We've mentioned the Google SERP Preview feature a few times in this last week, and we want to talk about this a little more since it has another hidden effect on your website.
When Google introduced the preview feature in November 2010, they also provided some basic guidelines that would improve the preview's effectiveness for your website. Let's examine the important guidelines.
1. Keep your pages clearly laid out and structured, with a minimum of distractions or extraneous content.
This is great advice, especially from the world's largest search engine. So many jewelry stores say they want a "clean looking" website yet when the final site is created, they've cluttered up every page with content or images in every last pixel.
Every page of your site should be dedicated to a single topic, and everything on the page should support the topic or lead the user to related information with ease.
2. Try to avoid interstitial pages, ad pop-ups, or other elements that interfere with your content.
Another great piece of advice from Google, although small retail jewelers usually don't have interstitial pages; many designer and trade websites have them. These pop-up pages not only block the Google spider from seeing your content, but they ruin the possibility for a Preview image.
Another common pop-up are those Flash welcome pages. Welcome pages serve no other purpose than to annoy your users, and now they will even make your Preview look useless.
3. Many pages have their previews generated as part of our regular crawl process. Occasionally, Google will generate screenshots on the fly when a user needs it.
As part of Google crawling methods, they now generate the preview the last time they crawled your website. You can find the crawl date by clicking the Cached link at the bottom of your SERP listing.
We've seen that the preview can be generated on a different date than the cache date, so don't rely on it to change as soon as you change your page. They will eventually synchronize.
4. Currently, some videos or Flash content in previews appear as a "puzzle piece" icon or a black square.
More great advice from Google! Mo matter how many times Google claims they can read Flash websites, it always seems the latest search engine technologies seriously lag behind with Flash integration.
Flash websites are bad for your business. Any web programmer that suggests Flash as a full website design should be replaced. Any business owner that suggests Flash for a full website design needs someone to sit them down and explain why it will hurt their business.
In conclusion, the next time you look at your SERP listings, take a quick look at your website Preview. If the Preview doesn't clearly represent your store, or your services then you need to reevaluate your website's design.
Be aware that the Preview image is about 300 pixels wide. Before deploying a new design on your website you should ask your web designer to shrink a few pages down to that size for testing. If the test images look bad so will your eventual Google Preview images. In that case start over again because if users can't understand what they see in a 300 pixel preview, they will not click--and that's when your User Interface (that's the UI) will fail again and again.