Google cleans up search page, eyes mobile users

Google goes for a cleaner, simpler look across PCs, smartphones and tablets

Have you noticed a change in the look of Google's search results page?

You might not have. Google tweaked the design of the page a few days ago, giving it a cleaner, simpler appearance. But it's not a change that will jump out at you.

Google wants to optimize its search pages for its growing base of mobile users, but the changes are subtle.

"It does look cleaner. The text is bigger, and I like that," said Ezra Gottheil, an analyst at Technology Business Research. "I didn't notice the change before, but I do prefer it."

On Tuesday, Tamar Yehoshua, a search director at Google, wrote in a blog post that changes have been made to the company's search results pages.

"We've been working on ways to create a consistent search experience across the wide variety of devices and screen sizes people use today," Yehoshua wrote. "We started with tablets last year, got it to mobile phones a few weeks ago, and are now rolling out to the desktop."

With the new design, Google was trying to create "a bit more breathing room," she wrote.

Two years ago, Google added a sidebar on the left side of the search results page, offering users shortcuts to News, Images and other options. That left-hand column has been replaced by a row tabs with similar shortcuts above the search results.

Why such a simple change? Gottheil said Google is focused on making the search experience similar whether a user is on a desktop, a smartphone or a tablet. The company also wants to provide busy mobile users with a clean screen.

"Mobile is critically important," Gottheil said. "Google's raw material is the total time people spend using the Web, and an increasing percentage of that time is spent with mobile devices. It needs to be cleaner. You can't waste the left margin on smaller screens."

Google isn't the only Internet company working on how to best handle its burgeoning base of mobile users.

Facebook has been struggling to harness its huge population of mobile users. In documents filed as part of its initial public offering this past summer, Facebook categorized mobile as one of the big risks facing the company.

The question most companies are dealing with is how to get ads in front of mobile users without alienating them with cluttered screens and slow response times. That's an especially big problem with mobile users who are trying to get information while they're on the go.

Google search page
Google is changing the design of its search results pages to give them a cleaner and simpler appearance and to provide a consistent look no matter what kind of device is used. (Image: Google)

Sharon Gaudin covers the Internet and Web 2.0, emerging technologies, and desktop and laptop chips for Computerworld. Follow Sharon on Twitter at @sgaudin and on Google+, or subscribe to Sharon's RSS feed . Her email address is sgaudin@computerworld.com.

See more by Sharon Gaudin on Computerworld.com.

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