About a week ago, Google announced that the Instant Preview feature would be functional not just for organic results, but also for pay-per-click ads on search engine results pages. What this means is that if a viewer scrolls by the magnifying glass icon next to the ad on the results page, they will see a preview of the page to which they will be taken if they were to click on the ad itself (i.e., the landing page for the PPC ad). The purpose is two-fold. As far as the searcher is concerned, being able to preview the site allows you to judge a little better if the ad will really lead you to a site that interests you without having to actually click and wait for the browser to redirect you. For the advertiser, the preview supposedly lets you provide more information to potential buyers and reassure them that by clicking on your ad they will be going to a site that has just what they are looking for — thereby reducing payment for clicks that will not lead to a sale.
Here’s how it works, using a screenshot provided by Google.
Let’s take a look at how this may actually affect each one of the three parties affected — the searcher, the advertiser, and Google itself.
1. The Searcher
In an ideal world, Instant Preview for ads will allow the searcher to judge quickly and easily if the advertiser’s landing page is likely to follow through on the promise of the ad. In reality, however, there are a few problems. First, it isn’t very clear how one activates the Instant Preview feature. The magnifying glass icon next to the ad’s linked title could just as easily be interpreted as a zoom of the ad itself. If one actually scrolls over it, the landing page preview will appear, but if one just views the ad, the functionality isn’t necessarily that intuitive. Second, given the limitations of space, the preview is not particularly helpful. It is too small to reveal a whole lot about the landing page in detail. However, it may help identify ads that are leading to undesirable or spammy pages or sites that are clearly not representative of the ad.
The presence of Instant Search for the ad listings on Google may serve to further the lack of differentiation between sponsored listings and organic listings for searchers. Many Internet searchers still remain somewhat ignorant of how the results on a search results page are divided into paid and organic listings. With the paid listings now have Instant Search results, just as the organic listings have for some time, there are even fewer differences between the two types of listings to cause an unsophisticated searcher to wonder what makes these listings different. The result may be more inadvertent clicks on ads.
2. The Advertiser
The advertiser also is stuck in a win-lose setup with Instant Preview being added to the sponsored listings area of Google. On the plus side, if searchers see the landing page prior to clicking on the paid link, it may help ensure that those who do click through are more certain that the site they are going to is likely to have what they are looking for. This may reduce the number of clicks coming from those who are uncertain that the site offers what they seek, since they can gather a bit more info before taking the action of clicking. The reduced number of clicks means less expense for the advertiser, and the increased number of clicks coming from prospects who are more certain that the site offers what they are looking for, combine to reduce costs overall for the advertiser and increases searcher satisfaction. There may be fewer clickthroughs, but those clicks that do occur may be more motivated and thus more likely to lead to actual sales. The result? Lower click costs and higher conversions. Traffic may decrease from ads, but increased conversions and lower click costs should more than compensate.
One thing to remember, however, is that the availability of Instant Preview for PPC means that advertisers need to assess their landing pages to make sure that they are appealing to potential buyers, and find ways to differentiate themselves from their competitors in this arena as well. Once you have a prospect on your site, it may be possible to mitigate the initial impression of a bad landing page, but if it affects the decision to actually click through to the site, you’ve lost the chance totally. Advertisers may be forced to upgrade and improve their landing pages to remain competitive, thus increasing costs.
So what does Google have to gain from this? The complicating factor is that most of Google’s revenue comes from advertising — and pay-per-click advertising is a large part of this. If Instant Preview for ads reduces the number of clicks on ads, this means less direct revenue for Google, which would appear to not be a good thing. However, if the reduced clicks come as a result of searchers being more confident of finding relevant sites that fulfill their goal of finding the product/service they were searching for, they will be more likely to continue to use Google for future searches. The resulting increased traffic will attract more advertisers to Google, and if they in turn have increased ROI from PPC ads they place on Google, they will be likely to place more ads, resulting in more revenue for Google as well. For Google, it’s a win-win — they can claim a more relevant experience for searchers and a higher ROI for advertisers — a better product overall for everyone. A short-term loss in revenue from clicks for a long-term gain in relevancy and eventual increased advertising.
This may seem like a large conclusion to draw from such a seemingly small change in the feature set of the Google search function, be it organic or paid. However, it is representative of Google’s entire approach to the process. Small changes cascade upon each other to provide larger increases in the search experience that will ultimately lead to economic gains for the search giant. With so much happening in the areas of social media in particular, Google has to find ways to differentiate themselves and counter competitive advantages to protect their core income stream.