Google Instant Preview: A Game-Changer For Landing Pages

Last month, Google turned on Instant Previews for Ads. Now, a little magnifying glass appears next to each search ad, which the user can click on to see a preview of the landing page for the ad.

It may not have received much fanfare, but this is a huge change for post-click marketing.

Until now, PPC marketing and landing page optimization were separated by a gap: the click. The only information a user had to make a decision to click was (1) the text of the ad itself, a mere 135 characters and (2) the position of the ad as a faint signal of quality or value. And, where applicable, any brand equity that the advertiser had previously established. It wasn’t until the user clicked that they could factor in the actual experience that the advertiser would deliver in return.

That structure let a lot of advertisers get away with poor post-click marketing experiences. As long as the ad — just the ad — tempted people enough to click, they generated their traffic, increased their click-through rate (CTR), and had a shot at snaring some fraction of those respondents in a conversion.

But the game has changed. Poor post-click marketing experiences can no longer hide behind the click.

Now, upon entering this “preview mode,” a user can hover over any ad — or organic listing — on the search results page (SERP) to see what its landing page looks like. They can read snippets of text from the actual page to see how closely it relates to the text of the ad. And by effortlessly moving their mouse around the SERP, they can quickly compare all of the different advertisers before they decide to click on any.

Pre-Click & Post-Click Marketing Converge

To appreciate the impact of this change, imagine that you’re thinking of touring of some wineries in Napa. You do a search for “Napa Valley wineries” and see the following two ads:

ads for Napa Valley wiineries

Would you choose A or B? Personally, I think A is a better ad, but B is certainly credible. “Sit back and relax. Leave the driving to us.” That’s an appealing proposition, and in your mind’s eye, you can almost see a limo winding its way through mountain vineyards. You might click on both.

Now take a look at these ads with the preview mode enabled:

instant previews for Napa Valley wineries

Changes your perspective immediately, doesn’t it? I reduced the size of these to fit here, but even without reading the details, you can tell at a glance that A is still credible and consistent with its ad.

But B suddenly looks like junk. Its snippets of text are just keyword spam. Its island-themed photo of people in Hawaiian shirts clashes with the mental image of a Napa Valley wine tour. The headline of “Wine Tours in Napa” and the custom URL of are not enough to save B. Its credibility is shot.

That’s a big change in the laws of the search universe.

Best Practices For Instant Preview Landing Pages

Google Instant Preview for Ads immediately suggests several best practices for landing pages.

First and foremost, design matters. A landing page that looks good can now send a signal of the quality of the advertiser — potentially a stronger signal than the text of the ad or its position on the SERP. Compelling landing page design can now differentiate you before the click, as well as after.

Second, message match matters. In other words, the promises that the ad makes should be reflected in the copy and imagery of the landing page. Here’s a great example by Silverpop, whose ad promises “The Top 5 Questions You Should Ask When Selecting Marketing Automation” — and their landing page preview clearly fulfills that promise.

Message match with landing page preview

Third, don’t put long forms on your landing page — unless your conversion offer is extremely persuasive. Users who preview a page with a long form and very little other content are likely to be reluctant to click through. (“Oh, goody, I can’t wait to fill out all those fields!”)

Instead, consider using a short form — such as just asking for name and email address. Or postpone your form to the second page of your landing experience. Or implement “progressive conversion,” just asking one or two fields on page one, and then following up with subsequent questions on page two or three. This becomes an additional benefit of deploying multi-step landing experiences.

For example, consider this landing page to a multi-step experience, with the form postponed to page two:

multi-step landing page example

Fourth, speaking of testing, think carefully about your A/B and multivariate testing when experimenting with significantly different offers on your landing page. Google has not made clear exactly when and how they capture these preview thumbnails. If they happen to capture a thumbnail with a big “40% offer” banner, but then when the user clicks through they don’t see that in their version, that would not be good.

One way to prevent problems here is to test with matched pairs of ads and landing pages. So instead of testing one ad with two different A/B versions of a landing page, test an A version of the ad matched to an A version of the landing page against a B version of the ad matched to a B version of the landing page. (In this case, the A and B landing pages should have separate URLs.)

Click-Through Metrics For Landing Pages

This move by Google now makes the click-through rate (CTR) metric relevant to landing pages. As people become aware of this feature, previews of good landing pages will garner more clicks than previews of bad landing pages. This is certainly easy enough to test with matched pairs of ads and landing pages, as we discussed above.

Which landing page previews have the greatest impact on CTR? What’s the relationship between that new CTR and the subsequent conversion rate (now that people have a clearer expectation of what the landing page will deliver)? These are all excellent opportunities for new conversion optimization experiments.

In addition to winning more traffic, this may indirectly impact your quality score. Although Google says these previews will not effect quality score directly, it’s generally accepted that CTR is a significant factor in quality score. So if great landing page previews increase your CTR, your quality score benefits indirectly.

Congratulations, Conversion Science readers. Google has effectively elevated your post-click mission to the very top of the search marketing funnel.

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.

Related Topics: Channel: Analytics | Search & Conversion


About The Author: is the president and CTO of ion interactive, a leading provider of landing page management and conversion optimization software. He also writes a blog on marketing technology, Chief Marketing Technologist. Follow him on twitter via @chiefmartec.

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  • Dave

    Scott, great info man.

    It seems the bait and switch days of Google results are over. The instant preview feature is like receiving the car facts before buying.

    I see the preview also shows most, if not all, of the web page all in a thumbnail version. This takes away from the idea of placing your more eye-catching material “above the fold” as well. Since it seems you can view the whole page at once with this feature.

    I wonder if this will be taken into consideration as well.

  • A.W.

    Hi Scott,

    Nice write up thanks.

    It would be interesting to know how many people actually use the preview feature. Personally I don’t think many people use this feature so I can’t see it having much of an effect.

    Maybe in time more people will become aware of it and start using it.

  • Ian Williams

    I already noticed this purely as a searcher. I no longer have to waste my time visiting pages which begin “Dear Friend”, headed by some ‘enticing’ question in red ink, and are 65 bazillion paragraphs long – of which the highlight is always the peculiarly-quantified ‘value’ (“A $67.3 value”). God, I hate those pages.

  • gavwillis7

    nice column scott,

    This really does put the user at the forefront of search. Gone are the days of simply populating landing pages with relevant keywords to achieve a better quality score.

    This is a good move, and with it will likely to increase CTR as well, it will only help to emphasise the importance of design and usability in improving conversion. At the end of the day it is the user who needs to have the best experience.

  • Brian

    Nice thought out article. The concept of Google’s doing this seems to be dead-spot on for several reasons but it will definately be a game changer for many.
    In reading the article, I’ve had the following thoughts and questions:
    1. I wonder if there’s a we can use to have Google use “this” as the preview display.
    2. Preview may certainly reduce the bounce rate
    3. In reducing the bounce rate, it may also reduce Adwords charges, so is Google cutting it’s revenue stream? Or are they willing to do this in an effort to have better search results?
    4. Do we get a metric measurement in our Google WMT that shows the # of clicks from the preview tool?

  • Ezra Silverton

    I suspect Google is or will be using Instant Preview partial vs. full click intent eventually in their algorithm which may also give weight to the ad and quality score ranking over time. Perhaps even adding this data into Google Analytics may be nice! I would also expect bounce rates for many to decrease since the first impression would be concluded before the click.

  • Chas Blackford

    Interesting that one client’s PPC landing pages don’t display the mag glass – is this because we have them blocked to with a noindex meta? I suspect yes. Could this be a tactic for PPC advertisers to use, perhaps (if they have crap LPs), but it all really depends on consumer acceptance (and the perceived benefit) of this feature. Too bad we all don’t have access to InPage Analytics at Google to see the clicks. ;-) – This could be of those “it seemed like a good idea at the time” features that Google quietly drops…

  • Brian Massey

    Bad design habits like rotating flash headers and big blocks of copy without sub-heads are now going to hurt CTR as well as conversion rates.

    Will landing pages eventually become preview banner ads?

  • Pravin Gupta

    This techniques effects on CTR ! !

  • Thiet ke web Sai Gon

    Google Instant Preview for Ads immediately suggests several best practices for landing pages?


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