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December 2, 2010

Google Instant Previews can affect SEO ranking & traffic?

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Google introduced page preview in November 2009, where Google showed a longer snippet and a thumbnail for each search result, if you clicked on “show options” and selected “page previews” after performing a search.

The new instant preview is one of Google’s smart moves that aims to provide users with a better experience (and of course more money for Google) by giving users the option to preview the content of a page before clicking to the link in the SERPs.  Users will benefit from this by having the possibility to quickly compare results. The visual comparison will also help users to pick the right results.

Is Google Instant Preview going affect SEO traffic results?

It can if the page that ranks it is relevant to the search query. Results and traffic performance will improve for websites that provide useful and query related content. Think about how many times you added a search query in Google, clicked on the first or second link and you clicked the back button instantly after discovering that the site didn’t have the content you expected from the description.  You get annoyed and refine the search or keep looking in the search result pages to find what you were really looking for. If a site has quality content and it’s optimised to rank with the pages that relates to that query in the search results, it will most likely benefit of higher click through rate with Google Instant Preview. However if a site comes up in the SERPs for the wrong search query or with a description that doesn’t reflect the content of the site pre-viewed, it will not benefit so much with Google Instant Preview.

Is Google Instant Preview going to affect SEO ranking?

Perhaps over the time it will affect SEO ranking. In August 2010, it was granted to Google a patent about an automated process to be used by the search engine to classify documents based in part upon user-behavior data in order to help weed out web spam.  Users’ inputs were factors that have been considered by the patent. These included:

  • Click through Rates: how often certain pages are selected in search results in response to a query compared to how often those pages are shown in response to that query
  • Click durations – The amount of time that someone remains on a given page when visiting that page after finding it in search results (also known as site stickiness)

Low quality / spam pages that come up in the SERPs, will most likely receive a low CTR thanks to Google Instant Preview. Even if at this stage Google said CTR might be used for user behavior testing, but implied not in the ranking algorithm, Google’s strategy might change. Google can start considering metrics such as CTRs and Click Durations as ranking factors and lower the rankings for low performing pages. Bing also has already admitted that they are using CTR as a ranking factor.  Trusted and quality sites need to be careful as if they are not optimising their sites carefully, they might be negatively affected.

Some Instant Preview Examples

Out of curiosity, I ran few search queries in Google and found something interesting:

1. Search Term: Sydney Beaches

Issue: Google does not appear to display flash in Google Instant preview (even for YouTube videos), the site might lose the opportunity to get a click. By designing the page with Google in mind, we could display an image when a browser (or website robot like GoogleBot) does not support JavaScript or Flash.

2. Search term “wine tour Australia”

Issue: None

Description reflects the content within the page which is also coming up in the instant preview. Users most likely will click on the page

3. Search term “flight to brisbane”

Issue: Did I just search for “flight TO brisbane”? The page is coming up with “Flights FROM Brisbane?”  Missed opportunity to convert that user to a click. Ideally this site should rank for this page http://www.airfaresflights.com.au/Brisbane-BNE.htm which is the flight to the Bribane page

4. Search query: “real estate”

Issue: The page is blank. Google does not appear to display iFramed content in Google Preview. While the site ranks in first position for such a high volume keyword phrase it might miss the opportunity to drive clicks to the site. Even position 2 for the same site showed a blank page. If users know the brand, they may still click on it, however new users might be hesitant.

We assume on such a large website the decision to iFrame the advertorial content considered the SEO implications – This strategy may need to be revised given the release of Google Preview

Google Instant Preview, Title & Meta Description Tags

There are a large number of sites that forget to optimise their title and meta description tags. Without a descriptive title, users might decide to skip your site listed in the SERPs in the first place without even pre-viewing the page.  Similarly, if your meta description does not reflect the content that is showing up in Google Instant Preview, your site might still not receive a click. Mark has written a great post on optimising SEO CTR.

Google Instant Drawbacks

The last couple of weeks there has been a comment in Google Analytics forum about Google Instant Previews being tracked as page views in GA.  John Mu, Google employee posted a comment to the forum with the following: “It is my understanding that these page-views are currently only counted (the Google Analytics JavaScript executed) when we render the preview image on-demand (when a user chooses to view it and when we don’t have one cached already). Because of that, you may see a temporary change for that particular user-agent. The Analytics and Instant Previews teams are aware of this and looking into a solution. “

Conclusions

Google Instant Preview can affect your click through rate in a positive way only if you optimise your site to rank with a page that is highly relevant to the search query.  Meta title and description tags are still fundamental, these would be the first easy quick wins that could help boosting your CTR and site traffic. If you omit to do so, you might have fewer chances to improve your CTR with Google Instant Preview.

Even if at this stage CTR and click durations are not officially a ranking factor in Google, they might be in the near future. This means that sites owners should focus on optimising their sites in order to come up in the SERPs with valuable and relevant content.

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