Google Rolling Out Search Previews?

Last week, Google started testing a new feature in search results that allows a searcher to preview an entire web page without clicking on the link or actually visiting the page.

The preview pops up when searchers click on an icon next to the ranking. When open, the preview also highlights text on the webpage that relates to the user’s search term and also includes a ‘snippet’ of text at the bottom of the preview.

Google often tests new features and functionality – sometimes ‘in the wild’ – and there’s no official line on this yet, but if it were to be rolled out widely, the impact could be significant.

Generally speaking, this move surely aims to keep as many searchers as possible on Google rather than flicking back and forth between sites. While Google could certainly claim this is an efficiency saver for searchers, site owners might well have a different view!

Here are a few other points worth noting about the new feature:

  • The previews are generated by the “cached” version of the site, so they won’t always match current site
  • The snippet shown at the bottom is not the same text as is shown in the ranking description (usually taken from the meta tag), so Google is choosing a different bit of text to display for each site
  • The previews only work when the icon is clicked, not as a mouse hover (not yet anyway!). So it might take a while for users to latch on!
  • This move makes design more important. By seeing the site before they click, users will likely be drawn in by sites that look more professional and engaging. If the site is badly designed it won’t be clicked upon, despite ranking well. It’s also worth noting that, if you have no replacement/alternative for flash or any other plugin, your site won’t look as attractive in the preview.
  • This also means that the click distribution on the top 10 listings will change dramatically. Because it is now easier for a user to preview a site without ever having to click on it, they will now be more encouraged to check the top 10 listings more thoroughly than before, thus changing the existing click pattern. As it stands, the first organic result (number one) usually gets about 30% of all organic clicks. One could expect this to reduce, creating a far more even click pattern throughout the top 10 listings. So the top 5 listings could all enjoy a 13% click through rate, each.
  • However, unless this feature becomes available cross-browser and on “mouse-hover” instead of “on-click” then I can’t see it having a significant effect on search click patterns.

What do you think? Have you tried it out yet?