Google Quick Scroll – Good or Evil?

If you have the Google Toolbar installed on your browser, you may soon start seeing some odd behavior at times when you click on a search result.

For some pages, Google might deliver you to a page and may display a popup/information box on the bottom right of the page that covers part of the page. That information box may show one or more excerpts of text from one or more parts of the page that are “relevant to your query,” like in the following image:

A Google quick scroll popup/information box that showed up on a page I visited on a search for a search for google quick scroll toolbar.

If you click on one of the text excerpts, your browser will deliver you to the part of the page where that text appears, and possibly highlight the relevant section.

I wrote about a Google patent filing last November that described behavior like this, in a post entitled How Google Might Insert Artificial Named Anchors into Web Pages.

When Google announces a new feature on a service like their toolbar, a commonly offered explanation for the addition is that Google is working to “Improve the User Experience” of their service.

But what if improving the user experience for searchers may also act to harm the user experience on websites that the search engine might lead searchers to?

For example, Google’s Quick Scroll started out as a Google Chrome Plugin, and now seems to be a feature on some versions of the Google Toolbar. But what if a feature like that is silently introduced, and turned on by default? I didn’t have it listed in my options/tools for Google’s toolbar yesterday, and I do now today. I wasn’t given any notice or information about it. It’s now just there.

The initial announcement of Google Quick Scroll as a Google Chrome plugin last December, Two new features enhance search beyond the results page, tells us that:

With universal search features in Google Suggest and Google Quick Scroll, we hope you save precious seconds for many of the searches you perform. As Amit said on Monday, “seconds matter.”

While Quick Scroll can help searchers find what they are looking for on a page quickly, there are some issues with the new toolbar feature that site owners might not like. Charles, of Wave Shoppe Hawaiian Shirts pointed out the addition of the quick scroll tool to the toolbar to me, and told me about a couple of concerns that he had with the popup/information box.

One problem is that the information box may cover over important real estate where it appears, such as a call to action or an important link or piece of information. Should Google be displaying popups on other people’s sites that may cover important design elements? Another problem is that the feature has the potential to interfere with the use of “heat maps and funnels” on rich ecommerce sites.

Most people are used to clicking through a search result and being delivered at the top of a page.

Most designers and site owners create their pages based upon this kind of behavior – including often trying to put their most important information at the top of a page – an area sometimes referred to as being “above the fold.” Designing that way tends to make sense, and a usability study from Jakob Nielsen this past March, Scrolling and Attention describes how people interact with information both above the fold and below the fold on Web pages. One of the conclusions from the study:

Web users spend 80% of their time looking at information above the page fold. Although users do scroll, they allocate only 20% of their attention below the fold.

Quick Scroll doesn’t show up on every page – just the pages where Google has determined (probably through an automated means) that it might be helpful to a searcher.

On those pages, visitors arrive at the top of pages, but they are shown the popup that they can choose to follow to quickly find the parts of a page that Google has determined to be relevant to their query. If people click on one of the artificial links in the popup/information box, chances are that they may be delivered below the fold.

If you’re a site owner or designer, that may not be something that you want to see visitors to your pages do.

Quick scroll may help searchers find relevant information related to their searches more quickly, but those searchers may also miss out on some of the most important content found on a page, either above the fold, or obscured by the popup/information box that Google is placing on pages.

Google Quick Scroll – is it helpful, or is it harmful? Should Google Toolbar users be told about additions of features like this when they are installed, so that they can opt into using them instead of learning about them after they are installed and turned on by default?

What do you think?

If you would like to check to see if Quick Scroll is presently installed on your Google Toolbar, click upon the toolbar’s wrench icon, and then choose the “tools” tab. If it has been installed on your browser already, you should see it listed. If you’d like to disable it, you can do so there.

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50 thoughts on “Google Quick Scroll – Good or Evil?”

  1. I have been noticing those popping up everywhere and I am getting sick of google trying to get too fancy. To me, Google Instant is a pain, I hear that we should be expecting yet another Google Social Media play, and they keep on messing around with things like the Adsense tool……

  2. Noticed this yesterday. Unsettling that it suddenly appeared without any notice. Annoying so I turned it off.

    If I was in a hurry to find the info I was looking for when searching on the page I could use the Edit/Find feature of my browser.

  3. This is driving me crazy Google is not God(yet.
    My default is now Yahoo….I know,I know. Just a small protest.
    Soon we’ll have Google implants tracking our moves, for our own good of course.

  4. Thanks for the heads-up, Bill, and to Charles, for first reporting it. I haven’t noticed this yet, but I’m usually running Flock, and I think the GTB add-on is different from the standard FF version.

    I absolutely believe that all developers should make such changes opt-in rather than default. I don’t monetize my site, but I still don’t appreciate anyone poaching on my land! When they’re blocking content on my pages, that’s exactly the way I see it.

    And I certainly don’t see it as an indication of a stated philosophy of “do no evil”.

  5. Haven’t noticed it yet in Canada.

    It as some serious implications on web design if this project (which Google seems serious about) sees daylight.

    The whole web design industry will have to change the way it designs websites that rely on search engine trafic. For example, big brands like to have their logo seen and if you don’t see top fold anymore, they won’t be happy.

    Thanks for the heads up Bill and Charles.
    Jeremy

  6. Google should’ve made it off by default at first and simply made an announcement first. Let those who want to adopt it do so, get their feedbacks, and move on from there.

    – Laura Madore

  7. Hi Mike,

    I’ve left the quick scroll on for now to see how helpful/unhelpful it might be. I do find it a little annoying to have the popup/information box appearing on pages.

    But it’s also interesting to see what parts of pages Google seems to think are most relevant for the query terms that delivered me to pages in their search results.

  8. Hi S Emerson,

    I do sometimes use the edit/find feature to find content on a page, especially for pages that are fairly long and may cover a number of topics. I’m still trying to decide if Quick Scroll is all that helpful. I’m not quite convinced that it is at this point.

  9. Hi Doc,

    I agree that it’s a very good practice to try to make sure that changes like Quick Scroll are opt-in, especially if they have the potential to change around the way that people view and use web pages like Quick Scroll may.

    If I start a page or blog post with the most important content, such as a summary or conclusion, or with a disclaimer or warning, I’m doing that intentially at the top of the page so that it’s more likely that people will see it. If they use the quick scroll feature, it’s possible that they might not. That concerns me somewhat.

  10. Hi Jeremy,

    Thank you.

    When I wrote about the Google patent filing that I mention in the post (How Google Might Insert Artificial Named Anchors into Web Pages.) last November, I started spending more time thinking about how a site might make changes to their design to take into account the possibility that Google might do something like this.

    I’m not sure that I’m that much of a fan of floating menus and logos and advertisements that might drop down to an area of page if someone uses something like Quick Scroll to drop down below the fold on a page.

    Many sites still emphasize their home pages as the “entry” page for their site, when the reality is that any page might be a landing page entry way if it’s optimized well (or if someone links to it from somewhere else.) Maybe we do need to start thinking about design a little differently now, and how effective a design might be when someone starts viewing a page from below the fold.

  11. Hi Bonjour Tristesse and Laura

    I wonder how many people would have turned Quick Scroll on if it was disabled by default.

    I do like how FireFox will display an informational page after starting when an addon or browser upgrade has been installed, to tell you what is new in the upgrade. It would be great if Google could provide that kind of information when they do something like upgrade the browser toolbar, and add new features.

  12. Aside from my distaste for silent updates that that activate features without user consent (noting the My Location was also re-activated in this update), my biggest concern is how my customers will react to this and how it will impact interaction with any given page.

    We have a primarily senior customer base and have spent a lot of time and effort on ensuring that they are made to feel comfortable while visiting our site, and that includes safety and ensuring that no goblins jump out at them from behind a button or image.

    Keeping the experience consistent and pop-up free is important to our customers and us.

    Yet all over the web you see Google reps, etc. stating don’t use pop-ups, heck even Google does not allow pop-up ads on their site, yet why is it ok if they do it to us? http://www.google.com/help/nopopupads.html

    Quick Scroll certainly has some good uses and secondary applications, but as a professional courtesy, I think Google could give us something to put in robots.txt that tells this pop-up to not trigger.

    What’s next, a Google employee standing in front of our showroom with a sign that says “read about the lesser items in the lower window banner before you go in the actual store”?

    C.

  13. Hi Charles,

    I’m not a big fan of popups either, and I’m wondering how many people starting to see the popups are wondering whether those are from the sites that they’ve landed on from Google’s search results. The information boxes do have a small Google logo on them, but not the word “Google.”

    It may be time for Google to update the page that you point to about popups, to let people know that Google is now showing their popups on other people’s pages. Here’s one of the first lines from that page:

    Google does not allow pop-up ads of any kind on our site. We find them annoying.* So why do they occasionally appear when you search on Google? Here are a few possible explanations:

    * emphasis is mine

    Since Google finds popups annoying, they might understand why site owners may not want Google’s Quick Scroll popups appearing on their pages.

    I think a robots.txt statement or a meta tag to turn off Quick Scroll might not be a bad idea. I’d also love to see Google announce that they’ve added Quick Scroll to the toolbar, and have enabled it by default, or announce it, and allow people to turn it on only if they choose to do so.

  14. Disabling Quick Scroll in robots.txt would be fine for some of us, Bill, but there are still a lot of site-owners that don’t have a clue how to use robots.txt. They’d still be at a disadvantage. I suppose Schmidt would suggest they just disallow crawling and indexing, and “move”.

    Maybe it’s just the grumpy-old-man in me, but I find this aggravating, and an invasion of my property. I allow the bots into my store to see what I’m offering, not to rearrange my display cases! The fact that they “disallow” pop-ups, yet force them down our throats, is just salt in the wound.

    Anybody care to bet how many emails Matt C. is getting on this? I doubt it’ll be making it to any of his webmaster videos anytime soon, though… too much of a hot potato.

  15. I think that would be a perfect solution, Bill. I’d add the proviso, that the button would have to automatically return to its off or standby status, upon leaving that page. Personally, I don’t even like the idea of letting the user set it to “always on” state, for the same reasons already stated by several.

    If Google would like to use some of the space on my pages, I might consider selling some to them, on a by-impression basis.

    Only-slightly-tongue-in-cheekly ;)

  16. Hi Doc,

    To some degree, this reminds me of when Microsoft decided that they would build into IE6 some smart tag technology almost ten years ago, so that people using the browser would see links on some pages that the page publisher didn’t include on the page. See: Much Ado About Smart Tags. Some of the complaints about smart tags could possibly apply to Quick Scroll as well.

    Even if Google came out with a robots.txt statement or a meta tag that could be used to stop Google from showing the quick scroll popup on a page, I agree that it’s too much to expect site owners to have to make that change.

    Would an alternative approach be ok, such as using a Quick Scroll button might be more appropriate, where the button is on the toolbar, and a searcher could click upon it to bring up links to parts of a page where relevant text might appear?

    Google could gray out the button until someone lands on a page where there might be artificial links of the type that are presently shown in the popup. In effect, it would be an improved “find” function, using the query term that brought the searcher to the page. It wouldn’t automatically appear, and obscure part of the page.

    There would still be the potential that people would use the feature, and miss the area above the fold, but at least they would be more aware that they were choosing to skip past that part of a page. And they would be aware that the quick scroll feature was something being offered by Google, and not the owner of the site.

  17. I hated Instant and now this feature, lately G has been a lot of new features. This one sounds crazy.

  18. I find almost any form of automatic pop-up to be less than agreeable. I am thinking too about some of the Chrome Extensions I have tried and then deleted. Google should stick with what originally gave them such an edge in terms of user interface – simplicity and non-invasiveness – I really feel that of all the perceived threats to their dominance of the search market that their flirtation with flooding the user with information (going against the search engine’s founding principles) is perhaps their surest road to failure….

  19. I think this is in the category of evil. I think Google is messing with things that the site owner should control. With this function I loose control over the visitor and Google makes my site into a Google slave.

  20. Hi Doc,

    I still haven’t seen some kind of official announcement from Google on one of their blogs about the integration of Quick Scroll into the Google Toolbar. Wondering if they will make an announcement.

    I think you’re right about having to press the button for every page if you want to use quick scroll on the page and call up the popup/information box.

  21. Hi Ernest,

    Google does seem to be launching a lot of new features. I wonder if the pace of the changes they are making might be alienating some of their users.

    Is Google being innovative, or are they overwhelming us? Guess they could do both at the same time.

  22. Hi Kyle,

    Thanks to the link to Google’s feedback form.

    Wonder how much feedback they actually received in a day. I’m guessing it’s a lot.

    The following is one of my favorite passages from the early Google paper, The Anatomy of a Large-Scale Hypertextual Web Search Engine

    It turns out that running a crawler which connects to more than half a million servers, and generates tens of millions of log entries generates a fair amount of email and phone calls. Because of the vast number of people coming on line, there are always those who do not know what a crawler is, because this is the first one they have seen. Almost daily, we receive an email something like, “Wow, you looked at a lot of pages from my web site. How did you like it?”

    There are also some people who do not know about the robots exclusion protocol, and think their page should be protected from indexing by a statement like, “This page is copyrighted and should not be indexed”, which needless to say is difficult for web crawlers to understand. Also, because of the huge amount of data involved, unexpected things will happen. For example, our system tried to crawl an online game. This resulted in lots of garbage messages in the middle of their game! It turns out this was an easy problem to fix. But this problem had not come up until we had downloaded tens of millions of pages.

    Because of the immense variation in web pages and servers, it is virtually impossible to test a crawler without running it on large part of the Internet. Invariably, there are hundreds of obscure problems which may only occur on one page out of the whole web and cause the crawler to crash, or worse, cause unpredictable or incorrect behavior. Systems which access large parts of the Internet need to be designed to be very robust and carefully tested.

    Since large complex systems such as crawlers will invariably cause problems, there needs to be significant resources devoted to reading the email and solving these problems as they come up.

  23. Hi Karen,

    You can turn the feature off in the Google Toolbar so that you don’t see those popups any more.

    But there’s no way to turn it off soe that it may not show up for searchers on your pages.

  24. I agree with the opt-in approach to the Google Toolbar. I installed the toolbar so I could get the page rankings that I needed. They made it a bit difficult to elminate many of the non-essential features that I did not need to use.

    I wish they would just let you check off what you want, from the beginning.

  25. Hi Joyce,

    I agree – it would be nice if they used a custom install approach that let you purposefully check yes or no to every feature, and specifically described potential privacy and other implications of those choices.

  26. As a Chrome user – I find tailoring my browser with the extensions perfect for my SEO purposes. It is the ultimate in a customizable browsing experience. I even have multiple PR checking tools to make sure the first reading was correct :) Maybe not all Good and no Evil – but for my purposes I have to say 99.8% Good and negligible Evil :)

  27. Hi Julian

    The post really isn’t so much about Chrome, but rather about the Quick Scroll addition to the Google Toolbar. It once was a Chrome Extension, but it’s been added to the Toolbar for other browsers as well, installed and turned on by default, without any notice or warning to users.

  28. Don’t you think that this will effect such tools functionality such as SEO Quake? which is a SEO based tool plugin for firefox.

  29. Google never seems to amaze me… Everytime a new innovation and a better experience for all is guaranteed :)… *I likes* the post!!! :) keep writing more..

  30. Hi Usman,

    To a degree, this post is a criticism of Google’s Quick Scroll, especially the way that it’s been added to the Google toolbar within notifying toolbar users, and turned on by default.

  31. So far I have found this new feature provided by Google more of an irritation than a useful addition. My immediate response is to close it down so that I can see what is behind it and find the information I want myself. I know that if I do want to find a key phrase I can use my browsers Edit and Find option. Sometimes I feel Google provides too many idiosyncratic options and they have forgotten the simplicity they used to have that made them the most popular search engine.

  32. Hi Steve,

    I’ve left the feature on for a while, to see how it impacts my use of web pages. I can’t say that it’s really hurt much, but it also hasn’t helped much either. I have no problem using my brower’s find function. I’d much rather just use the Google “highlight” feature tied to the toolbar, for it to hightlight terms I want to see on a page, though.

  33. I agree with Bill. I find this feature superfluous and prefer the highlight feature in the toolbar.

  34. Hi Julie,

    I’m still bothered by the fact that Google didn’t warn people or announce that they were adding this feature.

    I’ve found it useful on a few searches, but I’m still not sure that it really adds that much.

  35. I installed Quick Scroll after seeing it in a PC mag. It serves my needs very well. I do genealogy and going through web pages with hundreds of names in attempting to find a reference to my search subject is tedious. Quick Scroll take me right to my target. I have experienced no downside. Best Regards,
    Jim

  36. Hi Jim,

    Thanks for sharing your experience with quick scroll. I’ve kept the quick scroll feature on, and I do sometimes find it useful. My biggest issue with it though, was that it was installled automatically by default when Google updated their toolbar. I think they should have given some kind of notice or warning during the install.

  37. Hi all,

    Sorry if I’m a bit late to the party but I thought I’d leave a comment here anyway as it looks like I’m one of the very few actually liking Google Quick Scroll.

    In fact I don’t use Google Toolbar but the Google Quick Scroll (GQS) extension for Chrome. Here’s a small story that tells how much I like GQS.

    About thrice a year I download the latest versions of Firefox, Opera and Chrome. I then to do a quick comparison in order to select which browser I’ll be using for the next few months. I mainly check the browser’s compliance with some of the sites that I have opened 24/7 such as gmail or netvibes. Launching time and page loading speed are also two very important points and were the ones that got me into using Chrome in the first place.
    So far I’ve never switched back to Firefox or Opera, but the lack of MRU-style tab navigation, for example, is bugging me everyday. Not to the point of considering any other browser that don’t have some extension similar to GQS though.
    I have two ways of using the web: I either go to webpages I’m using on a regular basis, and know where the useful info they contain is, or I use google for searching the web.
    Such search queries bring me 90% of the time to wikipedia or some forums/blogs (like here). And then I always use GQS to directly show me the part of the page that was actually why Google brought me there in the first place.
    I don’t see why I’d then have to use ctrl+F and type the same search query again, not even speaking of the fact that my search words might not be contiguous in the page. That’s not efficient at all. Since I’ve discovered GQS I feel like my searching experience on the web (which is probably about 95% of my use of it) has improved a lot and really won’t consider going back.
    I can’t picture why so many people here don’t like it. I don’t find it being that intrusive and I wouldn’t really consider it as a popup as it doesn’t steal the focus nor cover a significant portion of the page. It barely hides a few half-lines to the right which shouldn’t be an issue with modern screen resolutions.
    It’s also easy to fold and is as minimal as possible in the bottom right corner so that, even the few times when I don’t click it I barely notice it.

    There were concerns about the experience of visitors on someone’s site.
    I don’t really agree: if someone’s using GQS/Google Toolbar with it enabled it’s their *own choice* (if not, they should look into how to disable it) and it’s then their right to display the content of any site the way they want, even if it’s not the one intended by the author. It’s a client-side choice and I don’t think it should be the concern of the content creator. I guess for those people, visitors using lynx or emacs must either be a nightmare or they just don’t care.

  38. Hi Rom,

    Thank you for sharing your perspective on Google’s Quick Scroll. I do appreciate hearing different opinions.

    I’ve left Quick Scroll installed on my browser, and I have to say that I barely notice it, but I also rarely use it.

    I didn’t like that it was added without any notification, though that often happens with many features introduced by browser and toolbar manufacturers. I think it would have been a better thing to do to announce it, and let people have the choice – I suspect that a lot of people would have added it.

    As for covering up space on a site that you arrive at, I agree that the space that it takes up is minimal, but I really don’t like it when part of my webpage is covered up by a feature like this, even if the impact might be minimal. If it’s truly a client side choice, then shouldn’t the installation of the feature should be a client side choice as well, and not one that Google makes for users of its toolbar? That wouldn’t have been that hard to do. Upon seeing quick Scroll appear for the first time, I suspect that many people seeing the quick scroll wouldn’t be able to tell that it was something their toolbar was doing, instead of something the website that they were visiting was doing.

  39. Hi Bill,

    Thanks for your reply. I totally agree with you on the fact that GQS, as an option of Google Toolbar, shouldn’t be automatically added/enabled without the consent of the user. I can understand that being both irritating and confusing and I don’t think it was the right way of doing it.
    As I previously wrote, I don’t use Google Toolbar myself: I’m using the Chrome extension that I manually installed. My first impression was thus definitely different from most of the people who posted here.

    That’s why I wanted to give a positive feedback on GQS itself, as a tool, rather than on the way it was introduced to Google Toolbar users. I think those are two distinct things.
    Maybe some people who turned it off because they were annoyed by that intrusion before they could know what it actually was and what it could bring to their search experience might then consider giving it another try.

    Cheers,

    Rom

  40. Hi Rom,

    You’re welcome. I agree that most people’s impressions of Quick Scroll are probably going to be impacted by whether or not they intentionally installed it themselves in Chrome as a plugin, or it was automatically installed without their knowledge as part of the toolbar.

    The quickscroll feature can be really useful in showing you the different places where your query appears upon a page, and there’s definitely value in that. I liked the feature that was somewhat prominently featured on the toolbar that let you highlight were a search term appeared upon a page. It’s still part of the toolbar, but not as obvious.

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