Google Instant Preview, which offers an instant snapshot of a website right from the search results page, is designed to help searchers make rapid assessments about the quality and relevancy of a website. It’s a new technology and the data is still coming in, but after reviewing the research, we have come to the following initial conclusions:
- There’s no guarantee that Google Instant Preview be widely adopted by searchers. Many searchers are not even aware that Instant Preview exists, and it seems to be confusing even to those who do know about it. And, preview features do not have a history of success in the search world. Ask.com had a similar preview feature back in 2004 that is no longer available today, and Microsoft’s Bing has offered a text preview feature since its inception. Bing and Ask.com have a combined market share of less than 15%. Clearly, previews have not so far been of much interest to searchers.
- If Instant Preview does take off as a technology, it may lead to an increased focus on organic search results. Instant Preview is available only for organic search listings, and Google has stated publicly that it has no plans to offer it for paid listings. If searchers do begin to use previews as part of their search process, they will likely focus on the organic results for which previews are available. To compound this effect, previews visually obscure the paid search ads, making it less likely that a searcher will see them. This, plus Google Instant’s tendency to push more search results below the fold, makes it extremely important for your business to have a dominant position in the organic search listings.
- Instant Preview may increase the quality of leads that come to your website, both through natural search results and paid listings. With Instant Preview, searchers can evaluate websites without even clicking (previews appear when users simply move their mouse over the magnifying glass icon). Preview users will probably “shop around” on the search engine results page, starting with the organic results, but then moving to the paid results if they don’t find what they’re looking for. This means that the searchers that do come to your website via previews are likely to be highly-qualified leads who have already selected you over your competition. Pay-per-click advertisers benefit too, because they will probably get fewer erroneous or frivolous clicks.
- Instant Preview may (somewhat) counteract Google Instant’s tendency to focus users’ attention on the top two or three results, because people will be able to preview all top ten search results quite easily. However, we think that scrolling is always a barrier and that top placement remains extremely important.
- Instant Preview may alter your website metrics. If your website is designed so that people can get the most important information about your company directly from the preview image, fewer visitors may click through to your website. Google doesn’t count an Instant Preview viewing as a click on your page, so your web analytics program may show a reduction in visitor numbers, even as the number of leads you get from your website stays the same or even increases.
- Top placement in the search results is important, but it isn’t enough anymore. Users will be able to quickly evaluate your #1-ranked website – and if it isn’t up to standard at the very first glance, they will go elsewhere.
- Good website design is more important than ever. You only have a brief moment to impress Preview users with the quality and relevance of your website. Also, you now need to make sure that users can get the most important information about your company directly from the preview.
Next week: How to design your site to work well in Google Instant Preview.