Lessons to be learnt from the new Google homepage

Have you noticed the new Google homepage? It is now the simplest it has ever been. I believe there is a lot we can learn not only from this simplicity but also to how Google has achieved it.

There is a lot of debate about the new Google homepage with its fading of secondary content. It amazes me that some web designers see it as a mistake. Personally it perfectly sums up my attitude towards simplicity in web design, and I would like to see more website owners have the confidence to follow suit.

However, as Leesy points out in the Boagworld forum, it is not just the simplicity of the google homepage that is exciting. It is also the way they have achieved that simplicity. It is their attention to detail.

  • The things that Google don’t have to worry about though is SEO. People type http://www.google.com in their address bar, so the Google site can be simple. Where as http://www.fredswidgetshop.co.uk people don’t know who he is so he has to clutter his site with content to get good SEO and in doing so the simplicity is removed. Site owners who are not big brands and rely on SEO can not hide content.

    A good solution would be to show content if you have not come direct, so for refers and search engine traffic, but for direct visitors show a simpler version of your homepage. This may be dangerous having different versions though.

    So nice idea if your a big brand like Google but would not work for the average joes website in me view.

    • Personally I disagree. The content is still there and can still be spidered. It is just not immediately visible to the user. This does not break Google’s guidelines and so should not affect your rankings one way or another. This is something we have debated in length for Wiltshire Farm Foods and it has had no negative results I am aware of.

    • I would disagree with Janko. Google.com is a branded search engine. By its new homepage with the fading effect its trying to tell its users that the sole purpose of google.com is to search. So when u visit google.com u only have the search box making the site’s purpose very clear. The other features provided by google has their own urls by which they can be reached by.

  • I personally love the Google homepage, for all the reasons that you’ve mentioned above, but there’s just one quite minor thing that bothers me about it. When I go to a website, and I perform some action that causes something to fade in, I expect either that same action, a different action or at least a time delay to make it fade out again. Once you get to the Google homepage and move your mouse (as most people will do instantly), gone is the pristine whiteness and simplicity, never to be seen again. This has always seemed like an oversight to me, taking nothing away from the original idea.

    • Yes, I would have to agree. If they were really going to be bold and daring, surely having just the search box on the home page would be enough. After all the links to mail, login and so on appear on the results screen once you do a search, and there are other points of entry for all those services anyway. They don’t need to be on the homepage at all.

      I do see your point Paul, but in the same breath it isn’t always an ideal solution to go completely minimalist. It doesn’t suite every level of user and site.

      Good post.

    • I.Have.To.Disagree

      The problem with that minimalist approach is that google taught us different, now to have to do a search when I don’t need to do a search but read my email, well that doesn’t seem to clever… maybe just a small link to services, I think must of us can live with that…

  • Grant

    Has anyone ever taken a look at the source code of http://www.google.com or http://www.google.co.uk? Such a mess. Do google think that because they are so big that they should be exempt from complying with web standards?

  • I wonder how the effect of not seeing a ‘mail’ or ‘maps’ link at the top when the page loads would affect my non-techie friends who expect it to be there. I imagine google will get a lot more searches for ‘mail’ and ‘maps’. In my experience, non-techie friends and family often think they are the ones in the wrong when these kind of things happen. Maybe show the links immediately if the user has a mail cookie on their machine?

  • Guys I don’t believe it matters what we think of the new Google frontpage… Google makes it designs based on trial and error, using tools such as Website Optimizer (or much more advanced versions of it, for sure). They don’t design out of devine inspiration or guided by some creative muse.

    What we see is quite simply the best performing version. Period. Sure they have tested tons of other design variations. It just doesn’t matter what we like, but what it works.

    • While I am sure we can all agree that Google tests a page design before going live, part of the point of the article (as I took it) was to provide lessons for the web community as a whole for how things can be done. In that regard, I think it is important to come up with cases where what Google did may not be the right approach for other sites. I think this tempers the idea, and gives the community some kind of frame where the idea is best utilized.

  • I think Google has done a silly mistake that easy to label as focus/creative/smart. But they are not just a ad-company anymore, they spend billions on developing other services. Shrink your menu, not remove it. Ad new stuff in a smart way and show it to everybody.

    • “I think Google has done a silly mistake that easy to label as focus/creative/smart. “

      Damn straight!

      This is a case of “The Emperors New Clothes” and if this were on a Micro$oft site, I am sure we would be hearing of their perfidy!

      Frankly, I find it irritating and annoying. I dont need “visual effects” fading in or otherwise when I go to a web commodity type site like Google. I should note that if you have Javascript disabled you get NO MENU – fading or otherwise. Google wants to ensure you use and enable Javascript, the better to sniff your browser (and you) and feed their hunger for and the accretion of Knowledge/data.

      I’ve gotten around it by bookmarking the “Get lucky ” page and avoiding the main landing page for the most part… That, and widening the search bar so I can actually see what the hell I’m typing!

    • billy bob

      I agree with Steve. At least give me a friggin option to turn the stupid fading effect off.

  • John

    My issue is with your first sentance, “There is a lot of debate about the new Google homepage with its fading of secondary content.”. In my opinion it’s not secondary content for some people, in fact I use the ‘secondary content’ more than the primary content. The fade just becomes an annoying feature from a usability point of view, I have to wave my mouse before I can get to the content I want to use.

    Agree with Einar above, if you’re wanting to simplify, shrink not remove. However Google has already done this in a couple of places and made a bit of a hash of it, depending on the google product you’re using it either says account settings or Settings with a drop down. I wouldn’t have had a problem with it if it was consistent across their products.

    I like Jason’s idea of having a cookie that tells it to show, I don’t however know where Google would put it and i would configure that option.

  • steve

    While I do think the simplicity of the initial screen is attractive I see no real incentive to hide everything else if ANY type of action weather it be almost zero interaction(moving your mouse a pixel) brings it all back. It seems to be completely superfluous.

    The designer in me says it is a statement, a communication that google is still a simple search engine but the from an interactive viewpoint it is just confusing.

  • I can see your perspective on this Paul. But I feel your argument to be in favor of this solution falls flat on one point. I’m sure a majority of the people use the google homepage for its search functionality. But an minority does not. And for a site like Google any minority counts. (and for us designers/ developers as well otherwise we wouldn’t have to build for IE6).

    Personally (and I know I’m not representative for the whole minority) never use the Google homepage for search. I always hit the search functionality within the browser. So when I go to the Google homepage I’m looking for some other feature. You state it’s all there but its not! First time you even don’t know and in future visits you know it’s there but you can’t see it. You have to activate it. Which is bad for the overall experience in my opinion.

    This hinderance is frustrating optimal usability experience. I know it’s just for a small amount of time but it feels like you have to put effort into it. It takes time for the site to act. What made Google so impressive….speed. Google is all about speed, you want stuff quickly done. This feature doesn’t help.
    There’s also a relation between the effort en expectations of a user. I’m willing to put more effort into uploading stuff to Flickr than I am when visiting Google.

    Let me know your thoughts.

  • I think Google did a nice job with this. They created a very simple and intuitive search experience, going back to the very basic principles of a search engine. Doing this without losing the focus on Google maps, gmail, …

    Also wanted to point out that the same discussion is going on at http://www.paulolyslager.com.


  • filip

    I dont remember last time i visited google.com :) Who does it these days? you have it in upper right corner ;)
    My homepage is igoogle,they should put some animation there…

  • Charles

    Plain and simple, I see it as a usability flaw in that it is an unnecessary delay to me clicking on one of the top tabs, which I often do immediately (be it Images, or Maps, etc). Now I often find myself clicking on a phantom link.

  • The first thing that we mostly do when we get to Google’s homepage is search, thus, type whatever we’re searching for — which makes everything else except the search box and search button (though most use the “Enter” key”) useless.

    In pursuit of simplicity Google wins and I am yet to read an opposing comment with a rational argument.

    I applaud Google.

    • Charles

      It goes too far to say everything other than the search box is “useless”. There is a reason why the other features exist on the site – while search is still primary, more and more users are taking advantage of them immediately.

      I am not arguing against the fading effect on grounds of it being a serious detriment to usability, but rather as an unnecessary addition which serves more to distract and delay than anything else.

  • I’m going to make a slight disagreement with Paul…

    This isn’t about focusing your users attention on what YOU want them to do. It’s about focusing their attention on what THEY want to do.

    There are basically two distinct use cases for this page – do a search, or do… something else (go to Mail, view Search History, etc)

    If your task is to search, then you only need to use the keyboard; Google have thoughtfully placed cursor focus inside the search bar, so as soon as the page loads type your search query and hit enter. You don’t need to see any of those menus and links so they won’t appear at any point of this.

    If you intended to do something else however, like going to Google Mail, then you’ve probably already got your hand on the mouse ready to find that link, and look what you’ve just done – you’ve activated the hidden menus and here’s that link you were after.

    It’s more than just promoting your primary call to action, it’s about improving your user experience.


    • I agree with that sentiment Pete.

      The focus is naturally on the search box and I typically start typing as soon as I’ve hit the page, then just hit “Enter”. It’s a great user experience to be able to do that, given I’m a keyboard warrior!


  • From a UX/HCI perspective it makes little sense. The google.com homepage is becoming increasingly irrelevant for search as most browsers have some area to perform a search nowadays.

    That leads to the google.com homepage having the primary function of being a starting point of habit for anyone using google services like gmail or google apps. At the very least they should offer a cookie.

    It’s “eye candy” that a) isn’t pretty, b) doesn’t improve the design of their site, and c) is counter-intuitive.

    Once again Google fail at usability.

  • iurii

    I really think that new Google homepage with its fading of secondary content is a mistake! (And I don’t think that that content is secondary, by the way, because when I need just to use search I use search in me right top corner, and when I go to google.com I usually want to log in or check mail, etc.) I don’t like the idea at all. It irritates me. Before I didn’t think about this page at all, and now I pay attention at that fading effect each time I enter the page.

  • billy bob

    I’ve yet to see any good explanation as to the purpose of the links fading in and out. I fail to see how this has any positive effect on user experience.

    there seem to be 2 camps here: those who actually use the site and hate it and those who theorize about how brilliant it is without any supporting evidence.

    the only reason i ever go to google is to check check email and google analytics. I do all searches through the firefox search box. so this is nothing but an annoyance to me.

    Google should be smart enough to know customization is the way to go. let me turn the damn thing off at least.

  • And for those of you who are interested, there is quite a long thread on the forum with arguments on both sides of the fence.


  • Oliver

    I agree with the article and to all of you who think that average user doesn’t search through google.com but through browser.

    1st – You seem to keep forgetting that Google is an international company and that there’s a lot of people that don’t speak English, but still use OS and browsers in English, nor do they get browser interface usage, thus they don’t use built in search form.

    2nd – average computer user today, doesn’t have the IT skills or knowledge and his/her computer is infested with all kinds of trojans, malware etc. which means his/her default search engine in browser is probable hijacked.

    3rd – Theres an enormous number of people who keep google.com as they’re homepage and perceive that google.com IS the internet, they don’t even use browser address bar, but instead type the whole URL in google search and then just click on the first result.

    4th – don’t you think that with all the cookies we get on our systems by Google and all the date Google collects on us (they’re users), they have pretty good idea on how average internet user works. Meaning they didn’t do this just ‘coz they think its cool, they did this based on extensive research, hard evidence and collected data.

    There are many more aspects on why Google knows what they’re doing but it would be to long to type it here.

    I base my opinion on working with average computer users on everyday basis.

  • liqui.do

    Funny thing is, that I (personally) had the impression, that google did the effect as an eyecatcher! “look what we also offer you, dear customer. please do not focus on the search only…”

    I don’t think, people just type in their search without moving the cursor. Especially non-geeks do their surfing simple, in this case, move the cursor to google’s text-field – regardless, it already is placed there…