Online search is undergoing seismic change these days. Most of the time the average Web surfer doesn’t even notice because the changes are “under the hood.” But, a few days ago, Google introduced some visual changes to its SERPs.
The design changes are subtle. Hyperlinks are no longer underlined (as they still are on Yahoo and Bing), the font size has jumped two points, and the line spacing has evened out for an cleaner look, a look that brings the veteran company closer to the visual aspect of the search engine DuckDuckGo, as well as bringing it in line with changes to Google’s mobile SERPs.
Google’s lead search designer, Jon Wiley, commented on the redesign last week on his Google+ account:
Improving consistency in design across platforms makes it easier for people to use Google search across devices, and it makes it easier for us to develop and ship improvements across the board.
Desktop versus Mobile
This is a laudable goal. Consistency of user experience is a good thing. Especially since people access search from a wide variety of devices. But, I believe the change also was fueled by the drastic decline in the number of desktop search queries. More and more people are searching from their phones and tablets. Let’s take a look at some of the numbers that may be driving the redesign:
- A comScore study released last August notes the total number of U.S. searchers using mobile phones increased by 26% between March 2012 and December 2012. This is a rise from 90.1 million to 113.1 million searchers.
- Analytics firm BIA/Kelsey predicts mobile search queries will overtake desktop queries by 2015.
- A recently released report from eMarketer quantifies this trend in financial terms. It predicts a “significant decline” of 9.4% ($1.4 billion) in desktop advertising revenue this year. Desktop-based revenue is expected to continue this decline for the foreseeable future; by 2018, it is predicted to be down 33.1%. In mobile advertising we see the just the opposite: mobile search revenue rose 120.8% last year and is projected to grow another 82.3% over 2014.
This year, according to StatCounter, mobile will probably account for a full third of Google’s search revenue. (It’s worth noting that Google currently holds a 95 percent market share in mobile search.)
The refrain of “mobile, mobile, mobile,” looks like it is starting to evolve to include a wide range of devices. Moves like Google’s demonstrate an awareness of the growing need to think in terms of multiple devices and consistent display.
One example of this consolidated stance is the way that Google recently restructured its advertising departments. Google’s desktop and mobile ad departments were recently merged, and now they sell both types of ads as a combined package. Additionally they started offering new tracking tools, including one that tracks consumer activity across devices. Among other things this can tell marketers whether a consumer makes a purchase on a computer after researching it on a phone or other mobile device.
This bring us to another factor that I think may have played into the new design: the emerging public awareness of data tracking and security. The news has been full of stores about NSA spying, hacks at major companies, and the use of your data by both Google and Facebook. This has led, among other thing, to the growing use of the search engine DuckDuckGo.
DuckDuckGo uses data security as its main selling point. It’s not a paid service — it’s free just like other engines. Their explanatory page, “Google tracks you, we don’t,” is well worth reading for anyone who uses the Internet.
If you take a look at DuckDuckGo’s SERPs you will see the same clean, minimalist sort of design that Google seems to be shooting for. With the growing trend of privacy awareness it seems only logical that the Big G would emulate the look and feel of an engine that promotes itself as a privacy leader.
If this year is anything like 2013, this will be far from the only set of changes Google will roll out in coming months. While this one is seemingly cosmetic, it reflects the evolution of the search industry as a whole. What are your thoughts on the new look and feel? Let us know in the comments!
George "Loki" Williams is the community and brand manager for award wining game company Savage Mojo, Ltd. and the owner of SocialGumbo, LLC, an online consultancy specializing in Web content and online communications. Loki has produced content for clients including the Open Society Institute, National Association of Broadcasters, Kobold Press, and Kaiser Permanente. His work has been seen or written about in The New York Times, The BBC, Air America, The Gambit Weekly, and NOLA.com, among others.