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As a business owner or marketing executive, you know that SEO is important. If your company’s website is not found multiple times in the first page of search results on Google, Yahoo and Bing, you’re losing business to your competitors – guaranteed. Reputable SEO consultants are famous for telling prospective clients that no SEO consultant can guarantee a #1 ranking (or even a first page ranking). Part of the explanation for this is the two dozen or so variables uncontrollable by the SEO consultant – i.e. your competitors investing more in SEO, other websites choosing to (or not to) link to your website, and changes to Google’s algorithm.
Changes to Google’s algorithm just sounds fishy, doesn’t it? You must have asked yourself, “is this really true or is it just something these SEO guys say to cover their own butts?”
Well, this week marks the introduction of the third major addition to Google’s search experience (not counting the many small changes) in the last two months – first there was Google Instant, adding a new level of speed to searches, then Google Places, taking local search to a new dimension, and now a new one that might just change the SEO game and revolutionize web design forever: Google Instant Preview.
What is Google Instant Preview?
A few months ago, a select few Google users (were you one of them!?) began noticing a little magnifying glass icon next to their search results. Now, we’ve all learned what it means: Google users can now preview the site they want before they click on it. Previews appear in the right sidebar of the search engine results page (SERP) and, somehow, do not bog down internet connection speeds.
Even users testing the new feature on dial up connections experienced fast website previews (which is actually really good news for those users, for whom each and every click onto an irrelevant page wastes potentially minutes of their day). Better yet, once you click the first preview, Google automatically loads the rest of the previews in the background so that they load instantly when you hover over each individual search result.
This is not the first site preview feature the world has seen. Ask.com used to have a thumbnail preview before it changed into more of a question-and-answer style search engine. Bing has a feature where users can get a text summary of the site they want right from the SERP. Google’s is unique in that it marries these two concepts into a preview image that not only graphically displays the on-page content, but also pulls out snippets of text that it thinks are relevant. In an effort to display as much on page content as possible, the Google previews utilize “tearing” (as shown above) to break up the page logically.
Google Instant Preview and PPC
Google has stated that they don’t believe their Instant Preview will affect PPC campaigns all that much. The preview appears in the right sidebar and totally blocks the ads usually placed there, but the company says that people who are searching through the main organic listings probably don’t look at sidebar ads anyway (a thought that is disconcerting in and of itself).
Wait, wait, wait… back up. Let’s hear that again – Google doesn’t think people searching through the main organic listings look at the right sidebar ads!
Let the bidding war for those top 1-3 ads begin! If you thought you were paying a lot per click today, hold onto your bootstraps ’cause you’re in for a wild on the PPC bidding rollercoaster.
The Implications of Google Instant Preview on SEO & Web Design
In addition to discussing the potential impact Google Instant Preview will have on PPC, they’ve also weighed in on the potential implications for web designers. The Google Webmaster Central blog warns designers to “Try and 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.” To be clear – Google Instant Preview will not have any effect on Google’s master algorithm or on search rankings already in place. However, it is a very safe assumption that clicks will be dramatically affected.
Think about it…
There are three main legs to the SEO stool – site code and structure (the foundation), on-page content (content is king) and off-page factors (off-site content and links). Large companies can get high quality links with little effort. There’s typically a sea of people paying attention to their company. Getting links is just a matter of reaching out to the masses in a tasteful and consistent manner.
The SEO process is different from small medium sized local businesses. For local companies, assuming a proper site structure, content really is king. There’s no (ethical) way to get high-quality links quickly except through the creation and promotion of remarkable content. Adding high volumes of on-page content can junk of the page or take away from the visitor experience. Many website designers specializing in small business web design handle this by placing most of the calls-to-action in the upper right area of the page. This way, large volumes of content can get the site ranked high organically, but will not be too distracting to the visitor once the click has been captured.
Google Instant Preview makes all of these calls-to-action much, much smaller! The size, quality and call-to-action on your homepage banner suddenly became much more important! Sites with on-page videos might pique a searcher’s interest and capture the click vs. a homepage with 750 words of content and a boring banner (“hmmm…this looks like every other website I’ve been to – NEXT”).
Like Always, Google’s Just Tryin’ to Do Good
And it looks like they’re succeeding. With Instant Preview, Google is hoping to accomplish several things. Their biggest goal is to encourage webmasters to develop sites that are as useful as possible to their audience, both aesthetically and pragmatically. This will enable visitors to choose the sites they want based on design and information, and will make it harder for spammy sites to get visits. The previews also benefit anyone searching for a specific design element, such as a chart, picture, map or list, allowing them to quickly go directly to the site with the content they want. In addition, the site helps people who want to revisit a site they visited in the past but who can’t remember the specific URL or keywords of the site – only the basic layout. Now, they can search visually and find it with much less hassle than if they had to click through every result of their search.
Instant Preview represents an interesting shift in Google’s strategy – where features like Google Instant aim to make search as fast as a user can type, Instant Preview moves to speed up the process of deciding which page to view.
All told, Google Instant Preview is a pretty nifty tool for web users – instead of browsing through site after site, going back to the SERP time and time again (a process known as “pogo sticking”), but it’s a much niftier tool for Google itself. The one thing sites like Facebook do that Google doesn’t is encourage people to stay on their site for long periods of time. While Google receives billions of hits per day, most of those visits only last a few seconds at the most (and Google seems compelled to drive that down even further!). With Instant Preview, the search engine will change this, owning more of their searcher’s time as they decide specifically which website they want to visit.
Google Instant Preview and Flash
Of course, there are some limitations to the technology. For one thing, Google Instant Preview cannot render Flash objects (can anything these days?), meaning that sites with Flash intros will show up with a “missing piece” icon.
This might make it difficult for sites like these to get visitors, no matter how cool the Flash intro is or how much interesting and relevant content the site itself has. Other than that, the tech is impressive – Google says that the site previews will dynamically update as the sites update, meaning they will always display an accurate, up to date preview of the site you are looking at.
iPads aren’t supporting Flash, Google Instant Preview won’t display it. Anyone with a Flash-based website needs to be seriously rethinking their online marketing strategy right about now (if you have a website with a Flash banner, our web designers can turn it into a JQuery banner, contact us).
So what do users think of Google Instant Preview? So far, statistics are showing that people using Instant Preview are a whopping 5% more satisfied with their search experience – doesn’t sound like many, until you consider that Google gets about 10 billion hits every day.
To learn more about Google Instant Preview and how to get more qualified visitors to your website and convert more visitors iinto leads and sales, sign-up for our email newsletter – there’s a sign-up box on the right-hand side of your screen!
About The Author: Blue Corona is a data-driven online marketing company with offices in Gaithersburg, MD and Charlotte, N.C.
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