Google Home Page Turns Minimalist

Visited Google.com lately? If so, you might have spotted something a little different about Big G’s home page.

Remember back in September when I blogged about Google increasing the size of the search box? Well it turns out that Google have been experimenting quite a bit with the layout and design of their home page, playing around with different versions of it, visible only to a handful of guinea pigs in their control group and users of a few select data-centers.

A major feature of the home page testing (and one that exists in the final launched version) is a fade-in effect where the content on the page “fades in” over a few seconds. I had noticed the fade-effect a couple of times during October and wondered if it was a glitch. TechCrunch noticed too and blogged about it quickly.

With the testing period over, Google officially launched their new home page across all datacenters and most regional Googles this month. When the page first loads, it shows only the Google logo, buttons and the search box. The remaining links appear only once the user moves the mouse over the page.

Google’s VP of Search Products Marissa Mayer says this design provides a focus on site usability:

“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.”

Google hopes that the minimalist page will soon become second nature to users and encourage them to use the home page features more efficiently.

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Google Now Helps You Improve Your Site Performance

A new addition in Webmaster Tools this week sees Google becoming your own personal usability and accessibility consultant.

Site Performance, an experimental feature added to the Webmaster Tools console courtesy of Google Labs, provides detailed information about your site’s load time and gives suggestions for speeding it up. It includes a chart of your site performance data over time, which can help determine latency triggers.

As explained in Google’s official blog post about it, the Site Performance console includes examples of specific pages and their actual page load times, plus Page Speed suggestions that can help reduce latency.

I was pretty shocked when I logged into Webmaster Tools today to find my blog pages take an average of 6 seconds to load. Google states that this is slower than 83% of sites! The Example Pages and Page Speed Suggestions revealed the culprit was a banner ad that was not optimized and a couple of extra DNA fetches on some pages so I was able to fix the issues pretty quickly.

The load time data is apparently sourced from aggregated information by users of the Google Toolbar but it’s important to remember that it’s all averaged. A specific user may experience your site faster or slower than the average depending on their location and network conditions.

As a Labs tool, Site Performance is still under development and Google are seeking feedback on it via the Webmaster Tools Forum.

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Google Upsizes Their Search Box

So they say size doesn’t matter. Well tell that to Google. They’ve just practically doubled the size of the search field on their home page. They’ve also increased the size of the “Google Search” and “I’m Feeling Lucky” buttons. If you conducted more than one search at Google.com on Wednesday, you might have noticed the change take effect live as the tweak was rolled out across the various datacenters.

The search box is now thicker and much longer than before. The character limit appears to be unchanged at around 96 characters but the text you type in is much larger. The two buttons beneath the search box are about 30% larger than before and have square rather than round, corners.

Compare the original search box with the new search box below:

The change went mostly unnoticed until a blog post on Mashable went viral on Twitter, closely followed by a TechCrunch post on the subject.

The motivation for the change was initially unclear, but I assumed it to be a design usability issue, possibly in response to Bing’s clean search interface.

Google Vice President of User E Melissa Mayer finally confirmed the usability aspect later in the day with her post about the tweak :

“Starting today, you’ll notice on our homepage and on our search results pages, our search box is growing in size. Although this is a very simple idea and an even simpler change, we’re excited about it – because it symbolizes our focus on search and because it makes our clean, minimalist homepage even easier and more fun to use. The new, larger Google search box features larger text when you type so you can see your query more clearly. It also uses a larger text size for the suggestions below the search box, making it easier to select one of the possible refinements.”

The tweak is now live on most of Google’s datacenters and regional sites.

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Google Displaying Breadcrumb Navigation in SERP Snippets

A couple of bloggers have reported seeing breadcrumb trails in Google Search Engine Result Pages (SERPs) lately, meaning they may be testing the inclusion of breadcrumb navigation as part of site snippets.

Breadcrumb navigation shows the user’s path in relation to their current location. It’s the little trail of keywords you often see at the top of the page, below the main header image telling you what section of a site you are on. There’s a good explanation here.

Philipp Lenssen of Google Blogoscoped blogged about seeing breadcrumbs in Google SERPs as far back as July. Leo Fogarty has seen a couple of results on closely related search queries.  Now Chris Crum of Web Pro News reports a few random instances of breadcrumb SERP usage.

Google have always encouraged webmasters to use breadcrumb navigation for usability purposes and now they’re apparently going to reward webmasters who take their advice by including breadcrumbs within their site snippet.

Here’s a screengrab of how breadcrumbs look in the Google SERPs for the search query “car hire Spain”:

As you can see, the keywords in the breadcrumbs that match the search query are bolded, meaning that they are included in the algorithmic ranking factors for that query. So potentially, the use of breadcrumb navigation as an SEO tactic has just become a whole lot more important.

A check of the pages displaying the breadcrumbs in their snippets confirms the use of breadcrumb navigation and the exact breadcrumb trail included in the snippet e.g. http://www.auto-europe.co.uk/car-hire/Spain.cfm.

I personally haven’t seen any crumbed SERPs but it’s apparently quite rare so far, with the testing possibly limited to UK sites.

Have you seen any? Please let us know via the comments below.

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Q and A: Why can’t I see my Alt Img tags?

QuestionHi Kalena

I have been practising on my own site.  When I add an alt img tag I still cannot see the text when I scroll over the image.  I don’t understand this, could you please help? My URL is [URL removed for privacy reasons]. There is no alt img tag at present (I took it out because it didn’t seem to work).

Thanks in advance and regards,

Barry

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Hi Barry

If you’re using Firefox, you won’t see alt tags when you mouseover. But if you right click on the image with your mouse and view *properties*, you should see your alt text in the alt field.

Or you could just view your site in Internet Explorer where the mouseovers should work fine.

Regardless of which browser you use, search engines will be able to index your alt tags. Plus text to speech software will be able to read them for visually-impaired visitors, so you should include them wherever possible for site usability purposes.

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