Google Launches Instant Previews

At last, Google has finally gained a page preview feature. Called “Instant Previews,” this is a way for you to see what’s on a page that’s listed in Google’s search results without having to leave Google.

The new feature seems promising, another way to save time in the searching process, because there’s less need for people to “pogostick” with their search results.

Pogosticking is when someone clicks from a search listing to a page, then clicks back if unsatisfied to select another result and so on. With the new Instant Previews, they may be better able to immediately spot the most promising pages among those listed.

Up Close With Instant Previews

In the new feature, which was spotted being tested last month, a small magnifying glass appears next to each listing:

Click on that magnifying glass, and a preview of the page that’s listed will appear to the right side of the search results:

Once you’ve enabled Instant Preview mode, you can also use your arrow key to move down through the other results. As you select one, it will be highlighted with a blue background. The preview will change to show the highlighted page:

More Than Just A Thumbnail

Previews that show a small “thumbnail” image of a page are nothing new. They’ve been employed by various search engines over the years. Ask.com, for example, launched its Binoculars service way back in 2004, through the feature appears to have been dropped as part of Ask’s recent makeover into a Q&A search engine. Google even began offering thumbnail previews last year, through its search options feature.

Bing tried a new twist on previews when it rolled out Quick Previews as part of its launch in 2009. By placing your mouse to the right of any listing, you get a longer textual summary of information displayed from the page itself, as with this example below:

Google’s system seeks to marry the two: an image of the page as well as extracting text. Rather than a small thumbnail image, it shows a much larger picture of what the page looks like. The larger image, and one that’s not in a standard square shape, especially helped with people finding the previews useful in testing, Google told me. In addition, the previews highlight the relevant text on the page — similar to Bing — but within the context of the image.

Callouts & Tears

Within the images, relevant text to your search is highlighted through “callouts” that make it easy to read:

Pages can have more than one callout:

Pages might also have have what Google call “tears,” where a page might appear to have been “torn” to show you the overall context of the page but also show you parts relevant to your search. Below, an example of a tear is shown between the two green bars:

Instant Previews & Ads

The images previews cover up Google’s ads, when they appear. Is this a problem for advertisers? Google says largely no.

The company told me that most people scan the search results page quickly. If they’re interested in the unpaid “editorial” results, they’ll tend to stay looking at them rather than going back and forth to the ads. In other words, previews aren’t blocking ads because if someone decides they want to focus on editorial results, they’re already ignoring the ads.

Ads, by the way, will also get an Instant Preview feature in the future, Google told me.  There’s no set timeline for this, however.

Site Owners: You Can Block Previews

Don’t like the idea of Google making previews of your pages? As with Bing’s previews, you can also opt-out of Google’s. To do so, just make use of the nosnippets meta tag. Meta Robots Tag 101: Blocking Spiders, Cached Pages & More explains more about this.

Also, be aware that the descriptions shown for your pages in the results may be different than the callouts on the pages. Sometimes they match; sometimes they don’t. Different algorithms are at work.

Nice Addition

Google suggests that Instant Previews will make it easier to spot if a page contains a table, chart or picture you might be after, and says those using it will be 5% happier with their results. I agree. It should be a useful feature for many searchers in these or other cases. There have been plenty of times when a short preview would have given me a better idea if a site might be worthwhile to visit or not. And, if you don’t like it, well, don’t click on the magnifying glass and you won’t see it.

The preview begin rolling out today worldwide and should be in place by tomorrow for everyone. If you don’t see them yet, visit this special page at Google about Instant Previews and then click on the “Try It Now” link. Or, just click here to go directly to a special version of Google that will enable it.

To learn more about Google Instant Previews, also see Google’s blog post about it. For related coverage of this story across the web, see here on Techmeme.

Related Topics: Channel: SEO | Features: General | Google: SEO | Google: Web Search | Search Features: Enhanced Listings | Top News

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About The Author: is a Founding Editor of Search Engine Land. He’s a widely cited authority on search engines and search marketing issues who has covered the space since 1996. Danny also serves as Chief Content Officer for Third Door Media, which publishes Search Engine Land and produces the SMX: Search Marketing Expo conference series. He has a personal blog called Daggle (and keeps his disclosures page there). He can be found on Facebook, Google + and microblogs on Twitter as @dannysullivan.

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  • http://www.blindfiveyearold.com ajkohn

    Any chance Google will provide Webmasters will data on preview usage? How many times was a result previewed? What was the clicks/previews ratio? Or will we have to look at the URL parameters to see if we can capture preview clicks?

    In deciding whether this is a feature you would want to block, these types of metrics would seem useful.

  • http://onreact onreact

    Can it be that you don’t actually need to visit the site anymore? You can view it inside Google itself. Bad news for webmasters. Google becomes worse than scrapers if you ask me.

  • http://www.williamalvarez.com William Alvarez

    You forgot to mention that websites that are built on Flash won’t render properly in the preview window. I recently took this screenshot http://twitpic.com/2zik6g

  • seo effect

    @onreact Yes, I think this is bad for site owners that need engagement to sell bannerviews on there pages. I don’t think the banner viewed in the Google instant preview will be counted as a view nor a click.
    For websites that need leads or transaction like shops there is no alarm sign ringing.

  • http://www.mwd.com joehobot

    That thing was I think SOOO stolen from Firefox Add-On called CoolPreviews basically it ads loop to each link and if you click on it or mouse-hoover you get previews of the website before you actually click on it.

  • http://www.cmsbuffet.com/ CMSBuffet

    I think this is good for some sites and bad for others.
    one example of a web site that can benefit would be locksmith. if i am stuck outside and all i care is a phone number, then this is great.

  • http://mcarter@receptional.com Miles Carter

    It looks like the screens are being created with a chromium based browser, based on the preview for one of the sites I look after including a loading bug that’s only shown in webkit browsers. Definitely supports CSS3 in preview, ie drop shadow which is a big win, I was dreading this causing a return to using CSS2 styles.

    One effect it could have is getting IE6 users to upgrade their browsers as they might notice that some sites don’t look as good in their browsers as they do in the preview.

  • http://fr.linkedin.com/in/adwordsgoogle mickael

    What I noticed as well is that callouts seem to be displayed only when meta description tags weren’t used as description snippets (or when a page doesn’t even have any meta description in its head section). Does it mean we should even avoid using the meta description tag from now on???… in order to get this callout, which, from my point of view, is a nice-to-have on your preview image. Of course we know that this meta tag isn’t as important as it may used to be (especially for ranking factors), but is this the end of it?

  • http://www.crearecommunications.co.uk/ KJ

    I can see that this would be a useful feature if you’re trying to find a particular site that you’d recognise visually. Having relevant content that’s immediately recognisable on the previewed page is going to be even more important.

  • cheeker9

    Great article Danny. Wanted to chime in here that yolink excels where Google Instant Previews fall short because we search links and documents to present actionable, keyword-rich results and our API can layer over any existing search functionality or website where as Instant Preview is limited to Google’s SERP.

    Instead of bringing back a tiny snapshot, yolink extracts the most relevant paragraphs from websites and documents, based on search terms, to facilitate speedy finding.

    Read more about yolink in SearchEngineLand here:
    http://searchengineland.com/yolink-goes-after-publishers-with-search-preview-tool-45742

    Give it a try and check out the Labs section of yolink.com, to see what yolink tech can bring to your site.

    Full disclosure: My name is Brian and I work with yolink.

  • http://www.ultimateminds.com AudaiLouri

    I found this to be quite useful. Their was a similar firefox add-on but I believe these are previews while that add-on created the site.

  • http://www.shrinktheweb.com shrinktheweb

    @Danny
    I wasn’t aware they had plans to add this feature to the sponsored listings. Good info!

    @William Alvarez
    I noticed the missing flash too (and some CSS rendering issues). Hopefully they will get that sorted soon enough. I run a service that provides screenshots like this and we are able to capture flash, any rich media, and render CSS correctly. However, we have our own render engine and it sounds like Google may still be working on theirs. :)

    For those interested in embedding instant preview type of screenshots, take a look at our PagePix service: http://www.shrinktheweb.com/content/google-instant-previews.html.

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