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Instant thoughts on Google Page Preview

Alex Christie

12 November 2010

I am sure you have all heard of the new Google page preview – it’s not a new concept, Ask was doing this a few years ago, although their implementation was not as smooth as the latest incarnation of the Google SERP. I was exploring the new product trying to predict user behaviour and potential changes on click through and SERP coverage.

The immediate obvious advantage is page length – if you have a longer page, you can dominate more surface area of a SERP; whether this will have any significant impact on overall CTR is difficult to tell  and is a really difficult metric to measure but it is sensible to assume that more area taken up by your link on a SERP = more chance of a click (regardless of how miniscule that chance).

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SERP coverage with preview panes

Is it feasible to add some whitespace at the bottom of your page to increase your SERP coverage, and how much value will this add? It can never hurt to maximise your exposure regardless of how trivial, and like a lot of micro optimisation techniques – if it doesn’t hurt you then it probably helps.

Will the preview pane become automatic in the near future, at the moment there is a user click required to get the preview to display, it is entirely possible that this preview will be automatic and the positioning of the cursor will play an important role in the first result seen by the user.

After running some simulations with users to observe search behaviour, taking in a range of searching techniques, keeping a careful eye out for where the user’s mouse cursor ends up after a search some interesting findings arose.  The results were wildly varying but it is plain that there is a case for deeper investigation in terms of how users treat the whitespace and where their mouse cursor ends up immediately after a search.

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Animated gif showing phenomenon

If a user clicks on the lowest of the google instant results, and there isn’t a paid ad in the SERP, their cursor will end up directly over the second result; strange trends like this and erratic user behaviour lead to some odd previews showing first. A lot of users click in whitespace to make sure the page they are on has focus – this is quite often the case with multi-taskers and this practice often ends up with lower ranking (4,5, and 6) page previews showing up, interesting that the lower order pages get this boost.

These new innovations will definitely affect user behaviour and will probably change the click through rates. We will be monitoring these to see any significant changes… If you want to have a look check it out at

http://www.google.com/webhp?esrch=instantpreviews#

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