So, the best-known search engine in the world just got a little bit smarter. Google's new feature is a side-order of Google Instant, but Instant Preview will probably end up being more important than the main, insofar as it gives users a preview of the web pages thrown up by the search, and highlights the relevant snippet of text. As pointed out by Wired,the feature works on slower connections, so that users who most need a greater degree of precision in their searches—that is, those with, say dial-up connections, whose every click can cost precious time—will get it. Hence no messing around for hours, trying to find the information one's after. Sweet for users, eh? Sweetest, however, for Google.
Here's why. Instant Preview will potentially allow Google to own more of our browsing experience. Instead of leaving Google in order to browse the web, you will be browsing the results, rather than the pages suggested in the search itself. The feature may also force websites to redesign their pages in order to conform to Google's design criteria: on the firm's Webmaster Central blog, this is one of its suggestions.
Try to avoid interstitial pages, ad pop-ups, or other elements that interfere with your content. In some cases, these distracting elements may be picked up in the preview of your page, making the screenshots less attractive.
One part of the web demographic that should be quaking in their boots with the arrival of Instant Preview is cybersquatters, those who park on websites whose names are an accidental letter or two off of far more popular sites (yhoo, or, say rbay). Can Google think of any alternative careers for them? Fast Company reached out to Google with some queries. How will Instant Preview change how websites design their pages, in order to improve their SEO rating? And who won't get clicks because of the feature? And, conversely, who will?
A friendly Google spokesperson got back to us just shy of instantly with a sort-of answer that made it clear we'd need to redesign our questions to fit his statement. "In general, Instant Previews is yet another reason for webmasters to design sites that are as useful as possible, following the best practices. With previews, people can peek at sites before visiting, which means they are more likely to copare them visually and pick the one that looks the best. In general, this should benefit webmasters who have well-designed sites with great information."
And it's true, sites which do play the search engine optimization (SEO) game would do worse than to listen to Uncle Goog and its pronouncements, however nebulous, on how its magical algorithm works. Google does strange, yet logical things to the design of websites already. Bigger pictures play better on Fast Flip, which drives traffic, and video works better lower down the page, although Google seems to be working on plans to render rich content—that's video and Flash—accurately, which may well change the way that video works on SEO.
Clicking on the Instant Preview magnifying glass icon next to a URL on the search engine does not serve as a click for the website. As Google says: "Instant Preview 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." But that means you're not clicking through a bunch of pages—pleasant if you're searching in a rush, not so pleasant if you're on a discovery mission. "Previewing a result, however, doesn't count as a click by itself," Google wrote on its blog.
Instant Preview brings us back to a time when Google was the single most dominant and talked-about force on the Internet. That is, before Apple's iTunes, and certainly before Facebook, Google's soi-disant replacement as the go-to site on the web for the generation born in and after 1980. Will it worry Mark Zuckerberg? Probably not. But, as weapons go, Instant Preview is a handy one for Google to have as it battles Facebook for the attentions of Internet users.