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Google gives its search results a major makeover

May 5, 2010 |  8:33 am

Some of the most sought-after real estate on the Web, Google Inc.’s search-results page, is getting a major makeover.

Googlelook The Mountain View, Calif., giant, which runs the world’s most popular search engine, says it wants millions of users to more quickly and easily find what they are looking for. So it’s rolling out a new permanent fixture on the left-hand side of the search-results page. 

Google says the column will contain navigational tools to help that particular search, sorting results by content type or date, drilling more deeply into them or suggesting relevant links or ways to refine the search.

For example, if you search for a news topic, say Icelandic volcano, the search engine will offer results from the last few days or real-time updates. Or search for a product, like Big Green Egg outdoor grill, and the search engine will suggest shopping or review sites. For some searches, Google also will offer a link to its "Wonder Wheel," which has a visual representation of related searches and used to take a few clicks to find. “Something Different,” will suggest related topics, like other classic rock bands when you search for the Rolling Stones.

Google also redesigned the search results page to give it a cleaner, more modern look and a brighter logo, said Marissa Mayer, Google’s vice president of search product and user experience who spearheaded the effort.

Google’s design has evolved to help users mine the ever-richer veins of information on the Web, Mayer said. Most users will begin seeing the changes on Wednesday, Google search project manager Nundu Janakiram said.

Search-engine analyst Danny Sullivan called it the most radical redesign since May 2007 when Google added “universal search” to its main results page. That’s when Google began intermingling results from different media rather than having them separated into different categories and having consumers access them by clicking on a long row of links above the main query box.

That move to go beyond a series of links or snippets that point to other websites to point users to video, photos and other media set the stage for the latest changes.

“These changes should help guide people to have a more relevant search experience,”  SearchEngineLand.com’s Sullivan said.

It’s all part of Google’s effort to make itself even more useful to its millions of users and maintain its competitive advantage as Yahoo Inc., Microsoft Corp. and other rivals try to take share from Google, which dominates the lucrative search advertising market.

The changes also catch Google up to Yahoo, Microsoft’s Bing and Ask.com, each of which has some version of a three-pane design featuring navigation, search results and advertising, Sullivan says.

Google tried out hundreds of designs, Janakiram said. It spent years developing the new design and months testing it on randomly selected users, Google employees and in usability labs, he said.

“Our goal is to keep the search experience simple and powerful,” Janakiram said.

Mayer said Google took great care in rolling out the long-awaited changes, with mock-ups of left-hand-side panes dating to 2004.

“This is something we have been thinking about for a number of years now,” Mayer said. “Part of it is that we wanted to make sure we had search tools that we felt were compelling.”

As for those users loyal to Google’s simpler design? “Some people will yell for classic Google,” Sullivan said. But he’s betting most users will prefer the new format.

“Google now has a menu and you can pick and choose what kind of search you want to do more easily from the menu,” Sullivan said. “It used to be that you entered a query and Google served up whatever it decided you should have. Now Google is letting you order particular items more easily.”

-- Jessica Guynn

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