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New Google results design, March 2014 – old and new compared

We gave our clients the news on this as soon as it happened, and many of you will have noticed it anyway, but the presentation of the Google results changed significantly in the past 24 hours. Before you dismiss this as having little interest beyond web design nerds, it’s worth studying what’s been done in more detail. I believe it’ll significantly impact those of you who’ve made it to the “top of the Google natural results” for certain searches, and those of you who have Google AdWords ads in what used to be the yellow panel at the top of the page.

So let’s compare the difference between the old and the new page results, shall we? The design was actually introduced on mobile devices last autumn, so we can be fairly certain that Google has accumulated enough data for this to be a permanent change, not a test.

Here’s what the old style results looked like:


Here’s what we now see:


…and for those of you who are desperate to track the differences, here are the two sets of results overlaid on each other:


Obviously some of the changes are cosmetic, including the removal of underlining on the results titles, slightly larger title type size, and increased line spacing. However, one change which is more than cosmetic is the removal of the yellow panel behind the Google AdWords ads. We can assume that the majority of Google users’ eyes skip immediately to the first result after the yellow advert panel (the first “natural” result), because when the first advert and the first “natural” result are the same, it’s still the “natural” result which gets the most clicks. Now there’s not nearly as strong a guide. Sure, the “Ad” label does an effective job of saying “this is an advert”, better than the old “Ads related to…” line, in my opinion. But there isn’t the same subconscious guide we employ that has led to “banner blindness” elsewhere on the web. I expect many of the Google AdWords ads at the top of the page to get a higher clickthrough rate in the future.

Different searches will show different degrees of change, and the impacts will vary. In a competitive search like the one below, any commercial results in the “natural” results have all but disappeared now. You can invest a lot of time and money in trying to “get to number one on Google”, but when the highest position a commercial result can get is off-screen at the bottom of the page, is there any point now? The “long tail” is still there to be shot at, but for many businesses, the best they can achieve in the main generic searches – which were already a lost cause – is further from the top than ever.


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