Google Instant preview launched recently and many sites should be in the process of making changes to major landing pages, if people actually use the new feature ( see a small study from Simple Usability ). Crawling over some serps here’s a few lessons to be learnt about landing page design now that Google have unleashed instant preview.

1) Flash

Everything about flash is pretty much a negative when it comes to Google. Currently a flash site or a flash object in a page will be displayed as a grey box with a little jigsaw in. For example Fiat.

But, Google have said they are working on being able to render the Flash to display in in the preview, so it might not be a problem…. however this brings us onto point two.

2) Timed Elements

If you’ve been good and not used flash but used either HTML 5, or some slidy wizzy JQuery then your little animation will show up in the page preview as the bot that takes the screenshot has JavaScript enabled (see the preview for “xmas clock”).

But, the screen shot is taken after a certain period of time. There are two options for Google to when this screen shot is taken.

A – screenshot after the page has loaded

or

B – Take the shot after a certain time e.g. 5 seconds the average time for a page to load.

I’m guessing that Google uses a combination of the two, screenshot if the page is loaded, if it’s still loading at 5 seconds then take the screenshot. This would stop Google wasting time on pages that would never load or take too long to load.

This page (http://www.java-scripts.net/javascripts/Countdown-Timer.phtml) counts down from 30 seconds, and on the instant preview the time of 24.6 seconds is shown, so the screenshot was taken after 5.4 seconds.

If you have an animation or a change of divs being displayed think about what is displayed after 4-5 seconds, but there are no guarantee that the screen preview will pick up the animation you want.  For example http://www.bensky.co.uk/ has a sliding div, on this example the Trails UK site was displayed this time, it could change from week to week.

or the xfactor Talk Talk page, which features a fade in it’s taken it mid fade.

So having changing elements on your page is risky as you can’t predict when the page preview is taken, so keeping flash may be a risk.

3) Questionnaires / Site Survey / Age – Pop ups

If you have a site survey or questionnaire or age verification running on your site it’s going to be picked up on the preview. Often the question box will pop up in the middle of the screen, with the surroundings faded away.  You could try to add an exception so it’s not show for the googlebot IP. For example Carling has the age verification.

On money saving expert the background fades for the subscribe to newsletter to be highlighted.

4) Advert pages / Home page takeovers / Splash pages

The majority of the football team pages in the UK all have a offer page before getting to the main site, you may employ something similar for a temporary home page take over or offer. Or for some bizarre reason you may have a splash page, either option they don’t tend to look great in the preview. E.g. blackpoolfc.co.uk

5) Geotargeting Redirects / Messaging

The bot that takes the screen capture comes from Google, so it has a United States IP (see the page preview for whatismyip.com). If you have any redirects or message pop ups for US IP’s they will be displayed in the search results. Some examples include the BBC where the American version is shown with banner adverts, here for DHL.

Clarks have a similar problem where a pop up box asks you choose location, this only happens for a non UK IP.

So in conclusion watch out for:

  1. Flash
  2. Timed Events
  3. Questionnaires / Site Survey / Age – Pop ups
  4. Advert Pages / Home Page takeovers / Splash pages
  5. Geotargeting Redirects / Messaging

As for designing for site Google Instant Preview… thats another blog post.

One of the standout features from Google Places is the review data being added into the search results. Anyone selling online in the past two / three years will tell you how much impact can be gained from positive third party review of your product or service.

But similar to search rankings you can inflate your positive reviews and …. deflate your competitor’s reviews (don’t do this as it just creates a vicious circle of fake review posting).

Looking at the listings on Google Places currently Google is displaying…

  • Thumbnail picture
  • Address and phone number
  • Finding reviews from various sources
  • Displaying a count for 3 / 4 review sites
  • Creating a total sum for all the reviews
  • Pulling our an average rating out of 5.
  • Sometime displaying a snippet of a review

All those items are optional, the majority of the examples I’ve seen feature all the above, but I’ve also seen some with just the image, address and phone number.

The review site used doesn’t even have to have any microformats data. Google will count a citation of the hotel’s address and phone number with a comment as a review. For example http://www.adoniscabaret.co.uk/ is listed as a review site for the Norwood Hotel in Blackpool. The review isn’t in any microformat, its coded in atag in a table.

So it seems you don’t even need reviews to be on “review site”, I’ve seen a hotel review located on a chef site, beerintheevening etc.

Tip 1. Make citations to your hotel on other sites, even if it’s not a hotel review site. Use the full address, phone number and then list review under a heading “Customer Review”

It appears such reviews won’t contribute to the star rating, this only appears to come from bigger sites such as Trip Advisor, where microformats are in place or Google have been willing to scrape the data.

In general it looks better to have more reviews than less reviews. E.g. a place with 4 reviews doesn’t seem as good as a place with 452 reviews.

To work out which sites are being used to source the reviews I’ve recorded and counted the review sites over 10 search terms, on average listing 6 local listings with 3 to 4 review sites for each listing.

I picked the key phrase “hotels in… Blackpool, Preston, Manchester, Newcastle, Sheffield, Birmingham, Oxford, Cambridge, Bristol, London”

The below table shows the review sites listed often. In total there were 230 review sites listed.

Trip Advisor came out top with 63 listing over the 10 different search results. Booking.com and Active Hotels were also popular. Interestingly sometimes different domains of the same site are used e.g. Trip Advisor uk, com, ie, in all list as separate sites.

One site managed a list a review from the same domain??

Tip 2. Get listed on the most popular sites in your sector. Look for local listings sites, e.g. Sites with the location in the URL.

Strangely at the moment it doesn’t appear if that any of the reviews given to Google directly are being displayed in the search engine results. On each local business listing (e.g. the midland hotel) Google users can add reviews, this doesn’t seem to be used or listed as a review site.

Clicking the “xxx reviews Place page” or stars takes you to your local business listing with Google. This is going to be getting a higher level of traffic due to the link being more prominent on the page and being next to the stars. People will want to check over a couple of review before considering the hotel or making a booking.

Tip 3. Ensure you have claimed your local business listing on Google, filled out as much information as possible and respond to any negative comments in a professional and positive manner.

Most of these tips should be relevent in other sectors restaurants, services etc. The difference will be the review sites, for restaurants e.g. Tipped, Urban Spoon etc. If you looking to improve you rank I would suggest counting which review sites are being listed and start to add reviews onto those sites.

In the spreadsheet linked below the first worksheet contains the review sites in the hotels sector. So if your promoting a hotel I would suggest looking over the list and ensure your hotel is listed on the top sites. I’ll expand the spreadsheet over time adding in which review sites are referenced in different sectors e.g. restaurants, local services etc

https://spreadsheets.google.com/ccc?key=0AjxfcMN-m2jndHlmNElUVkpDYWgxZHZuMmRGeEF1YlE&hl=en_GB

It’s going to be interesting over the next couple of months to see more review services popping up, how the result change and more importantly how Google handle people’s problems with Google places, the official forums are notorious for being full of complaints, people pointing out errors and very very frustrated local business owners. I’ve got a feeling that a few more business owners are going to be getting even more frustrated with Google.

A little test, recent changes with Google Street view allow you to report a problem with images.  While on the location with a problem there’s a little link at the bottom to “report a problem”.

After that you explain what is the problem and you fill in a form. You’ll get a email and a couple of days later the image is gone. I tested this out last week and today the intersection near to the local chippy now is a black screen.

The point is that there is no control over me deleting images in front of businesses. Many business such as hotels and restaurants will be getting extra trade from people being able to ‘check out’ the location before hand. This report an problem has created a free for all allowing competition to literally wipe you off the map.

Another day and another new product from Google launched. This change had been on the cards for some time, as long as six months ago screen shots of “the map on the right” have been posted on various SEO blogs.

Surveying some results I’ve noticed problems with the results on certain key phrases. For example

Hotels in Blackpool” returned some affiliate sites one being www.blackpoolhotels.com. Here’s the old listing with that site ranking at position 3.

In the new listings with Google Place Search live, Google have taken the listing for www.blackpoolhotels.com and added to the map – Map Icon B

For the average user, they would assume that the maps points are different hotels located in Blackpool. You wouldn’t want to stay at the hotel at Map Icon B, it’s at the end of the runway at Blackpool Airport.

It looks like Google have done this due to www.blackpoolhotel.com listing their address in the footer of everypage.

This problem could happen for directory sites, affiliates for any type of local business, bloggers, etc anyone who had a physical address on the page and end up with some very confused people turning up at affiliates houses.

Paul over at the Dave Naylor blog noted a similar problem with Late Rooms, who’s head office is in Manchester. Google is using that as the hotel location.

It looks like the dust is starting to settle after yesterday’s  announcement of Google Instant. As ever PR people decided to pronounce the death of SEO.  After looking over a number of blogs today, testing out several queries two main points stick out to me.

1. Suggest has been around for a while

Google has been funnelling people into a certain key phrase since summer 2009. Google Suggest which was a Google labs project (99% sure it was) was rolled out and at the time many predicted that the long tail would reduce as users would be shifted to searching for the phrases they were suggested.

I don’t remember there being any major shifts in traffic on any the sites I worked on.

The difference this time is the results are being displayed to the user, this could have more of effect on the user being guided into a suggested search.  That all depends on if the user is looking at the screen while typing. Gut feeling is that the majority of users do look at their keyboard while typing so they are oblivious to the changing serps and will type their full query regardless of what is happening on the screen.

So what people search for will remain the same, long tail quieres will still be conducted, all depends on if they keep their head up!

2.  Being Good at SEO is even more important

Gaining a top position is even more important, e.g. an organic ranking not in the top 3 is useless. Two reasons, one the layout suggests people will instantly look at the number one ranking as the page changes (PPC if present unless the organic rank has sitelinks). This should happen as its the shortest distance from where your eyes were focused e.g. the search box. This means people are not going to look at the ads on the right hand side and results lower down the page. An eye tracking study on the new interface and old with the same key phrases would be very interesting.

Also with the other suggestions being displayed below the search box this physically pushes one or two organic ranks below the fold (depending on the size of your monitor). So if your not getting your clients rankings in the top three positions you beter get link building.  take this example.

Old style Google has 7 Full organic listings

For Google instant you have 5 listing and just the title of the 6th listing

So some interesting changes to have to take into consideration when predicting CTR . Whatever the outcome for PPC and SEO campaigns I’m sure one thing is certain, Google will be making more money out of this!

If you want to get rich snippets listed in Google for your site you need to get your code marked up thats the simple bit. Some information can be found here and here. But thats only part one. You also need to register you site something I didn’t know.

There’s no guarantee that your site will show the rich snippets in the serps, but it’s work it for the higher CTR.

Malcolm Coles posted about the new featured in Google.com where suggested brands are displayed at the top of the results. Each brand then links to a new search with the brand added to the original search.

Here are some interesting examples.

Smartphones – No sign of the iPhone

Game Consoles – No XBox

Condoms – Yes even for them

Laptops – At Last apple shows

Learnings from this,

  1. Become a brand – easier said than done
  2. If your an online retailer look to improve your brand phrase e.g. sony TV’s, sony Laptops, sony camera, as the searches should increase if they are being displayed as a suggested search.

If your a fan of a sports team you may have seen Google displaying the last result and next fixture at the top of the SERP. They haven’t got is correct on all searches with some team names not triggering the feature e.g. “bolton wanderers”.

For my team, Blackpool they are showing the fixtures for Blackpool FC our namesake who play in the Malawi Superleague.

Blackpool FC Fixtures Blackpool

If you try the search sometimes Google is displaying the correct date which indicates it’s mixed across data centres.

Lets hope nobody goes to see Blackpool play the Barracks on the 31st!