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The SEO Impact Of Google Instant Previews

November 10th, 2010 | | Basic SEO Tips

Remember when Google shook up the SEO community with the launch of Google Instant, pitting blogger against blogger in the debate over whether SEO would be dead or dead-on? Well two months later Google has taken yet another step on its never-ending quest toward making search faster.

Yesterday, Google began the rollout of Google Instant Previews with the purpose of making it easier for people to find what they are searching for. Distinguished Engineer Ben Gomes describes Instant Preview as “…the next evolution of finding a result on a search engine results page.” This feature will change the way over a billion searches are conducted per day and change the way we manage SEO.

Let’s take a look at Google Instant Preview and how it will impact search engine optimization.

What Is Google Instant Preview

So what exactly is Instant Preview? The first thing to note is that Google Instant Preview is not Google Instant, but an extension of the instant search concept.  This new feature provides searchers with a snapshot of each website right on the results page.  It will save searchers time as they make quick judgments of the relevancy of sites without having to leave Google.

This isn’t the first time search engines have attempted to incorporate visuals into search results. In 2004, Ask.com launched their Binoculars feature to provide a sneak preview of web pages, although this feature no longer appears to be active on the site. In 2009, Bing was launched with the Quick Previews feature that provides a text summary of the information displayed on the web page.

Instant Previews has combined these two ideas together providing users with both an image of the page and highlighting relevant text from the page to speed up the decision-making process.

How Instant Previews Works

When you type a query into the search bar you will notice that a magnifying glass icon now appears next each page result.

To activate Instant Preview click once on the magnifying glass. The preview will then appear in the white space to the right of the search result. The image can vary in size but Google designed it so previews will never cover search results.  It will however cover up the PPC ads displayed on the page. Here’s an example of the preview for a children’s bedding website:

The preview shows a snapshot of the most relevant sections of the web page. Google even goes a step further and highlights where on the page search terms appear and zooms in so the terms can be read clearly. This is referred to as the call out. Here is a closer look at the call out from the above preview:

Another feature in Instant Previews is the tear, which is when the page appears to be torn in the preview. The purpose of the tear is to show the overall context of the page but also include the most relevant sections.

You can view previews of the other results by hovering over them with your mouse or scrolling using the up and down arrow keys. The image displays within one-tenth of a second from the time the searcher moves to the next result.  To deactivate instant preview all you have to do is click again on the magnifying glass icon. You can see Google Instant Preview in action with this 45-second video.

Impact On SEO

Now you know what Google Instant Preview is and how it works, but will it really have an affect on SEO? The short answer: yes. Below are a few ways SEO will be impacted with the launch of Instant Previews.

Website Design

It is always best practice to have a web page with relevant information that is easy to navigate, but up until this point web page appearance didn’t have an impact on getting a click.  The page titles and meta descriptions still matter but now searchers will be making click decisions based on visual appeal.  If your site is poorly designed or appears irrelevant users will move over it and go on to the next result. Website design is now more important than ever.


Make sure you have integrated keywords into each page of your website.  Google cut outs highlight, bold, and zoom in on searched terms basically smacking the user in the face with your keywords. Place your keywords in your titles, opening sentence, and subheadings. The more highlighted words a user sees the more relevant they assume the sight is and the more likely they will be to click.

Page Rank

Instant Preview will not affect where your page ranks. Google posted on its blog “Instant Preview does not change our search algorithm or ranking in any way. It’s the same results, in the same order.” So, rank won’t change but will it be as important to rank in the coveted top three positions? If users don’t have to click to see what a web page looks like they can more quickly scan through the list of results and find the pages that appears have what they want. Take a look at this example between JCPenney, ranking second for kids bedding, and American Kids Bedding ranking fifth:

Based on the previews which site would you click on? You still want rank on the first page but we may see a trend in lower ranked but better designed websites pulling in greater traffic.

Final Thoughts

According to Google’s official blog people who use Instant Previews are 5 percent more likely to feel satisfied with the website they chose. It seems this feature that will be welcomed by searchers and used in their decision-making processes.

Try it out and see what the preview of your site looks like (if it hasn’t reached you yet, try it here.) Is it a preview that will draw a searcher’s attention and make them want to click? If not, change it. As long as you keep your web pages up to date with relevant and quality content Instant Previews should help, not hinder, site performance.

Bethany is an Account Executive at Hanapin Marketing, a search engine marketing firm focused on generating results through PPC and SEO.

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  • http://rshotspot.com Ray

    5 percent more likely isn’t much when you consider the billions of searches that take place. It’ll still pay dividends to be in one of the top spots.

    Also I think this may effect shopping type sites more but for people looking for information and not products website owners probably won’t be as effected.


    • Anonymous

      “5 percent more likely isn’t much when you consider the billions of searches that take place.”

      Uh…5% of 1 billion is 50,000,000. That seems like quite a bit to me!

  • http://trafficfundi.blogspot.com/ Trafficfundi SEO

    Very interesting. I actually noticed this about a month or two back when they were testing it. I wonder if it’s going to stick though, I think it totally detracts from search to be honest.

    My eyes start wondering and I end up not actually finding what I want or start getting orritated.

    To be honest I think Google needs to watch out for adding too many visual stimulants. We might all move to BING…

  • Dumba

    Good work, Bethany. It’ll be interesting to see if this catches on and how it affects the way that we build and maintain our pages.

    Also, Ray, your point seems counterintuitive. The more web searches conducted, the more significant a seemingly small percentage increase (e.g., 5%) in user satisfaction becomes. The fact that there are billions of searches each day could mean that there are now tens of millions of people who are more satisfied with their searches than they would have been without the Instant Preview feature.

    Keep up the good work, Bethany.