iMarket Solutions Blog : Archive for February, 2011

Google Instant Preview: Our Initial Assessment

Wednesday, February 23rd, 2011

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.

Continue Reading

Google Instant Preview: A Game-Changer? Or Maybe Not

Wednesday, February 16th, 2011

As we discussed in last week’s blog, Google Instant has changed users’ visual experience of Google, making it more important than ever to dominate the organic local search listings.

This week, we’re going to explore another development in Google’s visual design: Google Instant Preview. Google Instant Preview, which is very different from Google Instant, gives users a thumbnail snapshot of your website right from the search page. The snapshot shows in miniature what a website site looks like, while text callouts show search terms in context, highlighted in orange. To view the snapshot, users click on a small blue magnifying glass to the right of each search result, and if they click on the snapshot, they go directly to the website itself.

Google Instant Preview has the potential to dramatically change the way users evaluate search results. Testing shows that searchers typically evaluate search results by looking for their search term in the title, URL (web address), and text snippet of each search result. Now, searchers will have the opportunity not only to look for words, but also visual images of the product or service they’re searching for.

In theory, the visual preview will enable users to evaluate search results more quickly and accurately, which means that searchers who come to your website after seeing it in Google Instant Preview are more likely to be qualified leads for your business. In its blogs, Google says that its initial testing indicates that searchers who use Google Instant Preview are four times more likely to click on a page they’ve previewed, and 5% more likely to be satisfied with the results they click.

But does Google Instant Preview work in practice?  Market testers rate Instant Preview a mixed success. They report that users often miss the magnifying glass icon because it is small and pale in color. If searchers do see the magnifying glass, they are unsure of how to use it. And, after searchers are shown by testers how to use Google Instant Preview, they tend to focus on the images in the snapshot to see if a website has the products they were looking for. They pay much less attention to the highlighted text in orange – some even call it a distraction.

We believe that these initial findings suggest the following:

  1. Not everyone will use Google Instant Preview. We believe that people who do not have sharp eyesight, or who are not tech-savvy, will ignore the functionality completely. Younger people will probably adopt the technology once they realize that it’s there, while seniors are unlikely to use it.
  2. It is more important than ever for a website to have a clear, uncluttered design in order to appeal to those searchers who do use Google Instant Preview.

Google Instant Preview may not change the search game completely, but it’s worth taking into account in your search strategy. In the upcoming weeks, we’ll talk about some of the possible implications of Instant Preview, and how to be sure that your website’s design is up to the challenges and opportunities Instant Preview offers.

Continue Reading

Why Google Instant Makes Local Search More Important Than Ever

Wednesday, February 9th, 2011

Google is known for its visual simplicity – a plain white homepage, with a simple logo and one search box in the center of the page.

But don’t confuse Google’s simplicity with simple-mindedness. Everything about Google’s visual presentation is carefully – even obsessively – designed.

In one famous anecdote reported in the New York Times business section, Google tested 41 different shades of blue to see which one made people click most on a particular toolbar. This isn’t as picky as it might seem – clicks are how Google earns its money, and Google gets them in such volume that even a tiny percentage change can make a major difference in revenue.

So, at first it seems surprising that the visual design of Google Instant* may be distracting users away from paid search ads, Google’s bread and butter. Some initial eye-tracking data (and this is backed up by our own anecdotal experience) suggest that users’ attention may focus more on the constantly-changing words just below the search box than on the paid ads to the right.

However, this may be a calculated sacrifice on Google’s part, because Google Instant guides people toward higher-volume, more expensive search terms. Google’s paid search ads may receive fewer overall clicks, but each click will be worth more to Google in advertising revenue.

The jury is still out until more data comes in, so stay tuned!

What is certain about Google Instant is that it pushes organic (unpaid) search results farther down the page. Searchers used to see links to four or five websites before having to scroll down for more, but now they see only three or so. (We use newspaper jargon to describe this – the search results you can see immediately are “above the fold”, while those that you have to scroll to see are “below the fold”.)

The implications of this change are obvious: it’s more important than ever to dominate the search results for the search terms that are relevant to your business. For service businesses, it’s especially vital to have strong placement in local search. Whenever a searcher types in a town or city name along with their search (i.e., “plumber Burlington VT”), the local search results will appear first – and now, they are often the only thing searchers see above the fold.
Fortunately, iMarket’s local search strategy is designed to do just that, and we encourage you to contact us to find out more.

Next week: Google Instant Preview: a game-changer?

*Google Instant is Google’s new auto-completion feature that offers suggestions for search terms based on the letters or words you’ve already entered – see our other blog posts on Google Instant for more information.

Continue Reading