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As part of their ongoing shake up of their Search Engine Result Pages (SERPs) Google has added page preview for standard search. The non-paid results have a little magnifying glass next to them as shown below.
Clicking this will display a preview of the webpage.
And this is the problem. The preview screen shot does not display Adobe Flash content we are treated to a preview of a blank screen. Following Apple's decision not to support Flash, this appears to be a vote of no confidence from Google too.
Why Introduce Image Preview
With image preview, Google are trying to add transparency to the SERPs but other than being a quirky feature, I can't see how it adds value to site owners. It obviously brings an element of tl;dr (too long; didn't read) to certain sites. If you see a text heavy image with many page breaks on it and you don't need an in-depth explanation of a topic, you're not going to click. Perhaps this might finally be end of the 1,500-word sales pitch page!
Google also highlights a section of the text that features the search query. If your query is a short question or informational, it is likely that you will find your solution without even leaving Google. When combined with instant search, this makes total sense for Google. They can the keep users on site for longer using internet content as bait.
There is no image preview for the Adwords links where Google charges advertisers for each click. This suggests that Google is fully aware that image preview will reduce click through rates.
SEO Concerns of Image Preview
So what does image preview change for SEO? Image preview confirms what SEOs have been saying for years regarding text on page. Flash text does not index and causes accessibility issues, for instance, excluding blind users. However, speedy preview of a number of pages may create new ranking factors. Is a user going to choose to visit one site over another because it looks more attractive in mini preview? Is page design going to become an SEO factor?
A more attractive web might be an appealing thing but with the past 10 years of SEO focussing on page content, making sure your site appearance inspires as much confidence as the quality of your content feels like a superficial U-turn.
My biggest concern about image preview is how often the image will be updated. Previously Google would save the source code on visits - this appears in the Google cache of each page. The image preview process must be more intensive than saving the source code so image preview is another factor to slow down the transition from making changes to a site to them being realised in the user experience.
Google is not above launching a feature and then pulling it based on user take-up but Image preview has been a search feature for several months and soft launched in the US last month, so I think it is here to stay.