New Design on Google Search Results Pages

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Internet users in the United States may have already noticed a slightly changed layout in search results. While the change will go unnoticed by tablet users who are familiar with the layout (since last year), desktop users getting the new layout now may well miss it altogether what the change really is.

new Google navigation bars

Are the new Google navigation bars truly redundant?

In an attempt to create a consistent search experience across the wide variety of devices and screen sizes used today, Google changed the design of its main search results page, making it cleaner, simpler, and with a bit more breathing room. At least, this is how lead designer Jon Wiley explains the new layout.

The real change is a small thing with big potential: Google added a new horizontal navigation bar and completely removed the left side navigation. More on the potential later.

The move was officially announced on Tuesday via Inside Search, then Google asked for feedback on its Google+ page. As expected, some people like it, some hate it, and some couldn’t care less.

But in essence, many feel that the new design makes navigation almost redundant with the black Google bar at the top, as some search options are already there (images, news, video, etc), then once again repeated on the new horizontal navigation bar, and some even once more with the drop down “Search tools” function.

Desktop users with wide screens have already complained about the waste of vertical space. The place once occupied by the left side navigation is now completely blank, and Google hasn’t expressed any intention to use it in the future.

So, what’s the potential? Google simply introduced the bar as a “design change,” but there’s more to this move than meets the eye. The black Google bar is a static entity, while the new bar reveals relevant content based on your query. This helps Google serve up curated content, targeted ads, and related Google products.

Let’s say you searched for Bram Stoker today, inspired by Google’s doodle. The new bar brings Google shopping to your fingertips. Now, you are one click away from purchasing Bram Stoker books directly from Google. This example alone speaks volumes about the true potential (and purpose) of the design change.

While the new design may appear cleaner and more elegant, and the bar curates content, usability suffers a big hit. Some search options are now hidden in advanced search mode, and you’ll spend a bit more time to discover them (more clicks to filter by date, by language or by other criteria).

In image search, you lose the option to search by specific size (Exactly…), and you are left with any size, large, medium, and icon instead.

These and other issues go deeper, but while some will probably be addressed (if that serves Google’s purpose), in the meantime, you will have to get used to navigating Google in a different manner or switch to a different search engine.

Mihaela Lica Butler
Mihaela Lica Butler is senior partner at Pamil Visions PR and editor at Everything PR. She is a widely cited authority on search engine optimization... Read Full Bio
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  • Christopher Noble

    You mentioned you lose the choice to change image size when searching for images, that’s incorrect.

    There is an additional “search tools” button on the right of the horizontal menu that allows you to make further refinements, exactly the same as was what was in the old sidebar.

    • Mihaela Lica Butler

      Christopher, I mean the ability to search by EXACT size. If you read again, you’ll notice that I specified exactly what you suggest. You can search by “any size, large, medium and icon” but the ability to select pixel dimensions is lost.

      • Matt

        You should still be able search for an image with an exact size using the ‘imagesize:*x*’ operator. I am waiting for the new changes with arms-a-open. The sidebar has always looked annoying to me.

  • Alex Sørlie

    Brace yourself – the google UI change complaints are coming.

    • Mihaela Lica Butler

      That’s right! 🙂 You’ll have a blast if you read their Google+ page (linked in the article).

  • ukjaybrat

    everytime anybody changes the way their website looks, there are thousands upon thousands of critics that “hate it” and eventually they get over it. Facebook changed their webpage ever year and many people hated it. But if you put up the current webpage with the one they had back in 2003… im pretty sure people would prefer the current version.

    “These and other issues go deeper, but while some will probably be addressed (if that serves Google’s purpose), in the meanwhile you will have to get used to navigating Google in a different manner. Or switch to a different search engine.”

    Change is innevitable but people generally fear change. Once they learn to embrace it, things will be fine. But suggesting you go use a different search engine because they moved the navigation bar to the top instead of the side? that’s just ludicrous. it doesn’t work THAT much different than before. it’s still the same google with the same features with the same results.

    • Mihaela Lica Butler

      ukjaybrat , they are not really the same results – they are different. Give it a try, and you will see what I mean. But overall, depending on what you are searching for, they are slightly improved.

      And no, I didn’t suggest to “use a different search engine because they moved the navigation bar to the top instead of the side.” What I meant to say was: if you don’t like what Google is doing, feel free to use an alternative search engine. That’s all.

  • Darin L. Hammond

    Thank you for this update. I knew that something had changed in the looks of things on the Google Page, but didn’t realize the implications. I am quickly finding that I miss the left column as you pointed out.

  • Jeff Swan

    Since I never liked scrolling down on the page to click the left side bar to narrow search results I see the potential in the new design. Also, the behavior-based search options mentioned in your article excite me as a marketer. However, I feel that the only way they’re going to use the extra space on the left is to ad more sponsored ads, which will lead to even more competition and eye fatigue on search results pages. If that happens I feel like its going to be a bad day for marketers!

    • Mihaela Lica Butler

      HI Jeff – I so much hope they will not add more ads to clutter the pages. I think they really just wanted a better way to curate content (they will sell more with the new bar, I am sure), and to make Google search results look similar on desktops, laptops, tablets, mobiles and so on. This is not a bad thing – it’s good branding strategy. We’ll see what Google has in store in the future. In the meanwhile, it’s interesting to watch the users’ reactions and how Google responds to them.

  • Stephen

    Good grief. The ability to search for substantial image size is phenomenally important for those of us who are teachers! We need to be able to find large and clear images without wading through masses of irrelevant and murky pictures. Please give us back the tools we need!

  • David

    I know it always takes time for me to get used to new things but I liked the old sidebar items for things such as time and relevance. Now they are at the top and there is blank space where the old sidebar was. Not sure this is a step forward – hasn’t gained any page real-estate, if anything, it’s taken a little away.

  • Chandler Bryson

    Google was testing the new interface for SERP. It looked nice but as you said Google removed exact image search option, i didn’t like that. Good news is that previous SERP design of Google is back with exact image search option.

    • Mihaela Lica Butler

      Hi Chandler. I actually no longer see the previous design in image search. But I don’t mind – I always buy my images from 🙂

      • Chandler Bryson

        Thank you Mihaela for sharing a very nice resource to buy photos. It will really help me to get good quality and relevant photos.

  • Ron

    Use DuckDuckGo, they have better search results.

  • Wietop

    While I agree that change is inevitable, it’s also predicated upon the belief that the change will translate to improvement. Google’s decision to change its search engine to one-domain search results is not only irritating, but it’s fundamentally useless. If I search for something, why would I want all the results to be from the same website? I want multiple websites from which to choose, and I don’t want to have to scroll through multiple pages to find a new offering. I hear a lot of grumblings, and I, for one, have ditched Google for both informational and image searches. Google is getting too big for its breeches.

  • Christopher Noble

    I’ve been saying for years that Google has been getting too big for their boots. They have never, ever listened to their customers but ultimately they’ve ended up dominating the market. For them, it’s always been about making BIG bucks and not really about providing the “best” user experience. Their search improvements are all made under the guise of customer improvement/experience, but really it’s not.

    I don’t see them going anywhere however, unless the likes of Yahoo/Bing etc spend some serious amounts of money improving what they can offer and promoting it more. I hope they do it soon, I don’t “want” to keep using Google, but it is currently the best SE out there.

  • Henri

    How can putting the ‘Shopping’ link one click away make me want to buy a book? Either I want to buy a book to start with or I don’t.

    There has been no thought for usability at all. Search tools are buried deep inside whereas they used to be one click away from the side.

    The Web, Images and Maps links in the new topbar could have been removed as they are redundant. In fact, the focus would then have been on the new links that depend on your search query.

    I’m surprised a company like Google that tests everything extensively will degrade usability on their site and place redundant links one below the other.

    In any case, I have made the change to Bing a long time ago, so Google can stuff their SERPs full of ads, I don’t care.

  • Janice

    I used to be able to do a web search then narrow it down to pages from Australia with one click of the button on the left hand side of the side of the screen. Now I have to either search the web, or search a specific location and don’t have the option to to click between the two without delving much deeper each time. No I don’t like the new design.