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Under the Microscope: How Google Instant Previews will impact ads

What: Instant Previews, an upgrade Google has made to Google Instant that allows searchers to preview a website within Google's search results before visiting it.

When: One question the industry is wondering about is when will its impact on search engine optimization become clear. That is too soon to answer, eConsultancy says. "Google hasn't yet widely rolled out this feature to casual searchers, and once it does there's just no telling what percentage of searchers are going to take the hint and actually click on that magnifying glass icon. Clearly some will, but again - it's early days. Will the previewers be shoppers? Browsers? In research or buying mode? All or none of the above?"

Still, though, one can assume that the impact will eventually be big for website design and optimization. Search Engine Watch points out that Google has said that people using Instant Previews were 5 percent more likely to be satisfied with the results they clicked on because they were able to evaluate the site before visiting and find what they were looking for. "So this puts more emphasis on website design obviously, as you want to entice users to your site."

What Else: Instant Ad Previews. What the industry should really be paying attention to is the impact the previews will have on ads. Simply put the images cover up the ads. However Google says this isn’t something advertisers should worry about (via Search Engine Land).

"The company told me that most people scan the search results page quickly. If they’re interested in the unpaid 'editorial' results, they’ll tend to stay looking at them rather than going back and forth to the ads. In other words, previews aren’t blocking ads because if someone decides they want to focus on editorial results, they’re already ignoring the ads.” What's more, SEL says, ads will be getting an Instant Preview feature in the future - but wasn’t given a timeline for that by Google.

How: So how to cope? Google provides some advice:

  • Keep your pages clearly laid out and structured, with a minimum of distractions or extraneous content.
  • Try to avoid interstitial pages, ad pop-ups, or other elements that interfere with your content. In some cases, these distracting elements may be picked up in the preview of your page, making the screenshots less attractive.
  • Many pages have their previews generated as part of our regular crawl process. Occasionally, we will generate screenshots on the fly when a user needs it, and in these situations we will retrieve information from web pages using a new "Google Web Preview" user-agent.
  • Instant Previews does not change our search algorithm or ranking in any way. It's the same results, in the same order. There is also no change to how clicks are tracked. If a user clicks on the title of a result and visits your site, it will count as a normal click, regardless of whether the result was previewed. Previewing a result, however, doesn't count as a click by itself.
  • Currently, adding the nosnippet meta tag to your pages will cause them to not show a text snippet in our results. Since Instant Previews serves a similar purpose to snippets, pages with the nosnippet tag will also not show previews. However, we encourage you to think carefully about opting out of Instant Previews. Just like regular snippets, previews tend to be helpful to users - in our studies, results which were previewed were more than four times as likely to be clicked on. URLs that have been disallowed in the robots.txt file will also not show Instant Previews.
  • Currently, some videos or Flash content in previews appear as a "puzzle piece" icon or a black square. We're working on rendering these rich content types accurately.

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