Google Launches Instant Previews


Yesterday Google launched a new feature in Instant Search: Google Instant Previews. When this feature is activated, you can click the magnifying glass icon to the right of a search result to view a pop-up preview of the page before clicking through.

Google Instant Preview

It appears that the preview is sometimes an accurate representation of the page, as above; in other instances Google will remove and/or magnify a portion of the page to show relevancy, as below:

Google Instant Preview SERP

The pop-out quotes show where the keyword ("civet coffee") appears on the page. On this particular SERP, Google altered the appearance of the preview for about half the results on the first page. It's not entirely clear what governs this.

Will this affect the behavior of the typical Google user? It's hard to say what impact this will have initially -- searchers may not notice the magnifying glass icon or may not know to click it. (Once you have clicked one of the icons, simply scrolling over the results activates the previews.) For those who do take advantage of this feature, it could have any of the following effects:

  • Page design/layout becomes more important: People may not want to click through to an ugly or messy-looking page. This could force us to treat all our pages more like PPC landing pages.
  • Images become more important: A page with no images may look less appealing in a preview. The previews are too small to really read the copy, so visual elements will have more impact than writing here.
  • Reduction in spam: Often you only need to see a page to know it's spam (scraper site, Made For AdSense, etc.). This could reduce traffic to spam sites and may even affect their rankings, if ...
  • Click-through rates figure more significantly into the ranking algorithm: If SERP previews cause your CTR to drop, Google may take this as a signal that your page is undesirable to users.
  • Bounce rates drop: If users can preview a page before clicking through, we may see lower bounce rates, since we'll get less exploratory traffic.

How else could this affect user behavior and search results?

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Chad Summerhill
Nov 10, 2010

Look at a site with flash.

Great post, Elisa!

Elisa Gabbert
Nov 10, 2010

Oh, yeah, not so good! So I guess we can add "Flash becomes more problematic" to the list (until Google figures out how to handle it in previews). Thanks!

Tom Demers
Nov 10, 2010

 I still think Instant is a terrible idea but this - as a searcher - I really like.
Nice catch Chad - building sites that are sort of "everything friendly" (mobile, iPad, random features Google rolls into SERPs, etc.) keeps becoming harder while it becomes more important huh?
Good stuff thanks Elisa!

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