Google Unveils Instant Previews: Visual Search Results

Google today announced a new feature called Instant Previews that allows searchers to fully preview a website within Google’s search results before visiting it (an experiment we reported last month).

Clicking on a small magnifying glass next to the search result highlights the result in a blue background and will bring up a full preview of the website on the right sidebar, which as we noted before, will cover Google’s ads and could do some damage to ad clicks. Clicking anywhere on the preview takes you directly to the site.

Instant Previews Test Drive: Introducing Call Outs

For example, here’s a search for [conan o’brien tbs]:

(Click screenshot for full view)

So in our example website here, The Huffington Post, you can see a snippet of text highlighted in an orange box that Google calls a “call out,” which is basically an enlarged pop-up box showing what Google considers the “most relevant sections.”

We previously reported that these snippets aren’t the same as the ones found on the SERP. In this case, however, they are the same. But on other searches, you may get different snippets, such as this result for [buy sony google tv] for example:



(Click screenshot for full view)

Also, on the Conan search, these call outs didn’t appear on the majority of the sites Google returned. It seems as though if “TBS” didn’t appear on the page, it wouldn’t generate a snippet.

(Click screenshot for full view)

On the Google TV search, most of the previews that featured snippets highlighted keywords like “Sony TV,” “Google TV” or “Sony,” in bold, although “buy” generally couldn’t be found in the snippets unless it was in the context of Best Buy, which exclusively sells the TVs.

SEO & Website Design Notes

This has pretty big implications for search engine optimization. You definitely want searchers to find exactly what they’re looking for on your site. Otherwise, they might just move on to another website.

Google says they “match your query with an index of the entire web, identify the relevant parts of each webpage, stitch them together and serve the resulting preview completely customized to your search–usually in under one-tenth of a second. Once you click the magnifying glass, we load previews for the other results in the background so you can flip through them without waiting.”

In testing the feature, Google said that people using Instant Previews were 5 percent more likely to be satisfied with the results they clicked on because they were able to evaluate the site before visiting and find what they were looking for.

So this puts more emphasis on website design, as you want to entice users to your site. Obviously, there will be some issues. Google’s advice:

  • Keep your pages clearly laid out and structured, with a minimum of distractions or extraneous content.
  • Try to avoid interstitial pages, ad pop-ups, or other elements that interfere with your content. These elements could be picked up in your page preview, making the screenshots less attractive.
  • Many page previews are generated as part of Google’s regular crawl process. Occasionally, Google generates screenshots on the fly when a user needs it, so in these instances Google will retrieve information from web pages using a new “Google Web Preview” user-agent.
  • Instant Previews doesn’t change Google’s search algorithm, rankings, or how clicks are tracked. If a user clicks on the title of a result and visits your site, it will count as a normal click, regardless of whether the result was previewed. Previewing a result doesn’t count as a click.
  • If you add the nosnippet meta tag to your pages, they won’t show a text snippet in Google’s results. Pages with the nosnippet tag also won’t show previews. Google advises against this because their studies showed that sites with previews were four times more likely to be clicked on. URLs that have been disallowed in the robots.txt file also won’t show Instant Previews.
  • Some videos or Flash content in previews are appearing as a “puzzle piece” (as you can see in the third screenshot above of the Team Coco website) icon or a black square. Google is working on rendering these accurately.

Instant Ad Previews?

Will there be Instant ad previews? Yes, but it’s unclear when, according to Search Engine Land. Google also downplayed the impact on paid search, telling SEL that:

…most people scan the search results page quickly. If they’re interested in the unpaid “editorial” results, they’ll tend to stay looking at them rather than going back and forth to the ads. In other words, previews aren’t blocking ads because if someone decides they want to focus on editorial results, they’re already ignoring the ads.

Old Previews


One other interesting note: Many of the preview images are a bit old. Search Engine Watch’s main page preview is a week old (based on the columnists at the top, the images was grabbed last Tuesday), but there are reports floating around about previews being more than two weeks old. Got to wonder if smaller or less popular sites will get less frequent updates to their previews.

Not the First

Ask Jeeves (now previewed websites with Binoculars starting in 2004. A pair of binoculars would appear next to search results, allowing searchers to preview an image of a site before clicking. It appears this service is no longer available.


In 2006, began providing a two-column view of search results, with regular search results on the left and a preview of the selected result on the right.


Bing also introduced Quick Previews last year, which allowed searchers to mouseover results and see more information about a page to the right:


Microsoft noted at the time that up to 24 percent of clicks result in a quick click back to search results because searchers quickly realize a page isn’t what they’re looking for. Quick previews was created to help prevent those unnecessary clicks.

Your Thoughts?

Want to try out this feature? Click here and let us know what you think. Also, are you concerned about the impact on advertising? Also, how do you find the quality of the previews?


Google has reposted their video of Instant Previews:

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