Google Instant Previews: Murder in the SERP
Rest in peace, Google SERPs. Though we had our share of ups and downs, I knew you like the back of my hand. We had a good run, but alas, it’s a new era. Love it or hate it, it’s time to pick up the pieces and move on.
If you haven’t noticed yet, the Google SERPs as we know it are gone. Upon first glance, it still has a familiar feel, but everything is different. Very different. One of the many changes that rolled out recently is Google Instant Previews, a visual preview pop-up of a website on the SERP before you click through.
And it looks as though Previews is improving click-through rates directly from the SERP. In fact, recent testing by Google shows Previews makes searchers 5 percent more likely to be satisfied with the results they click.
Five percent improvement is significant enough to expect more changes to come. There is a strong possibility that query results will begin to be served in large part from the outcome of the selections made from Google Instant Previews. Serving intent-targeted results could become a defining factor for search engine rankings.
Here is an example of how Google could serve results influenced by Previews from within the SERP: The preview of the website would be shown in the SERP and then the mouse hovering over the page could be timed in relation to the click-through ratio. This could be serving results based more on the user’s evaluations of the website image and content from the SERP. The users see what they like and they click through. These types of results could be tied to U.S. Patent 7756887 (notice the illustrations on pages four, five and six of the document).
No Meta Information Required Now?
Google Instant Previews doesn’t need Meta information to determine the content that is relevant to the queried word or words. Let’s look at an example. The search query for the word “coffee” shows a preview pane with text results for the keyword magnified and bolded in the SERP to give viewers a better idea about the site’s relevance for the queried word.
This is visual evidence that Google is reading the text within a site to evaluate its relevancy for the queried search. The question that has to be addressed: What value will Meta information have if previews will be able to provide Google the necessary information to serve the most relevant information? (Click on the image to enlarge.)
As Google Instant Previews continues to increase click-through rates and drive conversion, we will see a push to serve more results based on previews. If that is the case, there will be new criteria to take into consideration for SEO as conversion/user experience may become driving factors in directly influencing the SERP. Below is Google’s instructions on how to optimize for Instant Previews.
- Keep your pages clearly laid out and structured, with a minimum of distractions or extraneous content. This is always good advice, since it improves the experience for visitors, and the simplicity and clarity of your site will be apparent via Instant Previews.
- Try to avoid interstitial pages, ad pop-ups, or other elements that interfere with your content. In some cases, these distracting elements may be picked up in the preview of your page, making the screenshots less attractive.
What advantage would Google have by placing higher value on previews?
- More accurate search results: By allowing the user to decide the relevancy of a Web page before click-through, the results served will be more accurate by default.
- More money: By serving the most accurate results faster and easier, people will use the Internet more, which will in turn drive revenue.
- Reduce spam: The accuracy of the results will likely make it more difficult for spammers to artificially influence search results.
- More conversions: By improving conversions on the Internet across the board, Google will increase revenue by default.
Convert from the SERP
Now it’s necessary to create your site with Google Instant Previews in mind, utilizing larger font, compelling graphics and offering special incentives to entice the click through. We may see sites optimized by utilizing “billboard” style ads as people navigate through the SERP, quickly passing over sites that don’t compel click through. One possible solution to creating a more viewable SERP preview is by using a light box as seen below.
Remember, Google’s main concern is to capitalize on the services that drive revenue. Google’s biggest potential money makers are Google’s local search and PPC.
Local = Cash
Local, Google local in particular, has been called the phonebook killer. Google continues to set itself up to capitalize on local business. How? Through Google Places and Google Tags. Google Tags is going to be the PPC for local search.
Google Tags is a paid service that attaches a coupon to your site in the SERP. Although Google’s official word is that using this service does not influence your position in the local listing, but additional benefits of this service include:
- Easily and inexpensively highlight your listing on Google from Google Places.
- Potential customers in your local area will see what you think is most important or unique about your business.
- Track the effectiveness of your tag with your Google Places dashboard.
- You will be charged a low $25 flat monthly fee, with no bids and no keywords required.
- There is no additional work or ongoing management is needed.
National = Cash
If you are not looking for localized results, then your eyes are forced to the right. Why? Because PPC can often be nationally targeted and it’s commerce driven. Google has two ways to benefit from this financially: 1) Per click and 2) Google Checkout.
Just as recent Google algorithm changes have begun pushing search engine traffic toward paid and local results, Google began offering exclusive incentives to Google Checkout users [Hmmm, let's ponder how this will all tie into Google’s Boutiques.com and Google Shopper for Android. – Jessica].
Google’s efforts to make PPC ads more appealing has given way to coupons only available through Google Checkout. The ranking system is also an alluring feature designed to capture the trust of Internet users and drive more revenue dollars to PPC from both the consumer and the merchant side.
The trust components of Google Checkout will also improve the advertisers’ click-through ratios and then in turn, compel more advertisers to switch to Google Checkout for online merchant processing. This is a win-win situation.
All Eyes on the Prize
When trying to understand the reasons behind these dramatic changes to the search engines, it’s important to remember why any company does what they do. The bottom line: To improve the products and make more money.
Although the jury is out over whether or not the new changes are improving the experience of the user [We've been hearing mixed reviews from our social media communities. --Jessica], you can be sure that Google is constantly testing its product and pushing the delicate balance between making more money and making a better user experience.
Google is a shrewd veteran that does not likely make changes that aren’t related to bettering its financial situation; thinking anything else would be a bit naïve.
As SEO analysts, much like detectives in a crime scene, we are challenged to uncover the mysteries of an occurrence and then provide solid evidence to build a case. And recent changes to the Google SERPs make this a big case. Like detectives in a murder investigation trying to establish a motive, we have to keep our eyes on the prize and follow the money trail.