Instant Answers About Google Instant Previews

If conversion rate optimization is in your job description, here's what to say when your boss or colleagues ask what Google Instant Previews means for your conversion rates: It's too soon to tell.

While that might sound vague, it's as honest as you can be until there is some hard data to work from. Of course, that answer has a limited shelf life, but it works for now.

Instant What?

Based on my admittedly unscientific poll of friends and family over the last few days, a lot of Google search users have yet to notice that Google Instant Previews exists, even though search engine blogs are buzzing with talk of this new feature, already acronymized as GIP.

When I mentioned "Google Instant Previews" to some people, they asked if I meant "the way that Google shows you search results as you type." Some people had noticed the magnifying glass icon on the right of the organic results in Google but had not clicked on it until they became participants in my GIP survey.

Furthermore, reactions to the feature from a consumer perspective were muted. Not everyone was excited about the GIP preview of the search results page, an example of which you can see here:

google-instant-preview1.png

Aesthetics and Expectations

The apparent goal of the feature is to further refine the relevance factor in search results, thereby reducing the user frustration that comes from clicking a result that doesn't deliver on the expectations created by the result appearing on the results page.

Suppose you want to buy your wife a set of bull bars for her Jeep but your Google search for [Jeep bull bars” leads to a page that doesn't actually show you any Jeep bull bars, despite a page description in the organic search results entry which contains that phrase, thereby raising your expectations that clicking the entry is worthwhile. GIP has the potential to eliminate the frustration of clicking such a result only to find that the seller doesn't stock parts for Jeeps (believe me, it happens).

Because the art of managing expectations is a key factor in conversion rate optimization, it makes sense to keep an eye on the evolution of GIP. In particular, you'll want to know if GIP becomes popular with your target market, or if Google makes the GIP icon bigger, or makes an effort to let people know the feature exists.

Certainly, you should do a quick check of your site's pages to see how they show up in GIP with an eye to both aesthetics and expectations. You don't want to be the last to learn that your home page is unreadable when previewed, as in this example:

gip-poor-result.png

Time to Redesign?

What causes a preview like this? The answer in this case may be the site's use of Flash for a large chunk of page content, which GIP doesn't seem to like.

The website itself looks fine when you visit, and the content is relevant to the search query, it just doesn't look that way in GIP; the consequences could be searchers moving on to the next results (a body of knowledge around fixing GIP issues like this is likely to emerge over time).

If this were your site, you might be tempted to rush through a redesign. However, you might want to wait to see if GIP proves popular with your target market, particularly if you've already taken care of the core elements of expectation management, like making sure your pages have descriptions that closely match page content. This promotes conversion from search results that aren't previewed, and it also helps when a searcher does preview because GIP displays the description, as seen here:

google-instant-preview2.png

If your pages aren't looking too hot in GIP right now, here are some specific points to make in defense of not spending too much money tuning your site for GIP right away:

  • GIP doesn't affect your ads on the Google Display Network. These don't feature a preview icon.

  • GIP doesn't apply to your paid search results (like top of page, side of page, and Shopping results).

  • If your traffic acquisition efforts are mainly PPC or affiliate driven, then they are immune from GIP issues.

Future Steps

If a lot of folks in your target market become big fans of GIP, then you might want to reconsider your search strategy beyond fixing pages so they look good in preview. An organic result above the fold, accompanied by an attractive preview, might get more traffic, and convert better, than a paid result at the top of the page lacking a preview.

If you use affiliates, you might want to think about the way GIP displays their pages. Several people have noted that a large collection of thumbnails is hard to see when the page itself is shown as a thumbnail.

Finally, you might want to think about what kind of tests you can design to measure the effects of GIP on your conversion rates, just in case GIP does take off.