Base-pairing interactions mediate many intermolecular target recognition events. Even a single base-pair mismatch can cause a substantial difference in activity but how such changes influence the target search kinetics in vivo is unknown. Here, we use high-throughput sequencing and quantitative super-resolution imaging to probe the mutants of bacterial small RNA, SgrS, and their regulation of ptsG mRNA target. Mutations that disrupt binding of a chaperone protein, Hfq, and are distal to the mRNA annealing region still decrease the rate of target association, kon, and increase the dissociation rate, koff, showing that Hfq directly facilitates sRNA-mRNA annealing in vivo. Single base-pair mismatches in the annealing region reduce kon by 24-31% and increase koff by 14-25%, extending the time it takes to find and destroy the target by about a third. The effects of disrupting contiguous base-pairing are much more modest than that expected from thermodynamics, suggesting that Hfq buffers base-pair disruptions.