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Friday, December 30, 2005

Google Experiments With Results Navigation

It seems Google is experimenting with showing an alternative navigation on result pages. Usually, the different search types (web, images, groups, and so on) are listed on top of the search results. But now Arjun Prabhu saw a changed result page in Internet Explorer and made a screenshot: searching for msn virtual earth, he saw the navigation to the left side of the page.

Also, on Arjun’s screen you can see the link “Groups” in red. I wonder what this means. Visited links are purple, so it can’t be that, really. It might make sense to show search links with no results as red, but Google Groups actually returns thousands of results for msn virtual earth, so it can’t be that as well.

As is always the case when Google experiments with changed result pages, they are only visible to a small portion of Google’s large user base. This way, Google gets the chance to analyze user behavior (e.g. time spent looking at the result page, or the click-through-rates for specific links – Google result pages do contain the necessary JavaScript to check these things). I assume the same was true now, as I couldn’t reproduce Arjun’s type of result page.

Now I’m unsure if I like this kind of results formatting... maybe Google would have to change the homepage navigation too in this case, or otherwise the navigation would jump around the page a little too much.
What I think is more intuitive in the new experimental variant is the fact that when you click on e.g. “Images”, you will see the images for the query you entered (and you will not start with an empty search box). Somehow, when the links are above what you entered, it is not intuitive they will also change along with your search... because in the page hierarchy, your search query is a sub-set of the navigation. If the navigation is below the search box, it visually becomes a sub-set of your search query.

What do you all think? And can anybody else see this result page variant?


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