Commentary

Google Extends Instant Previews to Paid Search Ads

Earlier this year Google reintroduced a feature whereby a Google desktop-end user could preview a web page by clicking on small magnifying glass icons next to organic listings on the search engine results page (SERP) of Google.com.

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Recently Google released news that it was extending this preview feature to desktop paid search ads on Google.com

An end user simply clicks the small magnifying glass icon next to the listing he or she wishes to view. A smaller version of the website then pops up into a frame that hovers over the SERP, providing the user a preview of that ad's landing page, without requiring the user to leave Google.com.

Advertisers don't need to do anything to have their ads updated with this feature. Google shows the previews based on each ad's or keyword's (depending on how the campaign is set up) landing page URL.

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Currently neither end users nor advertisers have the option to opt out of, or turn off, this feature.

Advantages to the End User

End users will have more options directly from the SERP than what was available in the past.

This increase in options decreases the instances needed for end users to click away from the SERP, providing them with a much richer experience.

Advantages to the Advertiser

Five words: qualified traffic and decreased cost. If more research is available to end users from the SERP, then advertisers benefit by decreasing the volume of "research clicks." Every advertiser has to deal with the cost incurred from that small segment of end users who click onto their site in an attempt to research whether the landing page content is relevant to the information they are seeking.

Disadvantages to the End User

Not many. Since this feature is only currently available to desktop audiences, the only downside might be that the clunky preview frame could potentially take up a lot of space on smaller desktop screens.

Disadvantages to the Advertiser

Advertisers are presented with a whole host of new challenges. At the core of the issues will be landing page quality. While landing page quality has always been a major piece of the puzzle in SEM, it now becomes that much more important.

Advertisers will need to be very cognizant of how their landing pages are viewed in the smaller frame. Some pages that rely heavily on flash or other plug-in components may not view well (or at all); as a result the page falsely convinces end users that it does not provide the information they are seeking. Additionally, if competitors' sites view better in these smaller frames, they might have an edge.

Here is a site preview example with Flash:

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And here's another site example:

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Landing page vs. keyword groupings will most likely need to be refined, and made more granular. If end users are searching for specific keyword queries, advertisers that choose to show users' previews of more top level pages (i.e. home pages) may convince those users to look elsewhere. Again, if competitors are showing a more relevant visual preview, they might have the upper-hand.

Finally, advertisers may want to take the preview feature into consideration when designing sites. Since this preview feature is now available across all listings (both organic and paid search), having clear, comprehensible pages when they are viewed in the preview window may help to move the needle with increasing site traffic. If a user can't understand the site in the smaller window, it can be just as bad as when nothing is shown.

Next Steps

Advertisers should keep an eye on their metrics, and compare them prior to and following the implementation of this feature.

Branded keywords should see less of an effect on performance than the more competitive generic keywords. With the additional choices, users should begin doing less research clicking and help drive down the end cost. As a result, both CPAs and clickthrough rates should see a dip.

On the site analytics side, abandonment rates and bounce rates should decrease. Users should have a better understanding of where they are going prior to the click.

Advertisers should examine their previews for each ad group. They should investigate whether or not their pages are being previewed correctly. If pages are not being shown properly, recommendations should be made to improve them.

Finally, can there be something to be said for the additional time spent on the SERP by end users? If users are spending less time clicking away from the SERP, does the value of the listings (both organic and paid) increase?

Google has been releasing a lot of new features in recent months (i.e. Google Instant, Google +1, etc.), all of which are buzzed to be "game changers." While each of these updates on their own may not be as monumental as they are made out to be, as a whole they are certainly making advertisers rethink strategies.

Extending the preview feature into paid search is just another step in Google's quest to provide the best experience possible for their searchers.  Advertisers can stomp their feet all they want, but the smart ones won't waste too much time doing so.

1 comment about "Google Extends Instant Previews to Paid Search Ads".
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  1. Thomas Kennon from Free Radicals, May 6, 2011 at 2:21 p.m.

    This is pretty big and a very nice piece of human vs advertiser upside / downside analysis.

    Over time this could alter completely how landing pages are crafted to match (or not) adgroups within campaigns. It will forever change previous ratios of impressions & position to CTRs & conversions, that's fershur.

    I am also wondering how these previews will be triggered when the click is driving to dynamically populated landing pages --- will Google capture and cache thumbnails, or is the live page appearing in the preview box?

    Tricky stuff. In particular, the impact on competitors and affiliates vs. brand campaigns and pages, all matching to hotly contested keyword groups could prove significantly disruptive.

    Wow --- get your optimization boots on kidz this is gonna be a pretty wild ride.

    Emil, your last point is interesting for a whole other set of what's in it for Google reasons: increasing dwell time on the SERP while sacrificing a significant volume of click revenue that is lost to preview. I'm not sure my brain is big enough to sort out those possibilities while it's still reeling with the SEM implications, so pass the comment baton to ---

    Thom Kennon | @tkennon | bigevidence.blogspot.com

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