At first we were confused about why Google would launch a new feature in its search results that covers up the very ads that make Google money. Google’s new Instant Previews allow users (if you first click on a magnifying glass symbol) to see previews of the web pages you may click through to. It’s a very nice feature, potentially modeled after Twitter’s recent redesign, and is an obvious attempt to keep Google your main portal on the web. Google faces significant threats from mobile apps and social media referrals, and this summer Nielsen reported that U.S. total search volume had declined year over year by 16% — with Google use down 17%. So, yep, Google needs to play usability defense.
But back to dollars — why would Google block the ads that make it money with such a graphics feature? The preview window pops up to the right, covering all the CPC ads at the right of your browser window. Blocked view, no clicks, no Google ad revenue … right?
And then we thought, perhaps Google is being even more clever. Remember, it costs you most to bid on the No. 1 ad spot at the top of the search results, with every subsequent spot on a Google results page costing less. The new preview interface covers up only ads in positions 5 or higher — while the top 4 sponsored links, the most expensive and thus the most lucrative to Google, are still visible up top, uncovered by Instant Previews. So Google has now created an incentive for advertisers to bid higher on CPC ads to achieve positions 1 through 4, and to avoid the lower positions 5+ in paid search results, which could be hidden and thus achieve worse click-through rates.
Smart. Google has added a clever new feature to attract more users, while pushing advertisers to pay more to avoid being blocked on search results pages. Google has maximized consumer utility and advertising spending. Wow, Google. It’s almost like you’re optimizing us instead of search results.