During the past week, some desktop users may have noticed that their Google search engine result pages (SERPs) looked different, but looked normal on other computers. This isn’t the result of some new malware or NSA snooping, but rather, Google is conducting a large test to try out some new things. The changes relate to the look and feel of SERPs as well as the way ads are identified. This post will explain what’s happening at Google and what new design elements are being tested.
So what’s happening is that Google is doing a large A/B test to see how well the proposed redesign works. This means that some desktop and laptop users are seeing the traditional Google search results and some are seeing the new redesigned pages. In fact, TechCruch reported that some users could see one version on one browser and the other version on a different browser. Google will use the data gleaned from these test to decide on financial feasibility of the redesign. They are testing several elements at once, so it’s likely that some, if not all, won’t make the final cut.
When asked about the redesign at Search Marketing Expo last week, Google’s head of search, Anit Singhal was quoted as saying, “We are always testing things. We need to experiment to improve the product. Rest assured there’s a team of PhDs gathering every piece of data we can about our experiments and if it doesn’t benefit users, we don’t do it.”
There are several changes to the SERPs but the most notable for marketers is the change to the way ads are displayed. Rather than be in a shaded box with the ad mention at the very top in small letters, ads now don’t have the border, but have a flag with the word Ad in front of each ad. Some have decried this move as an attempt to make ad links harder to distinguish from regular results, but it’s more likely that Google has the exact opposite in mind. As was discussed earlier on this blog, the FTC has warned companies about native ads; making sure that every ad link is clearly marked as an ad is probably a move the FTC would approve of.
Aside from the ad changes, Google has also changed the look of the SERPs. Links are no longer underlined, they adjusted the line heights, and the font has been enlarged.
Jon Wiley, lead designer for Google Search, officially confirmed the changes on a Google+ post later in the week.
“Towards the end of last year we launched some pretty big design improvements for Search on mobile and tablet devices. Today we’ve carried over several of those changes to the desktop experience,” Wiley wrote. “We’ve increased the size of result titles, removed the underlines, and evened out all the line heights. This improves readability and creates an overall cleaner look. We’ve also brought over our new ad labels from mobile, making the multi-device experience more consistent.”
The feedback has been mixed. Some users have reported liking the changes in the first week, while others have been quick to decry them. Regardless of the changes, Google will remain one of the top advertising platforms for internet marketers, because it’s not like everyone is going to suddenly run to Bing. Besides, as was mentioned earlier by Singhal, Google won’t just plod through with changes that were affecting their click through rate and overall web traffic.