For Web designers, search marketers and e-commerce merchants, anytime Google makes even tiny changes to its site is reason to sit up and take notice.
The search leader hasn't made major changes to the simple text entry box that's become the paradigm for searching on the Web, but it has tinkered quite a bit with its search results page in recent months, including this week's just-launched redesign.
The updated look, which also include changes to mobile search results, are a response to the increasing "rich content" on the Web, Marissa Mayer, Google's (NASDAQ: GOOG) vice president of search products and user experience, said in a blog post.
What Google calls "contextually relevant" navigation has been added to the left-side panel on the results page, which now includes relevant search tools and potential refinements to the original query. Google has long been offering links to limit searches to Images, Shopping, Video, Maps and other results; these categories continue to exist but now appear on the upper-left of search results pages.
Below those on the left column are more newly added options, including Books, Blogs, Updates and Discussions.
The latter, Discussions, doesn't necessarily provide the same level of timely or even relevant results. For example, a search earlier today for "networking gear" and subsequent click on Discussions, was topped with a link from 2008 titled "How can I resell my networking gear" followed by a January 2010 post by a user selling networking gear. Like all searches, users can usually get narrower and more refined results the more specific and popular their query is. For example, a search for "Flash versus HTML" and a click on Discussions listed a number of more timely, relevant links.
Several refinements have important implications for e-commerce merchants. Users can expand or reduce the number of search options by clicking on "More" or "Less" links, although the Shopping category is listed in second place, below Everything, in either case. Also highlighted are links for more or fewer shopping sites returned in a search query's results.
Mayer noted Google also made slight changes to the color palette of the results page and to Google's logo. "These changes are slight, keeping our page minimalist and whimsical, but make our overall look more modern," she said in the blog post.
The mobile changes, which have been rolled out already for Android and iPhone users in the U.S., includes a button on the left of the search on the results page to see a new search options menu which includes options like Past Week to refine the results to that timeframe.
Other new menu options for mobile include "News" and "Products" -- a boon for sellers hoping to capitalize on the growing prominence of mobile commerce, despite its nascency in some markets.
"In the weeks to come, we will be supporting more devices and locales, and expanding the number of options available," Reza Ziaei and Mike Buchanan of Google's mobile engineering team, said in a blog post.
The mobile blog generated several positive comments along with a few complaints. One poster, using the name "Pork," said BlackBerry's support isn't coming fast enough.
"I think I speak for all of the many millions of Blackberry users when I say that we're getting really tired of being treated like second-class citizens by Google. All of the new dev and features appear to be focused solely on the Android and iPhone platforms, while we're being all but ignored."
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