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How to Design Your Site to Dominate Google Instant Preview

It’s not clear whether Google Instant Preview will take off (see last week’s blog). However, if it does, or even if it is adopted only by a significant minority of searchers, you want your site to be ready!

With Google Instant Preview, it is no longer enough to be #1 in the search rankings: you have to prove that you deserve it. The prevailing wisdom in the marketing world is that you have only a second or two to persuade people that your website is what they want. With Google Instant Preview, this evaluation process is accelerated.  Users will be able to assess your top-ranked website without even leaving the search results page, and if it doesn’t impress them, they will be gone in the flick of a mouse.

Even if not every user adopts Instant Preview, you want your site to work well in preview form, in case Google’s claim that users are four times more likely to click on a previewed site turns out to be accurate.

Fortunately, the visual elements that will make your website successful in Google Instant Preview are commonsense good design anyway. Here are our recommendations:

  • Your website should be clearly laid out, neatly structured, and visually appealing. And, to succeed in previews, it must be uncluttered and have a minimum of distractions.
  • Avoid pop-ups – these may be picked up as the preview of your web page!
  • At least for now, avoid Flash animation. It currently appears in previews as a grey box with a puzzle piece in it. Google is trying to fix this problem, but it’s not clear how long it will take.
  • Design your pages so that the most important words are legible even in preview size. For service businesses, these would be your phone number, types of services offered, and the fact that you provide 24 hour emergency service.
  • Make sure that images don’t get distorted when they are shrunk to preview size.
  • Optimize your images so that they load quickly, or they will show up as gray boxes in preview format.
  • Your website should not have an intro page. We’ve advised our customers against them for years, but Instant Preview makes them a downright liability – intro pages are often in Flash, and they rarely deliver the usable content searchers want to see in previews.
  • Keep your pages to a reasonable length. If a page is too long, Google truncates it in preview, showing the cut by a jagged edge. This looks terrible. In particular, avoid really long footers (a staple of low-quality, old-fashioned SEO).
  • On the technical side, make sure that your website is properly programmed to attract Google search “crawlers” and guide them to the most important content, so that they can create preview snapshots that truly reflect what your website is about.

We recommend that you take a look at your website in Google Instant Preview to make sure that you’re ready to compete in this new format. If not, it’s time to rethink your site’s design.

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