Google Instant Preview

This post was originally published on the Day2 blog on Monday, June 25, 2012. 

A Brief History of Instant Previews

Have you ever been on a Google search results page and a small web page screenshot popped up as you moused over? Whether you uncovered this feature by accident or knew to look for it, the image you saw was courtesy of Google’s Instant Preview feature. Instant Previews are snapshots of web pages that get displayed in Google search results. Back in the day, Bing originally brought search result previews to the mainstream with their right-side extended previews for organic listings, but Bing’s previews only contained additional text links and information about the website. Google took previews a step further by including a small visual of the landing page.

By simply adding a small image to their organic and paid search previews, Google has significantly changed the optimization game yet again. How? By giving users the ability to see your website before clicking on your organic listing or paid ad. I would even argue that Google’s instant preview is a major step towards bringing visual search to the mainstream. Interestingly, Bing has actually scaled back on displaying previews in its search results.

Think of instant preview as the online equivalent of window shopping. Searchers are able to visually browse organic results and paid ads before deciding which website they want to visit. Before instant preview, searchers could only read meta descriptions or ad text to inform their browsing. Today, instant preview gives users the opportunity to decide if a site’s organic listing or ad is trustworthy, relevant, and click-worthy based landing page appearance, in addition to what the text says about the website.

Take the following example. I had knee surgery a few months ago and I’m looking to buy a new ice pack. King Brand website was the first ad listed by Google, which has pretty compelling ad text based on what I’m looking for (even claiming to be “the best”). Knowing that Google won’t verify copy like that without consistent information within the landing page, this sounds promising. The second ad, on the other hand, doesn’t claim to be “the best” ice wrap, but it does explicitly mention knee surgery patients, so it definitely sounds like what I’m looking for. But yet I’m still leaning toward the first ad because I want “the best”.

Now I’m going to take a look at the instant preview for each ad before I decide.  Despite lengthy text on the King Brand website about how great the ColdCure wraps are, I don’t see any place to actually buy anything on this page. I really want to buy a new ice pack online, so the Go Moji appears to be the better option for me. Which site would you want to click on?

Google Instant Preview


Google Instant Preview

My mother always said “Don’t judge a book by its cover”, but with Google Instant Preview, informing actions by visual appeal alone is likely to become the new norm in search behavior.


Small Images = Big Opportunities

Website owners and marketers can potentially score big by optimizing for these small images. Consider how your company’s revenue can be impacted by an increase or decrease in click-throughs from organic search, or the impact that CTRs have on the performance of your AdWords ads. Optimizing your organic and PPC landing pages for instant preview can give your website an edge over the competition and will most likely improve your bounce rates too. Good design, a clean layout, easy-to-scan text and a clear call to action on landing pages is now more important than ever. Here are some things to keep in mind when optimizing your landing pages for instant preview.

A Google-Eye View of Your Website

Google typically generates an instant preview image when crawling a web page. Therefore, keeping an eye on the instant previews of your site’s web pages lets you actually see what Google bot “sees”. Websites that rely heavily on Flash and images will likely lose out if a searcher is browsing instant previews. Take the Squarespace site, which is low on text and rich with images, but otherwise has a pretty nice design and layout in my opinion. However, when viewing their landing page in instant preview there is barely any content visible.

Google Instant Preview


Definitely not very compelling based on the preview alone. And I’m skeptical that Squarespace is going to be able to give me a template for my website that will make my “content stand out” when I can’t even see most of the content on their landing page. 


Instant Preview Optimization Tips 

If the instant preview of your site looks different than your actual landing page, this may be an indication that Google is having difficulty crawling your web page. Google Webmaster Tools has a tool that allows you to compare instant preview to your live web page. You can even see what the Mobile Search Instant Preview of your page looks like in addition to the desktop previews. Google will also report back on errors that Google bot encountered while fetching the Instant Previews. (Tip: If you’ve made changes to your landing page recently but those changes aren’t showing up in Google’s instant preview, check your site’s crawl report in Google Webmaster Tools to see when the page was last crawled. If you landing page hasn’t been crawled since you updated it, then you can ask Google to crawl the page.)

Optimizing your web pages for instant preview is simple if you are already familiar with landing page optimization best practices. Instant preview is just another big reason to invest in enhancing, testing, and analyzing the performance of key organic and PPC landing pages on a regular basis. (This is the bread and butter of Day2, which is why we love instant preview! More testing and optimization opportunities? Yes, please!)

To get the best performance from your site’s instant previews, you must:

1.      A/B or multivariate test the design, layout, and content of your landing pages  

2.      Use Google Webmaster Tools and your analytics tool to determine how well your instant previews are performing, and lastly

3.      Analyze the results of your optimization efforts.

Instant previews may seem like small elements to consider on your path to optimization, but as the evolution towards visual search continues, these little snapshots may have a big impact on CTRs, bounce rates, and your company’s bottom line.

If you haven’t already, visit Google and search for your company, product, or service offering. How does YOUR website look in instant preview? Tell us!


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