Google’s Home Page Redesign: Less Is More

Google unveiled a new design for its home page that emphasizes an even more stripped-down look when users first visit the site.

Essentially the new spartan design that rolled out Wednesday is focused on search. It shows the Google logo, the search entry box, the familiar “Google Search” and “I’m Feeling Lucky” buttons — and nothing else.

Google (NASDAQ: GOOG) said in a blog post that this minimalist approach is designed to give the vast majority of people that visit the Google home just what they want: a clear, uncluttered path to search.

Of course, Google has always maintained a pretty barebones home page, but several other elements have been added in recent years.

Google hasn’t actually ditched any of them, as it turns out.

Those other elements now come into focus only if you move your computer mouse anywhere on the page. For example, the simple text links to Google’s advertising programs, to “About Google,” and the company’s privacy notice now resolve on the screen below the search bar if you do anything other than type in a search query.

Other standard links to Images, Videos, Maps, News, Gail, and Shopping also similarly fade in at the top of the screen.

“Since most users who are interested in clicking over to a different application generally do move the mouse when they arrive, the ‘fade-in’ is an elegant solution that provides options to those who want them, but removes distractions for the user intent on searching,” Google said in a blog post.

As is its standard practice, Google ran a number of tests of the new format over the last several months, putting out different live versions and measuring how users responded. In all, Google said it did 10 variations of the fade-in. The worst performer had been one that hid the search buttons until the fade-in completed.

Surprisingly, Google said the version it settled on was positive to neutral on all key metrics except “call to action.”

Although it averaged out to only milliseconds of delay, Google said users were a bit slower to enter their search queries with the new fade-in design. For a company known to be fanatically focused on site speed, this was a concern for Google, but in the end, it chalked up the delay to users adjusting to the new look.

“Then, we realized: we want users to notice this change… and it does take time to notice something (though in this case, only milliseconds!). Our goal then became to understand whether or not over time the users began to use the homepage even more efficiently than the control group and, sure enough, that was the trend we observed,” Google said in the blog post, which was co-written by Marissa Mayer, Google’s high-profile vice president of search products and user experience.

Competitors not fading away

The news comes amid rapid new approaches being adopted by the major players in search, as competitors look to chip away at Google’s dominant position.

Yesterday, Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) showed off new visual features in its Bing search engine. Yahoo (NASDAQ: YHOO) redesigned its home page earlier this year and has been busy more recently integrating social media content to search results.

Google also has a media event scheduled for Monday focused on its latest search efforts, including new features in the works.

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