By most guesses you probably have no idea what that Google button that says “I’m feeling lucky” does. It’s a shame really, particularly considering that if you’re anything like me you probably use Google Search on a daily basis. But fret not gentle reader, I once was lost like you, but now I’m found and know exactly what that conspicuous button does.
According to Google’s support page, the “I’m Feeling Lucky” button offers you a way to explore the web and find new sites. Initially, when a user typed a search result and clicked the button it would take them directly to the first search result. Normally, when you search for anything on Google, the results page appears with n search results ranked according to Google’s PageRank algorithms. You would then have to sift through the results to find the relevant one you were looking for. The idea behind the “I’m Feeling Lucky” button was that if you were lucky (as if there’s any luck in the search results rankings), the search engine would return the perfect match for you without you having to wade through a sea of irrelevant results on the results page. Now, the button has slowly evolved over time and its behaviour is no longer as clear cut. The button’s behaviour changes based on your settings and what Google domain you’re using.
Let’s start with the issue of the domain and see how it affects your “lucky-ness”. You may already know that Google is big on offering you customised and relevant results, and one of the ways Google does that is by customizing Search for a number of countries and regions across the world. So, for example, if you are in Zimbabwe your search results are handled through google.co.zw to provide you with results that are most relevant in Zimbabwe. If you’re using a Google domain other than Google.com, clicking the “I’m Feeling Lucky” button with no search term in the search bar will take you to the Google Doodles gallery. By the way, you may not always want to have your search results customised based on location. Google regularly releases updates and search features primarily to the American markets and you can only access the update or feature via google.com. You can switch to google.com by clicking the relevant link at the bottom left of the Google home page. Alternatively, you can force Google to stay at google.com by simply typing google.com/ncr where ncr stands for “no country recognition”.
The second issue that affects the behaviour of the “I’m Feeling Lucky” button is whether Google Instant is on or off. Google Instant is a feature of Google Search that automatically shows results for a popular search that begins with the letters you are typing. You can find instructions on how to turn Google Instant on or off on this Google help page. If Google Instant is turned off, the “I’m Feeling Lucky” button behaves as above, taking you to the Google Doodles gallery.
However, if you’re searching on google.com and Google Instant is turned on, hovering over the “I’m Feeling Lucky” button on the Google homepage will cause the button to spin and land on a phrase that starts with “I’m Feeling…” You will get options such as “I’m feeling hungry”, “I’m feeling stellar”, etc. and each of these will take you on a journey of discovery in Google world. Go on ahead, try it!
As a parting note, would you believe me if I told you that little seemingly inconsequential button costs Google more than US$100 million every year in foregone profits? Surprising as it may seem, it’s actually an odd little fact. Actually, Tom Chavez of “Rapt” did the math and concluded that this button costs Google over $100 million a year as 1% of all searches use this feature and bypass all advertising.
Who’s the lucky one now, Google?