Google’s Instant Previews feature – The Marketer’s Friend and Foe

After a testing period in the USA, Google's Instant Previews feature, which had also recently started popping up in the UK, has been launched.  When a search is conducted on Google, as well as being able to view the related search results, the searcher, whilst scrolling through each, is privy to a full miniature pop-up preview of the related website. When it comes to online marketing, advertising and visibility, this suddenly makes site design even more important to winning the click in both paid and natural search.

With Google Instant Previews, a negative reaction to a website could in itself prove costly not only to online advertisers but also to brands with an online presence. However, if they get the site design right, Google Instant Previews could have a very positive impact. There are also benefits for affiliate programs, particularly super-affiliates, pushing a single client product.

Previously, the design of a site would impact the conversion rate, but you could still generate the initial traffic to it. However, now that a user can look at the overall design of a site before clicking, then suddenly a whole new set of parameters begin to become important in generating clicks. For example colours, logo positions/size and site layout - these are just some of the things that will need to be taken into consideration when building landing pages. If there are no suitable pages on a site, then building specific landing pages (that are flexible enough to test on), is by far the best way to go.

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Impact on Paid Search

Google Instant Previews could have an interesting impact on PPC, but knowing exactly what this impact will be is hard to predict.  However, you can be sure a negative reaction to a site layout or colour design of a website in Google Instant Previews, would have an effect on online advertisers' percentage click-through rates (CTRs), something they have not had to worry about in the past. This in turn would also result in a drop in Quality Score and an increase in cost per clicks (CPCs) as a result, not good news for sites with a poor user experience.

However, there could be a positive impact on brands with easily recognizable colours who may find they actually benefit from this new update. If they are the leading or most recognized player in their market, and a user is casually skimming the mouse over each site, then well-known colours will certainly help to pull a user in even if the ad copy does not contain the strongest offer in the search results (and especially if the other visible sites have less recognisable colour schemes).

Good news for Affiliates

Interestingly, Google's preview feature could have an impact on affiliate programs too, especially for super-affiliates or affiliates pushing a single client product.

At Greenlight, we are expecting to see a number of new PPC sites popping up with similar colours and layouts, in a bid to 'trick' a casual user into clicking on the affiliate PPC ad and drop that all important cookie.

Affiliates have always been ahead of the game in terms of finding the techniques that work in PPC and the sensible affiliate manager will add into the program terms and conditions that affiliate site design and colours must not mimic the original site they are promoting.

Impact on Search engine optimisation (SEO)

Google's Instant Preview adds yet more functionality to the ever growing, feature packed results pages.  Google Instant recently helped cut down those precious milliseconds it takes to type a full word in the search bar, so why then should users have to click back and forth between websites? 

Does this mean the SEO consultant now needs to dust off their copy of "Click Through and Conversion Rates for Dummies"? Well, these metrics should always be in the SEO's mind. However, they now certainly become more of a priority, not only because a web page is visible in the search engine results pages (SERPs) but it could well represent a push for CTR in the algorithm. 

For example, a good quality site ranks 3rd for a search term and a low quality affiliate site ranks 1st.  The affiliate site uses dynamic templates with content pulled from elsewhere on the web and no design considerations whatsoever.  The high quality site has been tailor made to reflect the type of users it attracts and provides a unique service.  To the average searcher using Google's Instant Preview, it is clear the affiliate site does not provide what they need or at least does not catch their attention. However, the page ranking in 3rd seems to be of much higher quality and may actually be what they are looking for.  Google sees time and time again that previews of both results are viewed but the site in 3rd gets 90% of clicks - a clear sign it is what users are looking for. 

Another view may also highlight the need to get the correct page ranking for a given term.  A hypothetical example - your homepage, it is already ranking for a competitive term such as 'laptops'. Stick the keyword in the title and content and you quickly have a half decent page to link build to.  That may be the case but the laptops category page has a big bright heading of 'Laptop Sale' and images of laptops - the homepage doesn't.  Given a preview of each page which one would you click on?

With the launch of Google's preview feature, the SEO game will, to an extent, change again.  Another factor to consider and another area to optimise, but the core SEO principles stay the same as always.

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