Google Instant Preview Allows Users to Preview Pages in SERPs Before Visiting Them
Google Instant Preview Allows Users to Preview Pages in Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs) Before Visiting Them

After giving the search market a shot in the arm with Google Instant… here comes Google Instant Preview (is Google Instant becoming a brand in it’s own right here, like Google AdWords?). So, what’s Google Instant Preview?

Well, traditionally if you wanted to view the content of a page within search results you clicked on the link in the search results and you were then taken to that page … which is how Google worked up until yesterday – so far, so ordinary.

Today, if you want to see the content of a page you can do so without having to leave the search results page.

With Google Instant Preview, simply hover over the search listing you are interested in and a preview of the page will appear to the right of the natural search results.

And yes, that means the Google Instant Preview image will hide the paid search results; if the page you are previewing is a couple of scroll lengths high then it’s likely that the Google Instant Preview result will obscure all the ads underneath.

What’s more compelling is that, as in the example shown in the image that accompanies this post,  where a search term (or parts of a search term) occur more than once on a page, Google breaks up the image of the page (with a nice page break apparently inserted on the fly), highlights all instances where that text appears on the page, and enlarges the relevant snippet(s) of text. Very useful.

The recently added functionality that allows users to use the up/down arrow and enter keys on their keyboard to move between search results is also compatible with Google Instant Preview – in fact, the two work perfectly together and I am certain Google Instant Preview will increase the number of people using the arrow key functionality to navigate SERPs.

It’s not perfect – don’t expect flash to be rendered and javascript powered text (e.g. cufon) doesn’t appear to be displayed either. However, the preview given by Google Site Preview will be enough for users to make an informed decision about your site before they choose to visit it.

What is interesting is that on the face of it Google Instant Preview flies in the face of Google’s recent assertion that they ran the only website on the planet which wanted people to spend as little time as possible on it (their search results pages anyway). However, Google Instant Preview encourages people to stay on the SERPs for longer. Are Google contradicting themselves?

Not really. Google want their search results to be as useful as possible to users, and for ‘useful’ read relevant and of high quality. Letting users ‘try out’ the look and feel of a site with Google Instant Preview before they commit to clicking fits in with this ethos.

So, what does Google Instant Preview mean for webmasters, companies and search marketing agencies? Well, it means that the look of clients’ sites matters even more than ever before. Just as Google is reminding web designers to focus on the top left corner of the screen (as even the smaller browser sizes can render this area – browsersize.googlelabs.com), Google Instant Preview forces webmasters to think about how their sites look as 300 pixel wide thumbnails taking in the full length of the page.

Are the SERPs about to become a beauty contest? It’s certainly true that pages with images and strong, clear layouts that translate well in thumbnail form will potentially gain from Google Instant Preview. However, if your site doesn’t have relevant content then Google still won’t be able to index it, and so all other algorithm rules stay the same. But remember, those rules include taking into account clickthrough rates, which will now be impacted by site design.

The other thing that Google will also gain from this change is far more information on what design elements really chime with users. True, Google have information from their Website Optimizer tool and Google Analytics, but Google Instant Preview puts every site Google  have indexed under the microscope, regardless of whether the webmaster has installed Google tracking/optimisation products.

The relative ‘attractiveness’ (and clarity) of individual pages will start to matter – and Google Instant Preview may force companies to make changes that will help them improve their onsite conversion rate by the back door. And that’s got to be a good thing.

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About the author:

John Newton has 14 years of strategic marketing experience across Online Display, Search Marketing and TV and Outdoor Advertising, in companies which include Yahoo!, ITV and TNS Global. John has written on blog monetisation for Web Designer magazine and was the editor of ClickThrough’s two books. John is a CIM Chartered Marketer.