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November 25, 2010

Google Instant Preview Changes How Search Results Are Viewed

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Google Instant Preview is a new feature following the September roll out of Google Instant which completes searches while they’re being typed into Google’s search field, with the goal of significantly reducing time spent searching.

But is the new feature really going to speed up the searcher’s experience, or is it yet another complicated layer on what was once a simple and easy-to-understand search interface? Google’s own research revealed that on average searchers using Google Instant Preview are 5% more likely to be satisfied with the search results they click after seeing a visual preview next to the organic listing.

Google Instant Preview essentially gives users the ability to see a website before they visit it. Google accomplishes this by taking a screenshot of every webpage in its index and giving users access to it via a magnifying glass icon that sits to the right of every search result.

When a user clicks on the magnifying glass icon, a screenshot of the webpage in question will appear to the right of the search result listing. It’s an at-a-glance view of the website page without actually having to visit the webpage.

One of the key elements to Instant Previews though is that Google sometimes highlights a section of the page where the page description occurs. This becomes a useful feature when you’re trying to find information on a specific person on a page that lists dozens or hundreds of people. Instead of having to scroll through the entire page to find the person, you can just look at the Instant Preview and see where they are on the page.

“We realized early on that this kind of experience would only make sense if it was lightning fast. Not long ago simply downloading an image could take 20 or 30 seconds, and even today many websites take four or five seconds to load,” Raj Krishnan, Product Manager wrote in the Google Blog. “With Google Instant Preview, we match a search query with an index of the entire web, identify the relevant parts of each webpage, stitch them together and serve the resulting preview completely customised to your search–usually in under one-tenth of a second.”

SEO expert Peter Bowen at First One On says, “while Google Instant Preview is designed to speed up the searching process what it actually does is to speed up the decision-making process of choosing whether or not to click on the link by previewing the visual screenshot of the resulting webpage.”

“Google currently provides a lot more data to help the searcher. At one time search engines just displayed the first two lines from a webpage under a search result, but now they include information like site links, date, cached content, jump to links and even Google Places.”

Instant Previews can be helpful for many kinds of tasks. For example, say you looked at a page before and need to find it again – with a preview, you can tell if any of the results look familiar. Or perhaps you’re looking for an official website – look for a logo and formal style and you’ll probably be able to identify it. Or maybe you’re looking for a how-to guide – it’s easy to spot a page with clear illustrations and step-by-step instructions.

From an SEO perspective the big question is how will Google Instant Preview affect our understanding of traditional SEO, and what changes should we consider making to webpages so that they can be easily previewed in a tiny screenshot?

When a searcher performs a search and sees the search results page displayed, they do have a choice of whether or not to activate the Google Instant Preview feature by clicking on the magnifying glass icon.

“However, clicking on the magnifying glass icon is less of a commitment than clicking on a link, and you still need to convince the searcher that it is worth their time to preview a website” says Peter Bowen. “Therefore it becomes more important than ever to have a well defined and well written description of what the website page is about and it has to fit within the 150 character limit. So the Meta content description is what you will have to change and be aware of here.”

As we already know, Flash is not SEO friendly because it cannot be read by search engines and is even worse for Instant Preview as it shows as a black rectangle and cannot be rendered. The same is true for video files that also display a black rectangle in the preview, so consideration of this is important too.

It should be pointed out that because the image size of the screenshot is so small, unless the text in headings is large enough, it will be impossible to read.

So what does all this mean? Well, we have to start thinking about the overall page layout and if it looks good at postage stamp size or if it is just a blur of text with no images to make it look appealing. This means creating pages that pay more attention to navigation, titles and headers, spacing, colors and objects, such as call-to-action buttons. Having a good looking page with relevant titles now may count as much as the content on the page itself.

It is likely that we will begin to see a lot more webpages with well defined graphics and other visual aids designed to get a searcher’s attention. This makes SEO even more important than ever, make sure that your images are named with keywords and their file names and alt text are descriptive and accurate.

Google Instant Preview is here to stay and designed to make the search selection process easier and according to Google faster, but in the end, good SEO practices are what is going make the difference of whether or not you get discovered on the search engine results pages.


Peter Bowen is a seasoned SEO Marketing specialist who has been involved with the internet since 1994 when he won the Entrepreneur of the Year award for developing an online internet shopping mall. He has developed software for learning and now concentrates his efforts on helping others to understand and market their products and services through effective search marketing strategies. First One On helps clients through the maze of SEO to get top rankings for their clients.

8 Responses to “Google Instant Preview Changes How Search Results Are Viewed

    avatar Brett says:

    I Increased the size of our company info on the top of our web page.

    Behind our flash banner in very large print I added “I highly recommend forrest auto body”

    This way instead of a Black box where the flash would be you have something that encourages click through.

    avatar Wolfgang says:

    Since Google introduced its preview feature, our traffic has dropped 57%. I speculate that this is because now people don’t explore our website. Google’s excerpt that is highlighted on the preview is also a disservice to any website. Secondly, aside from Google, I think that people are busy with all their apps and spending less time surfing the web. Would be interesting to know if web traffic is down in general.
    Thank you,

    avatar Jackie says:

    It’s funny because as a searcher, I still view Google Instant as more of a novelty than a tool. Obviously it will take some time for my behavior to adapt, but that’s sort of the point, isn’t it? There’s a push to analyze and adjust for these features right out of the gate, but the learning trajectory of the search user is just as important. Back to the basics, as always. Know your demographic. I still type a search term with the germ of an idea already somewhat firmly established. The fact that results for “Where can I find Chuck Norris” display as soon as I’ve finished typing the word “find” is hilarious, but is not actually going to dissuade me from trudging ahead in my search for great pasta salad recipes, and I don’t think it’s something the Chuck Norris Marketing Squad should spend its time optimizing for.

    Instant Preview. Cool, sure. But if my mom can’t read the size 14 font in the email I sent her, she’s not going to press her nose up to the screen to look at the microscopic highlighted text in the preview pane.

    Also I get that these articles are pretty much gussied-up promotion vehicles, but quoting yourself as the expert in your own article is. Not cool.

    I enjoyed the article. What interesting here is that Google is trying to roll out new features to keep people using their search engine now that Facebook has become so big. It almost seems like Google is scrambling to add new features like Instant and instant preview.
    When they make changes like this it affects the way we have to think about SEO because instant preview will allow people to see a small version of the web page and we will now have to change the way the page appears to users in the preview.
    I understand these changes are for the purpose of the user but they sure are a pain to those of us in the online marketing business.

    avatar Sharky says:

    LOL! Jackie is right, quoting yourself in your own article is NOT COOL!

    I couldn’t actually believe it. Lost all credibility.

    avatar Gwen Taylor says:

    Instant preview can be useful but only to provide a quick preview of what the page looks like in general. In order for the preview to be of any real value the preview will need to be magnified in order to read the content.

    avatar flash page templates says:

    I think this was a very interesting post thanks for writing it!

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