While thumbnail previews of websites displayed on search results pages (SERPS) is nothing new (Ask.com actually pioneered it the feature), the fact that 800 search gorilla Google has rolled it out means that overnight, the feature is extremely significant.
Google Instant Previews (otherwise known as the Full Employment For Web Designers Act), allows searchers to click on the magnifying glass icon next to a link in the SERPS and get a pop-up image preview of the page to which the link leads.
While it’s true, there is not yet any hard and fast data on whether or not people are actually using Instant Previews, it hardly takes a great leap of the imagination to see that the use of this feature will likely become widespread once people discover it and become used to it; it’s too convenient not to use.
These are the factors at work: 1) We’re already drowning in a tidal wave of information with precious few tools to help us swim, 2) and therefore, we will seize anything that lets us make decisions at a glance (which is why Infographics have become so popular), and 3) use of technology changes the way we behave and it changes our expectations.
As Google Instant Preview gains adoption, it is going to affect click-throughs and therefore conversions, because if the visual representation of the page being displayed does not inspire trust that the page is relevant to the searcher’s query, or, even if it is relevant, the design of the page does not inspire overall trust in the overall site, people won’t click.
When I look at a search engine optimization project, I look at the overall experience for the searcher, from query to conversion. The visual appeal of the site in general and the landing page in particular has always had a bearing on conversions, but Google Instant Previews now puts that factor front and center.
The preview is now part of the search experience that must be taken into consideration for search optimization efforts.
The technology is not quite ready for primetime, as the screenshot at the top of this post shows. The graphic depicts the Google Instant Preview of this blog and, as you can see, it is not displaying video content that is embedded using HTML5 or using embedded Flash. You just get the plugin icon.
I expect someone will eventually figure out workarounds or Google itself with fix the feature.
What do you think? While this certainly creates some obstacles for sites that are not beautifully designed, does it also create some exciting new opportunities?