With the recent introducton of Google Instant Preview, potential customers no longer need to visit your website in order to get a first impression. By hovering over the arrow to the right of each search result, potential customers can get an overview of the content of your website and may never visit your site directly at all if it doesn't attract them. If a website is of poor design quality or if it doesn't contain content that is relevant to the visitor's search phrase, this is likely to be evident in "instant preview" to some extent.
Google mentions that "Instant Preview" allows you to compare search results visually in order to see if the website is right for you.
Our experience indicates that the preview is being used frequently by "Searchers", making it all the more important that websites are attractive and relevant in order to entice the visitor. In fact, as you browse search results, you may find your mouse pointer falling naturally over the preview activation arrow.
The image on the right is a smaller version (about 1/3 the preview size) of how one of our pages looks in "Google Instant Preview", and although the resolution of the image is not as high quality as the website, it gives the searcher a feeling for the design and content of the site and helps them to decide if it is worth visiting. Some pages are also legible from the preview, depending on text size.
In addition, Google has highlighted those sections of content that relate to the search term in a red box - what it refers to as "text call outs". This helps the searcher decide if there is enough relevant content on the website to justify a visit.
We believe that this recent development puts a strong focus on the need for attractive design and relevant content. This can be achieved through the use of creative web design and professional graphic design, coupled with relevant targeted content writing and on-page search engine optimisation - SEO.
This adds another hurdle to the task of "converting" a searcher into a visitor and is something which we take into consideration when building websites.
There seems little doubt that this new feature has helped alleviate the annoyance of clicking on misleading search results only to find that a page is jam-packed with adverts and poor quality content, or inappropriate content. It has always been Google's stated objective to improve the user experience and this feature seems designed to do so. It does however, add another layer of checking and thought to the web design process.
But there can also be a competitive advantage for well designed sites when compared to poorly designed competitors.
Google has stated that Flash Video Plugins will not work with Instant Preview mode. In addition it seems that other dynamic content such as pop-ups etc. won't show in preview mode either.
Whether searchers understand that the preview is of lower resolution than the actual website is not clear. In addition, whether visitors know that when previews don't display correctly in Google search results, this does not necessarily mean that the website is broken. The extent to which a badly displaying Google Preview deters a visitor remains to be seen. As more search data emerges we should get a better picture as to the impact of this new feature on search habits.
Google Webmaster Tools has a useful section where you can check the Google Instant Preview for each page on a website. For non-technical individuals and clients you should get your webmaster or designer to do this as it throws up a list of errors for files and directories that are protected for security reasons, or that are restricted by a Robots.txt file.
After checking each page your designer or webmaster may have to amend your server settings or crawl restrictions (stipulated in your Robots.txt) in order to allow all relevant images and CSS to be accessed by Google Web Preview search bot. Our experience to date suggests that the way in which this search bot requests images and CSS can potentially fall foul of web application firewalls such as Apache Mod-Security and may require amendments to be made to certain rule-sets and configuration settings.
The introduction of Google Instant Preview has added another dimension to what were previously text based search results. It creates a crossover between Goolge image search and normal search results in our view. We often see website owners asking how to get their website images showing in Google Image Search Results, well now "instant preview" bridges the two to a certain extent.
Bing (which controls Yahoo search) already shows a row of images across the top of its normal "text based results" for certain search terms. Whether or not it will follow suit with a similar "Instant Preview" feature remains to be seen.
Optimising website design for such new features is just another step in keeping up with the changing face of search engine results.