Google recently released some images of a new feature that they are testing which displays images of the actual web pages next to the results. This means that you can get an idea if the page is what you're looking for without having to click through to the page itself.
As a website owner, is this good news? Or will it mean fewer visitors? What implications does it have for you?
Here is one of the screenshots that Google have released showing their new tool (not yet available publicly):
As you can see, an image is displayed showing a miniturised version of the search result page, but not only that, relevant text is highlighted on the preview image to help you to decide whether this is the right search result for you.
The first thing to point out is that this is not going to affect search rankings. the search result order is the same, tthis feature just adds previews to each result. So, in terms of search engine optimisation to improve your rankings, this should have no effect at all.
However, that doesn't mean that this tool can be ignored, because there is still likely to be significant effects from this feature if it is ever released (which has not been confirmed - it may never happen).
At the moment, when someone searches in Google, they'll be presented with a series of results and they'll go through the list clicking on any results links that they believe may answer their needs. Usually, if they can't find the answer to their requirements in a few seconds on your page, they'll click the back button and try another page. This is known as a "bounce". A visitor who looks at a page on your website for a short period of time but goes no further, doesn't click on anything, and just returns to where they came from. these visitors increase the visitor quantity in our website statistics, but they reduce the average visitor quality.
And it's quality that you're really after. You can have all the visitors in the world, but they're not buying or contacting you, they're probably totally worthless to you.
These bounce visitors cost money because you are paying (directly or indirectly) for every megabyte that gets download from your website.
If Google's previews mean that one of these bounce visitors can decide that your website is the wrong one for them before clicking on the link, that saves an unnecessary download, and keeps your statistics a bit cleaner. Which is a good thing.
I would expect the Google Instant Previews to reduce the overall bounce rate for most sites on the internet.
However, there is also a downside to this, because it may also lead to people deciding not to visit your website because they've incorrectly been given the impression that your website wouldn't satisfy their needs. Maybe if they hadn't seen the preview, they'd have clicked through and become a customer.
This is the big problem which needs to be addressed.
In short, you'll need to make sure that the preview that Google use for your pages, is enticing to genuine potential customers.
In the past, most good web designers have been honest enough to say that the aesthetic look and feel of your website is unlikely to get you any customers. As long as it is laid out in a way that your customers can use it easily, a fancier website design will add nothing to it. The design itself, doesn't sell anything, the search engine rankings (and any other promotion) and the usability is what sells your products and services. And the content of course.
All this might be about to change.
If searchers can see what your website looks like before even visiting it, they may be inclined to visit a prettier website before yours. Or even instead of yours. Even if they appear below you in the search engine results.
If this feature is ever rolled out to the general public, a lot of outdated websites and poorly designed websites could start to really suffer. On the flip side, a lot of website that have had a lot of money spent on them making them really fancy, which flash intro pages and the-like, could also suffer because web users are becoming very savvy. They know what they find annoying, and if they can see it on your website without even visiting it, you don't stand a chance.
From a philanthropic point of view, this should make the internet a better place by getting rid of a lot of appalling flash-based websites and aother annoying features. Just make sure that you're ahead of the game.
It should also be noted that this isn't really a unique feature. Ask.com have trialled a similar preview tool in past, and no doubt the other major searches will trial something similar. You can already download extensions for the Firefox web browser (and probably other browsers too) that do a similar job. But these aren't used by many people so the effect is negligible. The difference with the Google Instant Preview is that if it is released, it would be available to everybody.
If you would like more information on improving your website results, taking this and other search engine tools into account, please contact us.