Google Instant Previews: Search Implications

Recently, Google began rolling-out Google Instant Previews.  Instant Previews display a magnifying glass next to natural search results that enables searchers to preview the page before clicking.  Searchers who activate Instant Previews are able to click on the magnifying glass to see the preview.  Google doesn’t count the preview as a click and the new feature doesn’t change the algorithm or search rankings.  Instant Previews help searchers evaluate which result is most relevant by (1) highlighting the part of the page where the searcher’s query appears and (2) letting searchers see the page’s layout before they click.  Google currently doesn’t plan to offer Instant Previews for paid search results.

Google provided an example:


Natural Search Implications

Instant Previews are just another way that Google is striving to make the search engine results page (SERP) as relevant to each searcher’s query as possible.  Now, searchers will be less likely to click on results that don’t satisfy their specific needs.  Searchers will preview pages to find the most relevant page; therefore, they’ll likely land on more relevant pages and natural search bounce rates will decrease.  Instant Previews are also indicative of the slow shift to visual search.  It’s nothing new that natural search marketers must focus on (1) relevancy and (2) optimizing the visual elements of a page.  Best practices for Instant Previews around relevancy and visual optimization include:

  • Clearly structuring SEO landing pages so that the crawler can easily display previews.  Google noted that most previews are generated through its regular crawl, while others are generated on-the-fly through its new “Google Web Preview” user-agent.
  • Eliminating extraneous content that may be irrelevant to the query/queries that the page is optimized around
  • Removing content (i.e. interstitial pages, ad pop-ups) that may interfere with the preview and make the preview less attractive
  • Highlighting key messages in legible text that can be easily read in the preview window
  • Ensuring on-site images can be displayed at smaller sizes in the preview window without becoming overly distorted
  • Avoiding Flash and other rich content if possible; Google is currently displaying incomplete previews for many Flash pages.  This means that HTML5 could become more important in optimizing pages.

Webmasters can prevent Google from showing a preview of a page by adding a nosnippet meta tag (<meta name= “googlebot” content=“nosnippet”>) to the page.  However, Google advises against this because it has found that users are four times more likely to click on sites with previews.

Landing Page Optimization

All the SEO best practices around Instant Previews are centered on user experience.  For instance, if a page is clearly structured, it will not only look better in the preview, but will also be more helpful to a searcher once he/she is on that page.  This means that natural search marketers should leverage insights from landing page optimization (LPO) when thinking about how their pages should best display in Instant Previews.  With LPO, a marketer can determine, through testing, which pieces of copy and which images are most effective in driving a desired action on a page.  These learnings translate directly to Instant Previews.  For instance, LPO can help determine which preview images and/or copy are most likely to drive the desired action—a click on the listing. 

Marketers should also think about including interesting images on their landing pages.  These images could show in Instant Previews and aid in drawing the click, similar to how an image in a display, Facebook or YouTube ad can increase click-through. 

Paid Search Implications

One incidental effect of Instant Previews is that the preview box can cover right rail paid search results.  This may make top paid search visibility more important.  However, it’s likely that once a searcher starts previewing natural search results, they’ve already made the decision that they aren’t going to click on the right rail paid search ads.  We’ll monitor paid search click-through data as Instant Previews roll-out to see if there’s any effect on paid search.

Following the above best practices will not only help in achieving optimal Instant Preview visibility, but will also help on Bing, which has provided natural search previews since its launch.  We’ll be paying close attention over the next few months as Google refines the feature to see if it gains popularity.  Keep in mind that had a similar “view-through” feature back in 2004 that’s no longer available.  If you have additional questions, please contact your Performics account team.

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