Google adds Instant Preview to search

Graphical previews of search results are 'something that Bing will probably need to respond to,' analyst says

Google is upping the ante in its competition with Microsoft Bing by adding preview graphics to its search results.

This morning, Google announced Instant Preview, which give users a previewable image of each search result. As of today, the graphics will appear if users click on magnifying glass icons to the right of individual search results, said Raj Krishnan, a Google product manager.

"You need a way to clue users in on which result to click on," Krishnan told Computerworld. "We're trying to move more toward an application than a static page... We want you to have more of an interaction with Google search. You can interact and have a dynamically changing page."

While Instant Preview is designed to provide graphical previews of all search results, it will also at times highlight the most relevant parts, as well as where the search term appears on the page. If a user is looking for a chart or list, they'll be able to see if one appears in the preview.

Krishnan said a Google survey showed that people who tried using Instant Preview reported being 5% more likely to be satisfied with the search results they clicked on.

This is Google's second update related to search results in the past few months.

In early September, Google took the wraps off Instant Search, which dynamically gives users search results as they are typing. Basically, Google is making educated guesses about what people will be asking for.

Now, in another blow to Microsoft Bing, Google is adding images of the search results to that equation.

Dan Olds, an analyst with The Gabriel Consulting Group, said Microsoft should take note. "[Instant Preview] will help users find exactly what they're looking for without having to constantly chase links that aren't quite right," he said. "This is a good evolution of search features and functions, and something that Bing will probably need to respond to."

Olds said that the one thing all users have in common is that they want to get to the right results faster. "This tool does that," he said. "Using this can save significant time for both casual and heavy search users."

Rob Enderle, an analyst with the Enderle Group, said at this point in the rivalry with Microsoft, Google doesn't need to gain ground since it has the lion's share of the search market.

Google's job is to keep users from migrating to Bing, he said. And since Bing paired up recently with Facebook, keeping users from trying out Bing is a bigger job than it was before.

Enderle said Google's Instant Preview could do the trick. "Google is the dominant provider, which means they just need to keep their customers happy. This could do that if it works reliably," he said.

"Microsoft is the challenging vendor, so they will need to move aggressively to match this feature or risk some of their recently acquired customers moving back to Google and a slowing of Bing adoption," Enderle said.

Olds said that if users start to use Instant Preview, it will help Google fight off any territory encroachment Bing is angling for. And it may challenge Microsoft to match the feature with its own search engine.

"If users start using it, it gives Google a case to make to advertisers that they're No. 1 in features and thus are the better advertising vehicle," Olds said.

Sharon Gaudin covers the Internet and Web 2.0, emerging technologies, and desktop and laptop chips for Computerworld. Follow Sharon on Twitter at  @sgaudin or subscribe to Sharon's RSS feed . Her e-mail address is sgaudin@computerworld.com.

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