re typing.
All of those features are based on your own browsing history and bookmarks, so Chrome is getting a little more personalized. But the latest change affects the entire web and is quite off-brand for Google: When you start typing the name of a popular website, the omnibox will display that site’s URL in the suggestions list and you’ll be able to select it to go. right to that place. (You may have already seen this one – it’s been rolling out for a couple of weeks and should now be available to everyone.)
Overall, these are good and useful web browsing features, but they all mean you’re likely to do fewer Google searches.
Overall, these are good and useful web browsing features, but they all mean you’re likely to do fewer Google searches. One of the pillars of the search business is what is known as browsing search: a large percentage of the Internet comes to Facebook, for example, by searching Google for the word “Facebook” and clicking on the top result. Typos also generate more search queries than you imagine. In the past, the Chrome team has shied away from features like these precisely because they could reduce the number of Google searches people perform every day.
But now some things have changed that could make Google more receptive to these types of features. First, it is embroiled in a landmark antitrust lawsuit that alleges that Google is a search monopoly and abuses its power at the expense of consumers. Second, as Google embraces AI through the generative search experience (which CEO Sundar Pichai has said in no uncertain terms is the future of search), every query has literally become more expensive for Google, since you have to consult your big language models for answers. Many of these browsing searches don’t have ads anyway, so Google might be happy to get people off your search results page for a change. Ultimately, maintaining Chrome’s dominance, which keeps Google as most people’s primary search engine, is probably worth making some small concessions on features.
Along with all these changes, Google says it is modifying the visual design of the omnibox to make it easier to read and faster to load. It seems as if, at least in Chrome, Google is downplaying the importance of the search results page and elevating the address bar and suggestions drop-down menu to make it faster to get around the web. (One possible outcome of this is that we get sponsored autocompletes, but that’s something we’ll worry about another day.) In many ways, what it means to search the Internet is changing. Even Google has to act quickly to keep up.