The 10 Business Implications of Google Instant Previews

by Ruud Hein November 10th, 2010 

Google has announced the introduction of “instant preview”; the availability of a small screenshot of a webpage, custom-tailored to highlight your search, and visible from the Google search page itself by clicking the icon of a magnifier image

Google Instant Preview SEO Toronto example

How Google Instant Previews Works

  1. perform your search
  2. click on the magnifier
  3. see a thumbnailed screenshot of the page in question with your search term extracted

Note: once you have a clicked one of the magnifiers, the other ones on the page all become “active” and simply holding your mouse over them will show their previews.

The experience is seamless and blazingly fast.

With Instant Previews, we 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.

When the graphic of the webpage is too long, Google cuts it in pieces, showing torn edged to indicate parts that have been removed.

Google Instant Preview cut up

How To Enable Google Instant Previews

While Instant Preview will likely become a standard search feature – as Instant Search has --  it is on pre-release at the moment.

You can enable Google Instant Previews in your browser by visiting this link.

After visiting that link Google appends the URL query parameter &esrch=instantpreviews to the URL of your searches. Simply adding that parameter yourself to any of your search result URL’s will also enable instant previews on that page.

Google Instant Preview: Revolutionary New Feature?

Conceptually: no, it isn’t. If anything it is an evolutionary feature.

Search engines before Google have experimented with previews of one type or another. The most recent example is Bing which uses an on-hover textual preview of the page:

Bing search preview SEO Toronto example

  Google itself has had a page preview option for over a year:

Enabling Google Page Previews

Enabling Google Page Previews

Google Page Previews

The Implications of Google Instant Previews

Seeing is believing – and so Google Instant Previews will change the way some searchers may interact with some search results. That in turn will change the way some businesses operate online.

  1. Direct results vs. Directory results
    If you’re searching for a texas law office you might want to go to a company’s web site right away, not to a directory first.

    Google Instant Previews directory page

  2. Footer stuffing
    Adding tons of “stuff” to your web page’s footer is not only so 90’s (like – previous millennium) … it will also look really weird on Google Instant Preview.

    Google Instant Previews shows footer stuffing

  3. Again less reason to visit your page
    Google steadily keeps providing more and more answers on their own Google search results page. In-screenshot highlighting of search terms is another way in which users can get a quick answer from you … while never actually visiting your page.

    Google Instant Previews delivers on-page answers

  4. Web design more important
    More than ever a good, clean, pleasant, enticing web site design will bring and keep visitors. Because honestly, when looking for Toronto flowers – which of these makes you click… and which doesn’t?

    Google Instant Previews means web design

  5. (Larger) images important
    Images have always played a big role in visitor attraction and retention but with everything on your page scaled down to near nothingness in a preview thumbnail, images become a huge part of the message.

    Compare these two flower sites, one with regular size product previews and one with huge thumbnails.

    Google Instant Previews better with large images

    Or again, compare these two Toronto limo service previews:

    Google Instant Previews better with images

  6. Speed
    Talking about images: make sure you got the speed to deliver. During our tests we’ve already seen more than one page that looks like this:

    Google Instant Previews missing page elements

  7. Don’t rely on Flash (or other additional web technology)
    Keep it simple. Design your site from the ground up. Everything should work out of the box in plain vanilla HTML. Then you can add unobtrusive JavaScript which in turn can call all kinds of other fancy stuff. Because in the past, for now and for the long foreseeable future, many browsers and browser devices won’t do all the fancy stuff we want them to. That includes the page fetching Google does for Instant Previews.

    Google Instant Previews doesn't do Flash

  8. No intro pages
    This is already a given rule in web design. Start your web site. Don’t attempt to make an intro/welcome page after which the real site begins. Start your real site right away. If you don’t, you’ll look silly.

    Intro pages look weird on Google Instant Previews

  9. Inline pop-up/pop-overs make your site look creepy
    We’ve all been there before. You visit a page when suddenly the screen dims and a pop-up message appears.
    Well folks, here’s how that looks in Instant Preview – still so thrilled?

    Popovers look weird on Google Instant Previews

  10. Ad “traps”/honeypots easier to spot
    Who delivers and who doesn’t might be easier to spot for Instant Preview users.

    Google Instant Previews shows ad traps


What do you think Google Instant Previews will change?

Ruud Hein

My paid passion at Search Engine People sees me applying my passions and knowledge to a wide array of problems, ones I usually experience as challenges. People who know me know I love coffee.

Ruud Hein

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26 Responses to “The 10 Business Implications of Google Instant Previews”

  1. Fantastic outline of the potential ramifications of Google Instant Previews. I didn't think much of the addition until reading this and now my mind is racing about not only the layout of our site, but also the mindset of a user who sees a preview of it while doing a search on Google. Thanks!

  2. Bruce Elliot says:

    I agreee. Fantastic fast analysis. I just stumbled on this feature half an hour ago. I'm a web developer and in minutes all the rules have changed. But if Google figures out how to show the flash element scaled down instead of a jigsaw piece, it will change everything again. I wonder how long before they achieve that. Any thoughts?

  3. Nick Gowdy says:

    Does this have anything to do with Google's change in SERPs to sometimes only show ads in the center column, with a roll-up to only the first three? e.g. No ads on the right column, and a link to see more ads underneath the 3rd ad?

    Seems like they're trying to empty the real estate taken up by Instant Previews so that advertisers don't complain that their ads are being covered up.

    • Ruud Hein says:

      Good question, Nick. I suspect the covering up of ads in the sidebar will prepare the way for premium ads that don't get covered up… or ads that look like/act like the things Google is embedding now.

  4. Miles Carter says:

    Great Article, very insightful!

    I was having trouble thinking about what Instant Previews might mean for SEO but everything you mention makes a lot of sense.

  5. Gil Reich says:

    I suspect fewer than 10% of searches will result in the use of this feature, and only a fraction of those will result in an actual change in which link the searcher clicks on. So while I agree with your points, I don't think that the effect on publishers will be significant.
    .-= Gil Reich recently posted: Sorkin v Zuckerberg- The Facebook Movie =-.

    • Ruud Hein says:

      I was surprised by Google's own low percentage quotes. Google doesn't mess with their search page for fun so one wonders what the *real* strategy behind this is.

  6. Jon Wade says:

    Funny that as the web gets faster, we turn to looking at preview images of sites.

    This new feature could well see an increase in "interesting" images being used on sites to try to lure people to take a closer look. The stock photo companies will do well out of this.
    .-= Jon Wade recently posted: Google Helps Save Lives – Working with the Samaritans =-.

  7. Carlos says:

    Great post!
    What about traffic analytics? Are these instant previewed pages going to be counted in Analytics as page views or just if they clic on the link?

    • Ruud Hein says:

      The previews will not count for your traffic, no. And if people click on them to go through to your site there is no way (yet?) to track if they come from a regular Google click or a preview click

  8. […] The 10 Business Implications of Google Instant Previews […]

  9. Nicholas says:


    The previews will not count for your traffic, no

    Read more:

    not quite true – they do count in GA and other analytic scripts (currently)

    which i think is a good thing

    knowing how many people have previewed your site is very useful as it might tell you that too many people preview but dont visit – maybe time to update the design

    i think it will have an impact on SEO too – as now it is important to be in the top 3 or 5 positions – but with preview, a user can quickly see all 10 sites and will choose from the preview which looks best for them

    a great designed site on position 7 may get more visitors than postition 1 or 2 –


    also taking your point Number 6 – speed
    i dont think that is the reason why the images dont appear
    i think it is because it is an affiliate site – and the images were linked from the affiliate network – and linked images are not shown

    i have seen this issue with a number of affiliate sites –


    • Ruud Hein says:

      The reports that the previews count for traffic stem from the fact that Google creates some previews on the fly so that if you use the preview function and then check your server log you would see a Google bot come in to fetch the page and related files.

      It's important to note however that even that doesn't mean the preview was viewed: when a user clicks one magnifier to get a preview, Google preloads all other previews on the page — among which may have been the one you saw.

      Re. the images, the site in question had images on-site but also preview also shows offsite images. Not sure what goes wrong in those cases.

      Good call on how this could impact SEO in a visual manner!

  10. Stef says:


    This news led me to a reorganisation of my pages that meant an improvement anyway, part from the highlight feature.
    But waht I do not understand is how Google selects the search terms for In-screenshot highlighting of search terms.Is there a way to tell Google where to look?

    • Ruud Hein says:

      The snippet is generated automatically, similar to how it goes in the search results pages themselves. It is picked based on what the searcher is looking for and the text on the page.

      Google doesn't provide for a way to suggest highlight sections.

  11. […] we want them to. That includes the page fetching Google does for Instant Previews. Read more:…-previews.html I have already verified a YouTube video inserted into your content doesn't work nor do dynamic […]

  12. Tracy says:

    I've noticed that some of the previews have text highlighted, while others do not (our website, for example). Why is this, and is it something that a webmaster can change?

    • Ruud Hein says:

      Sometimes text on the page can be extracted and highlighted matching the query of the searcher. Sometimes the phrase isn't there; the words are, but not the phrase. That's one of the many reasons why a snippet wouldn't be highlighted.

      As with regular snipper generation, there is no real control you have over it: the snippet it makes for the query "cheap blue widget" will be different from the one for "how to make tea"

    • Tracy says:

      What doesn't make sense, though, is that the exact phrase that I searched for is in the first paragraph of the page's text, as well as in the head's description field. The search term does show up under our listing, but not in the callout.

  13. […] so it appears correctly in the preview. Those blank views could have been caused by: Read more:…-previews.html I have already verified a YouTube video inserted into your content doesn't work nor do dynamic […]

  14. […] instant previews overlapping the right sidebar and instant search changing what ads are shown at lightning speed, […]

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