Google’s new homepage fades into focus

3 Dec 2009

Search giant Google has been experimenting with the look of its homepage over the past few months and the latest incarnation allows additional functions other than search to “fade into view”.

When the new home page first loads, it shows only the Google logo and search box.

But, when you swipe your mouse pointer across the page, the various applications that normally adorn the page such as Gmail, Google Image Search and Google’s advertising programmes, fade into view.

The idea of the new look, Google vice-president in charge of Search Products Marissa Mayer explained, is to provide options to those who want them but removes distractions from the user intent on searching.

“For the past few months, we’ve been experimenting with homepage designs like this and have run several live tests on the site,” Mayer said.

“We do these live tests when we are making a change that we think may fundamentally affect how people use the site. Initially, some of the experiment findings had us concerned, but one thing we have learned through our tests is not to judge the outcome too quickly.

“All in all, we ran approximately 10 variants of the fade-in. Some of the experiments hindered the user experience: for example, the variants of the homepage that hid the search buttons until after the fade performed the worst in terms of user happiness metrics.”

The score

Mayer said the latest variant scored positive or neutral on all key metrics, except one: time to first action.

“At first, this worried us a bit: Google is all about getting you where you are going faster — how could we launch something that potentially slowed users down? Then, we realised: 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,” Mayer said.

“Like the new supersized search box we launched several months ago, this change is one that is very noticeable at first, and then quickly becomes second nature,” she added.

By John Kennedy

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years