12/02/2009

Now you see it, now you don't


You may have noticed that our homepage is sporting a new look. Today we're excited to be releasing a new version of our classic homepage. The main feature of the new homepage is that it "fades in" — when the page first loads, it shows only our logo, the search box and the buttons. For the vast majority of people who come to the Google homepage, they are coming in order to search, and this clean, minimalist approach gives them just what they are looking for first and foremost. For those users who are interested in using a different application like Gmail, Google Image Search or our advertising programs, the additional links on the homepage only reveal themselves when the user moves the mouse. Since most users who are interested in clicking over to a different application generally do move the mouse when they arrive, the "fade in" is an elegant solution that provides options to those who want them, but removes distractions for the user intent on searching.

Left: Before the fade. Right: After the fade. Click the image for a closer view.

For the past few months, we've been experimenting with homepage designs like this and have run several live tests on the site. 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. Other variants of the experiment produced humorous outcomes when combined with our doodles — the barcode doodle combined with the fade was particularly ironic in its overstated minimalism. However, in the end, the variant of the homepage we are launching today was 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 realized: 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.

Internally, a large number of Google employees have been using the new homepage. They have come to really like it — it represents our focus on great search yet helps searchers efficiently access all of Google's products. 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. We hope you like it!






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