Recently, Google have been launching a number of additions to their search engine in a bid to provide more usable and better results. One addition, Google Instant, saw an increase in speed when using the search engine by providing results as you type.
Not stopping there, they then announced Google Instant Previews which displays a preview image of websites within the search engine listings. At first users needed to be logged into their Google account for it to appear but it eventually rolled out to everybody using the search engine regardless of not being logged in.
The instant previews appear when a user clicks on the magnifying glass located next to each search result, it then causes the mouse to hover over each result and display a preview of the page.
As this is available to everybody who uses Google, it can be quite important to make your website look good in the preview image as it could affect click-throughs. You may have noticed the little jigsaw figure in the above – what is this? Flash.
The use of Flash on a Website
Google have always struggled with Flash. It can be a nightmare for those who offer search engine optimisation as fully flash websites wouldn’t be read by Google and therefore have problems being indexed, never mind rank for key terms.
That isn’t to say don’t use flash, our website uses flash to display our portfolio of clients on a small part of our webpage. It is full flash websites that may not look good in a preview.
However, Google have noted this and are said to be looking at rendering at least a static image of the flash area.
Animation on a Webpage
This brings up the issue of animation – with HTML5 and fancy JQuery scripts being used by many web designers it may well cause problems when providing a preview image.
Using Advanced Techniques
SEO’s often use fancy things like timed redirects or target by location – this may cause problems:
For people in the UK you can see the BBC suddenly has adverts on the page. This is down to the Google bot for the previews coming from the US where the BBC use advertising.
It has also been noticed that certain sections of a website are highlighted if relevant to the search without the need for any specially optimised code. This could be great for improving click-throughs for particular search terms.
Good Web Design Standards
It is important to ensure your website has a good design and has been created using good standards for a range of compatibility reasons, making sure your CSS aligns properly. In terms of the search results you would ideally want the branding to be prominant with good use of white space in the design.
We have recently completed another website design in Rochdale and a quick look at the Google Instant Preview shows clear branding, a very prominant Christmas focused area, and clear effective highlights of several products.
The reaction to this has been overall a positive one as it certainly helps distinguish between outdated looking websites and modern usable sites you would like to explore. Google did cause a bit of a stir as the previews caused actual visits to appear in the analytics data. This has meant some over-inflated views in recent analytics accounts. They did fix the problem however they stated they would not be removing any previous visits caused by this issue.
Will it really change user behaviour? Simple Usability conducted an eye-tracking test into the Google Instant Previews which showed that users didn’t neccessarily notice this function and make use of it at first. It is a subtle change and there is a need to click on the magnifying glass. However, when they did notice it, it was apparent that the image previews did affect users.
This is an interesting development from an ever changing Google search engine and website owners need to be aware of all aspects whether to ensure there are no problems or to optimise further.