The whole techie blogosphere was abuzz yesterday as Google's Instant Preview technology rolled out for people to begin using. In case you haven't seen it in action, your Google search results now display a magnifying glass next to each result. By clicking on the magnifying glass, you'll be treated to a preview of the page you are about to visit. This is fantastic news for searchers everywhere. You can find out pretty quickly if the page you are about to visit is just someone squatting on a domain with optimized content or if it is a legit website with the type of information you are looking for.
The question is, how does this impact you?
If you haven't read this article from Fast Company, I highly recommend you do so. No, seriously... go read it and come back. Even without reading the article (and especially after reading the article), it was pretty clear that website design is going to become even more important. My read on Instant Preview is essentially this: Google has come to grips with the fact that their search algorithm, while unbelievably powerful, still lacks the human element and the "eyeball test." Less than scrupulous SEO tactics can be deployed to get websites listed in search results that have no real business being there, but until now, there was no way for the searcher (Googler?) to recognize a bogus result without first clicking on the link. Of course, as soon as the searcher sees the page they are visiting, they immediately run back to the search results page.
So, who stands to lose the most with this development? In the short-term, all of the bogus referral network landing pages, but I have a feeling that before long, they'll come around to savvier, more subtle designs that will look legit in Instant Preview. There's simply too much money being made for them to close up shop based on this development alone. No, the long-term loser with this development are organizations with out-of-date website designs. Think about it: you're an organization with some rep in your community, and you're looking to continue gaining ground on everyone else. Let's say you show up for the #2 spot on some local search result. The #1 result looks pretty good on Instant Preview, but the searcher sees your name and decides to preview your website as well before making a choice. If your website is a couple of years old or older, or if it was designed by some bush-league intern for a couple of boxes of pizza, odds are good that your website will get skipped over entirely. The searcher may go on to the super-hip looking #3 result, who isn't nearly as awesome as you are (or back to the #1 result). Instant Preview allows a searcher to be more discriminating based solely on what they see.
Of course, website searches aren't always a decision made with a single click, and if you've got some local credibility, your website will likely get visited eventually. However, your peers with better looking website designs? They'll be getting the clicks first.
All that being said, it may be time for you to evaluate your design. Take a hard look at what your peers are doing. Are you simply an also-ran in the website design category, or are you the benchmark for design and functionality? If you need help evaluating, give us a shout. We'd be happy to show you some of the latest designs coming out of organizations in your market and help you decide on a timeline for updating your web strategy.