Google Instant Previews & SEO – Welcome to the Newest Form of Optimization: Design

By BKV in Design on November 10th, 2010


This week Google rolled out an update to their search UI called Google Instant Previews. This update allows users to see visual previews of web pages before they click through on a search result. Here is an example of how Google Instant Preview works when searching for the keyword [credit cards]:

Credit Card SEO result 1

I chose [credit cards] as an example because it is one of the most competitive keywords out there. However, looking at the Instant Preview results for some biggest brands in America, you might not know it. Take a look at Visa, the #2 result for the search:

VISA SEO result

Guess their SEO thought that they were a big enough brand to get away with using a nearly all flash home page. With an Instant Preview result like that, using flash is obviously not a good idea any longer for home page elements. Even with search engines like Google claiming they can index some text elements within flash pieces, they can't display it within the search preview which results in a bad user experience.

Another big brand with design problems is MasterCard, the sixth result in our search on [credit cards]. While MasterCard isn't using flash on the home page, they might as well be. There is such a small amount of information on this home page that any user searching for credit cards would surely pass them over and move on to the next result:

MasterCard SEO result

This clearly shows that intro pages are not in the best interest of anyone focusing on SEO, as a page with little information is not going to give many visual cues to searchers about what to expect from the site as a whole.

But the brand having one of the worst days on Google Instant Previews is Capital One, again one of the biggest financial brands in America. I think this search result can speak for itself:

CapitalOne SEO Result

This unfortunate example is hopefully a temporary glitch for Capital One, but regardless it is essential that big brands like these focus on SEO so that critical problems like these do not crop up.

There are plenty more examples of bad Instant Previews for this search term, which is surprising given the competitive nature of the keyword. This shows that no matter how big your brand, there is always a reason to focus on SEO.

If you're wondering how to optimize for the new Google Instant Preview UI, here are a few tips that can be applied to almost any website:

  • Be boldly simple: Make sure your design is simple enough not to clutter your preview but bold enough to stand out. Cookie cutter designs that many blogs use are going to start blending in when users are searching visually, so it is no longer enough to just have good content.
  • Call it out: Make sure your home page includes large, clear callouts that can be interpreted easily via a small page preview. This means including any offers, deals or major CTAs as more than bolded or highlighted elements - now they need to be large enough for users to see and interpret at a glance.
  • Stay trim: Make sure your template isn't unnecessarily long. This can be a huge problem with blogs that have tag lists or archive lists in their sidebars, making every page vertically longer than it needs to be. In a Google Instant Preview this ends up creating a lot of blank space in your preview that draws eyes away from the main contextual elements that you are trying to highlight.

SEO is an ever-changing field, and updates like Google Instant Previews reiterate the importance of keeping SEO on your company’s radar at all times. If you would like to discuss how these changes impact your website and how to stay on top of any change within the world of SEO, feel free to contact BKV.