Google is rolling out a new design for its search page today. None of the changes are exactly earth-shattering, but they continue Google’s movement away from its traditional page of website links to a format that incorporates more content types and search tools.
The biggest addition among the ones senior user experience designer Jon Wiley previewed for me yesterday is a bar that will appear on the left-hand side of the search page. It’s reminiscent of Google’s existing “search options” bar, but the options bar is a bit hidden right now — users have to click on the “show options” button to see it. With the redesign, the bar on every Google search page.
The top part of the bar highlights different content types. Users can click on “Everything” to see the standard Google search page (which Google calls universal search, since it now incorporates other media types like images, music, and news), or focus on specific types like books or images. Those content types vary depending on the search. Whatever type is shown most prominently should be the one most relevant to your search. Below that, users will find other search tools like the wonder wheel, which presents related search topics in a circular layout. And below that, users get options to search for “something different.”
Google is mostly highlighting features that already existed, but that’s kind of the point. While testing the redesign among a limited group of users, and among Google employees themselves, Wiley said it was common to hear, “Oh wow, you’ve launched a shopping tool,” or “Hey, what’s this wonder wheel?” — when in fact those are tools Google has offered for a while now. So with the redesign, it’s more likely that a casual searcher will actually see and use these features.
The move might also be influenced by Microsoft’s search engine Bing, which made its left-hand menus a prominent part of the search experience from the start. I asked Wiley if the redesign was influenced by the competition, and he gave the standard Google answer: No.
“I think really the biggest changes and sources of innovation really come from an analysis of what our users need,” he said. “We spend a lot of time just going back to search options or universal search. The way that people have been using those particular tools and features gives us a lot of insight.”
Of course, Google search isn’t just important to Google itself — it’s the main way that many web-based companies get their traffic. So do website publishers need to rethink their strategies after today’s changes?
“As the Web becomes a very rich world of content, we have to respond to its changing nature,” Wiley said. “For content publishers, I think they’re in sort of the same place as always. They’ve got to make sure they provide the best content.”
As part of Google’s new look, it has also tweaked its logo. The changes are pretty minor — if users weren’t told that the logo has changed, they might not even notice. Basically, the shadows have shrunk and the colors are a little brighter.