Reporting from San Francisco —
Google Inc.'s search results page, one of the most sought-after addresses on the Web, is getting a major makeover.
The Mountain View, Calif., giant said Wednesday that the page, where the results of an Internet search are listed, will have a new column on the left containing navigation tools to help users dig deeper for information. It would help sort results by content type and date, and even suggest other links or ways to refine the search.
Google, which runs the world's most popular search engine, says it wants its millions of users to more quickly and easily find what they are looking for on the Internet. Nearly 270 million people use Google each day.
The latest move — the most significant face lift in three years — is also seen as a way for Google to maintain its competitive advantage as Yahoo Inc., Microsoft Corp. and other rivals try to take a bite out of its share of the lucrative advertising market. Nearly all of Google's $23.7 billion in revenue in 2009 came from advertising.
Microsoft launched its Bing search engine almost a year ago to challenge Google and has captured nearly 12% of the U.S. search market. During that time Google's share has remained steady at about 65%, according to ComScore.
And competition for ad dollars is intensifying on another front. Google faces a formidable competitor in popular social networking website Facebook Inc., which recently surpassed Google as the most visited site in the U.S.
The makeover, one of eight since Google's 1998 launch, radically alters the appearance of the results page, which for years had placed suggested links to satisfy the search request on the left and advertiser links on the right.
Danny Sullivan, editor of Searchengineland.com, said the new look helps Google catch up with Yahoo, Bing and Ask.com, each of which already has some version of a three-pane design featuring navigation, search results and advertising. It could also pave the way for Google to move more swiftly beyond its franchise of selling text-based advertisements into a broader array of display, video and other sorts of advertising.
To avoid cluttering the search results page, which has always been prized for its simplicity, Google redesigned the page to make it cleaner and to make the logo brighter, said Marissa Mayer, Google's vice president of search product and user experience, who spearheaded the makeover. Most users began seeing the changes Wednesday, Google search project manager Nundu Janakiram said.
For example, if you search for a news topic — say, "Icelandic volcano" — the search engine will, in the left column, suggest results from the last few days or real-time updates. Or search for a product, such as "Big Green Egg outdoor grill," and the search engine will suggest shopping or review sites.
For some searches, Google also will offer a link to its Wonder Wheel feature, a visual representation of related searches that used to take a few clicks to find. A Something Different search will suggest related topics, like other classic rock bands when you look for "Rolling Stones."
Sullivan called it the biggest redesign since May 2007, when Google added so-called universal search to its main results page. That's when Google began intermingling results from different media rather than having them separated into categories and having consumers access them by clicking on a long row of links above the main query box. That move, pointing users to video, photos and other media, set the stage for the latest changes.
"These changes should help guide people to have a more relevant search experience," Sullivan said.