Google is now testing Instant Previews, which display a snapshot of a web page inside the search results, for ads as well, enabling users to see where a search ad leads them without having to click on it. The feature is only seen by some users, but it should be an interesting addition when and if it rolls out to everyone.
Instant Previews were introduced last year shortly after Instant Search launched. The feature had been tested before and there were already several ways of replicating it, to a degree, by using browser extensions for example, but Google came up with a superior implementation and then made it available to all.
With Instant Previews, you get a rendering of the web page behind a search result on Google itself. This enables you to get an idea of what you would find without having to click through the link.
While browsers and connection speeds these days are fast enough that moving back and forth between search results and web pages is fast enough, it still a hassle.
Instant Previews should give you enough information to be able to avoid pages you really don't want to visit with only a glance.
The feature has been improved since being introduced, Flash content is now supported and rendered, videos can be previewed inline, and it works for more formats. Instant Previews is available on mobile search as well, where it makes even more sense.
Now Google is testing it with AdWords as well, something it said it will do eventually. Functionality-wise, Instant Previews for ads works very much in the same way as the regular feature and there's little difference from a technical perspective.
The big questions though are how will this affect click-through rates and what will advertisers think about it.
Common sense says that people will click on less ads, since they may notice that it's not what they're looking for from the preview alone. This means fewer clicks for advertisers and less money for Google.
However, without Instant Previews, those users would have seen that the site in question is not what they need and left it soon after landing, so the advertisers would be paying for nothing.
Instant Previews should drive up return on investment for search ads and may even make ads more valuable, making Google more money. Of course, that's what the company is trying to find out with the tests it's carrying out now.