Google continues to roll out new features to its search results page. With their latest innovation, dubbed Google Instant Previews , Google is supplementing the standard text results with a snapshot image of the particular web page. Their official video demonstrates how users can view the instant preview pages:
Depending on uptake, this new feature certainly has the potential to alter search behavior. As others have pointed out, these instant previews end up covering the sponsored results  on the right-hand rail, which could negatively impact click-through rate on these ads.
According to Google’s blog post, early users of Instant Previews were 5% more likely to be “satisfied with the results they click.” By including previews of the destination site in the search results page, Google hopes that users can “quickly compare results”, “pinpoint relevant content”, and “interact with the results page.”
From the marketer’s perspective, bringing destination content to the search results page provides new opportunities to capture the searcher’s attention and stand out on the page. But for many existing sites with strong rankings, good on-page content, and a user-friendly design, Instant Previews also has the potential to do more harm than good.
Here are a few examples and key takeaways for marketers:
- Meta descriptions matter. meta description tags  on each of your web pages has always been considered an SEO best practice. By leaving them out, Google will typically include the first instance of text on the page. If you leave out your meta description, the Instant Preview will highlight the text Google has selected. And in the process, end up hiding more of your page:
- Re-directs are problematic. A search for [Hilton] brings up the Hilton Hotels corporate site as the first organic result. The company is re-directing traffic from www.hilton.com to www1.hilton.com, which Google lists as the second result on the page. From a SERP-domination standpoint, Hilton gets the benefit of having their corporate site show up as the top results on the page (1 paid, 2 organic). Unfortunately, the preview of www.hilton.com, makes it appear as if the site is in need of some serious room service:
- Flash sites are also problematic. Under the category of SEO 101, developing a site completely in flash is probably not the best way to rank for your top keywords. But many marketers will include flash elements on their site to engage their audience or demo a particular tool. Unfortunately, flash elements are not included in the instant preview. Not to pile on Hilton Hotels, but the preview of “Hilton Worldwide ” looks fantastic… if I was searching for a vacation to the great unknown:
As with any new feature, Google is working out the kinks and one has to assume that they will come up with a means to render these rich content sites more accurately.
Google will be rolling out Instant Previews in more than 40 languages over the coming days. If you don’t see the magnifying glass in your search results, take an early preview .
What do you think about Instant Previews? Will this have a meaningful impact on paid clicks? Should marketers make immediate changes to their site design or content? Leave a comment and let us know.