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Google Instant Preview

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#1 iamlost


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Posted 15 March 2011 - 08:16 PM

I was going to write something back when Google first instituted Instant Previews, 09-November-2011 but decided to hold off and run some tests.

When someone clicks on the magnifying glass on any result, a zoomed-out snapshot of the underlying page appears to the right of the results. Orange highlights indicate where highly relevant content on the page is, and text call outs show search terms in context.
Many pages have their previews generated as part of our regular crawl process. Occasionally, we will generate screenshots on the fly when a user needs it, and in these situations we will retrieve information from web pages using a new "Google Web Preview" user-agent.
Instant Previews does not change our search algorithm or ranking in any way. It's the same results, in the same order. There is also no change to 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, however, doesn't count as a click by itself.
Currently, adding the nosnippet meta tag to your pages will cause them to not show a text snippet in our results. Since Instant Previews serves a similar purpose to snippets, pages with the nosnippet tag will also not show previews.
...in our studies, results which were previewed were more than four times as likely to be clicked on.

My initial reaction was to immediately opt out. As you may know I opt out of SE caching and all sorts of other SE 'helpful enhancements'. However, that 4-times (300%) more likely to click... that could be a game changer. So I ran some sites with and some sites without Instant Previews for 100 days.

First thing I noticed: for the Instant Preview to show I had to allow Google Web Preview user-agent to crawl (yes, I discriminate between bots including G-bots). Perhaps because of the NOARCHIVE policy it came a lot.

Second thing I noticed was a significant increase in G mucking with my carefully optimised targeted titles and descriptions.

Third thing I noticed was NO statistically significant change in query traffic due to Instant Preview compared to sites without. Actually some pages may have lost traffic due to associated Google title/description changes.

Given (1) the statement that opting out of Instant Preview does not affect ranking, (2) that I detest Google's snippet usage, (3) that I see no point in allowing non-value added bot access, and (4) that I saw no value difference, i.e. traffic quantity or quality, between sites with and without Instant Preview I am now totally opted out.

Am quite interested to hear if anyone else has run similar tests or noticed benefits or problems with Instant Previews.

<<<corrected NOINDEX to NOARCHIVE :( >>>>

Edited by iamlost, 16 March 2011 - 10:11 AM.




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Posted 16 March 2011 - 11:18 AM

I don't have any data but I like instant previews. I think that if I have a nice looking page with multiple big juicy images then I have an advantage over other sites in my niche who usually use dinky images or no images.

Obviously nobody can read from the preview so images and design have a big opportunity here to attract or repel visitors.

#3 jonbey


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Posted 16 March 2011 - 02:44 PM

Unless your images are filtered out!

Google must have some sort of naked sweaty female flesh filter, as it shows the guy with no shirt, but not the woman wearing clothes.

Edited by jonbey, 16 March 2011 - 07:23 PM.

#4 JohnMu


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Posted 16 March 2011 - 05:07 PM

Hi iamlost

For what it's worth, the behavior with regards to changes in titles and snippets is independent of the use of instant previews. If that's the only downside that you saw, then using a "nosnippet" robots meta tag wouldn't change that (apart from the snippet -- which wouldn't be shown).

In general, when our algorithms change titles, it's due to things that they find suboptimal, for example, it might be that the same title is used on a large number of pages (you can find that in Webmaster Tools' HTML suggestions section), or that the title looks just like a list of keywords, not like a title that users would understand. Without knowing your sites' URLs, it's impossible to say whether it's something that you could improve, or something that our engineers need to look at (to be honest, it's been a really long time since I've seen a case where the webmaster couldn't fix it on their side).

Personally, I agree with EGOL in that great instant previews really pull me in to a site. Sometimes the text snippet isn't enough for me to pick the right result, so the visual preview is really useful for me (though I'm also impatient at times and just open them all up in separate tabs :)).


#5 iamlost


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Posted 16 March 2011 - 08:51 PM

Thank you for commenting, JohnMu.

Google has tied Instant Preview to Rich Snippets by making nosnippets the only way that I know of to opt out of Instant Preview.

My sites have utilised microformats for years. Unfortunately, Google is not consistent in their usage AND far too often gets the information wrong. The idea is good, the follow through is marginal.

Given that I am not about to change my nocache policy (it is a foundation stone of my anti-scraper defenses) that apparently means allowing the preview bot to keep calling. No thanks. Similarly, I disallow prefetch requests.

My titles and descriptions are page unique, well optimised for usability and conversion and G found them satisfactory until recently... it may be coincidence but the changes were almost only on pages of the sites where I permitted Instant Preview. Will be interesting to see what happens now that I have turned off Instant Preview.

I acknowledge that others may find various services and options of greater value than I. Verticals/niches, sites, business models, etc. are each different. And things change. Which is why I asked about others' experiences.

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