Google Page Previews: Search Pros Weigh In

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google_recruiting_small.jpgADOTAS – A few days ago, TheNextWeb discovered that Google is publicly testing a tool that will allow searchers to take a peek at the pages in their search results. When toggled, a tiny magnifying glass next to the result will open a preview panel on the right side of the browser. In addition, Google will highlight the sections on the page relevant to the search.

Only a scattering of searchers have seen the preview feature so far. On Friday, a Google spokesperson told PCMag in an email: “This is a test we’re running. At any given time we are running between 50-200 search experiments.” So we don’t know when full-page previews are coming, but it seems unlikely that this feature will be 86ed, especially since it’s receiving glowing reviews in the tech press.

Considering that Google Instant didn’t exactly go down easy with SEO and SEM professionals, I decided to round up some search pros to ponder what kind of effects such a redesign would have on the industry — and I was amazed at the variety of opinions I received.

Michael Behrens, VP of eMarketing at WebMetro (whose John McCarthy, director of SEO, is Adotas’ resident SEO man):

“The ‘four second rule’ (how many seconds a website has to capture a visitor’s attention) will be turned into the ‘one second rule.’ Design’s importance in the ability to convert a click to prospect is now going to play a role in the ability to attract.

“It’s pretty aggressive but I definitely think some of these ‘made for AdSense’ sites will struggle considering they put virtually no time into design to engage, inspire and convert. I think brands that have the ability to appreciate the power of design will be able to improve their competitive advantage.”

Mike Flanagan, President and CEO of TMP Directional Marketing (and highly valued Adotas contributor):

“There is little to no impact on SEO, but as far as paid search, this feature elevates the importance of having a landing page that entices the user to take action. If the landing page lacks impact, it could adversely affect click through rate and quality score. Advertisers can benefit from this feature in industries where there is a lot of competition by providing users with more insight into their offerings, thus driving more qualified leads.”

Adchemy Thi Thumasathit, Vice President of New Business at Adchemy (which recently launched its WordMap Search Tool):

“If Google implements the preview function widely, both SEO and SEM marketers will probably see clicks to their pages drop dramatically. For a reasonable number of queries, seeing the preview on the SERP [search engine results page] should suffice, and users will simply need to click less frequently on the SERP to get the results they’re looking for.

“SEO marketers will also actively need to take into consideration how their pages look in the Google preview. Just like title tags and first lines of content are important to ‘convince’ a user to click-through on an algorithmic search result, a compelling preview may become equally important as well. What does this mean? It could potentially mean larger font sizes, larger images, and, in the extreme, avoiding content that Google can’t preview easily (e.g., from early screenshots, looks like Flash content doesn’t preview all that well).

“SEM marketers may need to start looking for new careers. There’s only so much real estate on the SERP, and it looks like the preview blocks out all paid search results. Query share may go up because this is a really cool, consumer-friendly feature, but RPS will plummet. And then Google will have to decide what’s more important — query share, RPS or a bit of both?

“Deploying the preview function doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing proposition for Google. They may choose to selectively show preview on queries that have no paid search results, and/or on queries with extremely low RPS already.”

Seth Besmertnik, CEO of Conductor (which launched its Searchlight SEO software earlier this summer):

“First of all, Ask.com was on top of this four years ago and I have always been a fan. Google should be able to make it work a little faster and better.

“It will be interesting to see their lost revenue on paid ads. As people find benefit to landing page previews, they will start bypassing AdWords in order to get quick view without clicking through. In theory, this should increase natural clicks.

“Site design and architecture will be a bigger issue for SEOs if they are successful at rolling this out. I think this will put a larger emphasis on how SEOs focus on multivariate testing with regard to div positioning and CSS. The iconic (is that the proper word to use here?) view of a landing page will be an optimization technique similar to how some marketers use the meta description to promote a call to action.

“Thinking in terms of testing strategic opportunities. I would highly suggest looking at the user agent and serving Google larger images with larger text (small file size). I would try and manipulate what is shown in the preview to the best of my ability while reducing risk of getting smacked.

“This would be (somewhat) an acceptable use of cloaking, even though I hate using this word for a test like this. Cloaking is more along the lines showing completely different content to the search engines and different users. In this case the content would be the same except for a few images which still deliver the same relevant message.

“It will be interesting to see how it splits the page to display the keywords in content.”

Jim Yu, CEO of BrightEdge (which released its SEO Platform this summer):

“It is most likely that the preview feature will impact click-through patterns, likely decreasing the number visitors who will click on a given link.  However, on an e-commerce or lead driven site, it might not impact conversions so much as the visitors who would have clicked-through in the past and are no longer doing so would have bounced anyway.

“I think this is a great feature for SEO that will reward managers who have sites that are well optimized and targeting the right terms as 1) it places more emphasis on the organic search results by giving more opportunities to explore these results; and 2) it will drive more qualified users to the results with higher relevance. For research-oriented keywords, it might also help shift some clicks to the lower positions on page one (SERPs 7 through 10) although this is to be seen.

“I have one key recommendations for SEO managers if this feature is widely deployed: check your pages in preview mode and add this to your SEO checklist prior to releasing any new pages. In the same way a good description is key to driving click-throughs, an attractive preview might be just as important.”

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