At last, Google has finally gained a page preview feature. Called “Instant Previews,” this is a way for you to see what’s on a page that’s listed in Google’s search results without having to leave Google.

Google Instant is a new search enhancement that shows results as you type. Google have announced that they are ‘pushing the limits of our technology and infrastructure to help you get better search results, faster’.

Our key technical insight was that people type slowly, but read quickly, typically taking 300 milliseconds between keystrokes, but only 30 milliseconds (a tenth of the time!) to glance at another part of the page. This means that you can scan a results page while you type.

The most obvious change is that you get to the right content much faster than before because you don’t have to finish typing your full search term, or even press “search.” Another shift is that seeing results as you type helps you formulate a better search term by providing instant feedback. You can now adapt your search on the fly until the results match exactly what you want. In time, we may wonder how search ever worked in any other way.

Benefits of Google Instant

-Faster Searches: By predicting your search and showing results before you finish typing, Google Instant can save 2-5 seconds per search.

-Smarter Predictions: Even when you don’t know exactly what you’re looking for, predictions help guide your search. The top prediction is shown in grey text directly in the search box, so you can stop typing as soon as you see what you need.

-Instant Results: Start typing and results appear right before your eyes. Until now, you had to type a full search term, hit return, and hope for the right results. Now results appear instantly as you type, helping you see where you’re headed, every step of the way.

Information on ‘Instant Previews’

In the new feature, which was spotted being tested last month, a small magnifying glass appears next to each listing:

Click on that magnifying glass, and a preview of the page that’s listed will appear to the right side of the search results:

Once you’ve enabled Instant Preview mode, you can also use your arrow key to move down through the other results. As you select one, it will be highlighted with a blue background. The preview will change to show the highlighted page:

More Than Just A Thumbnail

Google’s system combines Google’s previous thumbnail previews with Bing’s ‘quick previews which were both released last year. Google instant is an image of the page as well as extracting text. Rather than a small thumbnail image, it shows a much larger picture of what the page looks like.

Callouts & Tears

Within the imagesrelevant text to your search is highlighted through “callouts” that make it easy to read:Pages might also have have what Google call “tears,” where a page might appear to have been “torn” to show you the overall context of the page but also show you parts relevant to your search. Below, an example of a tear is shown between the two green bars:

Instant Previews & Ads

The images previews cover up Google’s ads, when they appear. Is this a problem for advertisers? Google says largely no.

The company told me that most people scan the search results page quickly. If they’re interested in the unpaid “editorial” results, they’ll tend to stay looking at them rather than going back and forth to the ads. In other words, previews aren’t blocking ads because if someone decides they want to focus on editorial results, they’re already ignoring the ads.

Ads, by the way, will also get an Instant Preview feature in the future, Google told me.  There’s no set timeline for this, however.

Site Owners: You Can Block Previews

Don’t like the idea of Google making previews of your pages? As with Bing’s previews, you can also opt-out of Google’s. To do so, just make use of the nosnippets meta tag. Meta Robots Tag 101: Blocking Spiders, Cached Pages & More explains more about this.

Also, be aware that the descriptions shown for your pages in the results may be different than the callouts on the pages. Sometimes they match; sometimes they don’t. Different algorithms are at work.

Nice Addition

Google suggests that Instant Previews will make it easier to spot if a page contains a table, chart or picture you might be after, and says those using it will be 5% happier with their results. I agree. It should be a useful feature for many searchers in these or other cases. There have been plenty of times when a short preview would have given me a better idea if a site might be worthwhile to visit or not. And, if you don’t like it, well, don’t click on the magnifying glass and you won’t see it.

The preview begin rolling out yesterday worldwide and should be in place by today for everyone. If you don’t see them yet, visit this special page at Google about Instant Previews and then click on the “Try It Now” link.

Articles: Softpedia and Google

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