UPDATE: Google Instant Preview has been discontinued. You can read more about the change here.
For the last couple of weeks Google Labs has provided preview functionality in the search results. Clicking on the new magnifying glass icon next to the title will display a popup preview of the landing page. While the preview is live, the searcher can hover over additional listings on the page to see comparison previews as well. The previews pop up to the right hand side of the page over the AdWords listings (see image below).
Today Google announced the feature on their official blog. We would expect a deeper release in time for Matt Cutts’ presentation at PubCon. Google and Bing always come out with some great industry advancements at this conference and the fact that the official Google blog made an announcement this morning about some data behind the functionality is a good sign that we will see it live soon.
When this functionality goes live, search engine marketers will see a couple of changes in their primary metrics. These numbers will be weighted by the number of searchers who are actively using the Google Instant Preview functionality:
- Poorly structured sites who do well in SEO but have high bounce rates from natural search visits will likely see their traffic decrease due to user intent.
- Sites that focus on their messaging, usability and CRO for their natural landing pages should see a lift in conversions since searchers have a preconceived notion prior to their visit.
- Sites using Flash for their homepage may see a dip in traffic and conversion until they serve crawler friendly homepages or Google does a better job rendering Flash into images.
Google claims that searchers using Google Instant Preview are 5% more likely to be satisfied with their results. I am surprised that this number wasn’t higher. Using Instant Preview should (in theory) lead to a better user experience and improved site metrics.
The primary take away here is making sure search marketers are focusing on building quality web experiences for the searcher. What was once a focus on making sure landing page snip-its have a clear call to action to generate clicks now includes optimizing your landing page to display enticing previews.
Here are some key points to keep in mind about this new feature. First and foremost is the user experience. Google has been able to serve these images dynamically with lighting speed. The images show a stitched version of the landing pages which contain the content relevant to the users search query. This allows the searcher to find what they are looking for quickly and efficiently. Searchers can easily compare the message of each site prior to visiting and can quickly identify sites they have been to before.
The primary take away from the Google Instant Preview launch is making sure search marketers are focusing on building quality web experiences for the searcher.
We did a quick split test on the page load times of Google vs Google Instant Preview (with Google Instant turned off). The same 10 queries were run from Firefox and the Firebug plugin (http://getfirebug.com/) was used to capture load times. Live Google had an average load time of 668ms and Google with Instant Preview had an average load time of 761ms. Although this was from a small sample set, the initial analysis supports Googles claims that they do the query image processing “usually in under one-tenth of a second”. Also keep in mind that the longer page load times came from Google Labs which may not be running the same hardware as a typical Google data center. I doubt the 100ms will have a drastic impact on usability based on what is gained.