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Google Debuts Instant Previews

Searchers now can see pictures of Web sites before they click through to visit.

Google on Tuesday plans to augment its Google Instant search service with Instant Previews, pop-up windows that provide images of the Web sites listed in search results.

Google users throughout the world can expect to start seeing magnifying glass icons added just to the right of search results links in the next few days as the service is deployed. Clicking on the magnifying glass will open a snapshot of the Web page associated with the link.

"It's a new way for users to find information on the search results page faster," said Google product manager Raj Krishnan in a phone interview. "It allows quickly comparing the results in a way that wasn't possible before."

Krishnan says that simply moving one's mouse up or down on the page, or using navigation keys, will load Web page previews for the other links on the page, like flipping through the pages of a book.

Instant Previews arise from Google's ongoing effort to deliver the most relevant information as quickly as possible. Previously, Google relied on contextual snippets, the one or more lines of text culled from Web pages and matched to users' queries for display on search results pages.

Though Google has improved on contextual snippets over the years, through the addition of snippets defined by site owners, for example, Krishnan says, "There are certain kinds of information you can't represent as text."

There's also certain information Google won't provide, such as the capital expenditure required to build the infrastructure necessary to provide Instant Previews for every Web page in less than a tenth of a second. But Krishnan does say that Instant Previews make users happier.

"People who used Instant Previews are 5% more likely to be satisfied with their search," he said.

And while some might worry that the image previews could reduce ad click-through rates by covering ad links, Krishnan insists that users tend to assess search results pages before they click on the Instant Preview icon.

"Users inclined to click on the ads will probably do so before they click on the Instant Preview," he said, adding that Google is interested in exploring this feature for ads as well.

Instant Previews will be available in more than 40 languages. Users of languages read right to left will have to wait a bit longer, as Google has additional technical work to do to handle Web page previews in such languages.

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