Google is apparently testing a feature in its search results pages that allows users to see full-page previews of sites before they click through to them.
Patrick Altoft at BlogStorm spotted the test, providing the screenshot below and saying, "One of the fascinating things about this is that they are highlighting certain sections of the page in orange and expanding the text to provide a snippet of information. This shows that they have the technology to know exactly where a piece of text is on every single web page. The snippets highlighted are not always the same as the snippet in the search results."
Do you think this feature will make a good site design more critical? Share your thoughts.
It's worth noting, as Altoft points out, that not all previews display the full page, as some longer pages are cut off at the bottom.
While this may not be a widely released feature yet (and it's possible that it won't be), it's interesting to see just how much Google has changed the search experience this year, just from the desktop. In the Spring, Google rolled out the left panel navigation. More recently, they introduced Google Instant. Those are the major changes, though there have been other smaller ones sprinkled in among them.
If the preview feature goes on to become a full-fledged feature, I'm going to have to consider that a major one. This could dramatically affect clickthroughs, for better or for worse. We'll really get to see how big a part web design plays in conversions at that point. It's conceivable that consumers will be drawn even more to well-known brands and familiar layouts.
Late last year, Google released a tool called Browser Size that shows you how others view your site. More specifically, it shows you the percentages of people that will see certain portions of your site without having to scroll. This shouldn't really have much affect on the full-page previews in SERPs, but it can come in handy for when the user clicks through.
We've reached out to Google for more information on the preview feature. We'll update when we get more info.
Update: Google gave us the classic response: "At any given time we are running between 50-200 search experiments. You can learn more on our blog."
Are you concerned about what the feature will do to your clickthroughs? Comment here.