One of the ways Google tests new features and rolls out improved designs is through incremental release. However, a few weeks ago Google’s Jon Wiley wrote a Google+ post indicating recent experimental changes to the search engine’s design, such as the removal of search result underlines, would be permanent. The fact this announcement was made by a member of Google Search indicates it has as much to do with function as it does form, so the implications for SEO could be substantial.
The good news for marketers is web users don’t seem to mind the design tweaks. In fact, a study by UserTesting.com resulted in a higher approval score of 90.8 for the new layout, versus 87.6 for the old one. But what exactly are these changes, and how will they affect marketers?
Design is unified across platforms
The most striking change is that underlines, which have been a feature of Google SERPs since the beginning, have been eliminated. Why? Mostly for integration with mobile devices. That’s also the reason the size of page title displays have increased and line heights have been evened.
As Wiley put it, “Improving consistency in design across platforms makes it easier for people to use Google Search across devices and it makes it easier for us to develop and ship improvements across the board.”
Google: “Improving consistency in design across platforms makes it easier for people to use Google Search across devices and it makes it easier for us to develop and ship improvements across the board.”
This should be a reminder to content marketers that all platforms, including and especially Google, are aware of the coming of the multi-device world, as Brafton reported. While it’s becoming much easier to create websites that are as easy to use on desktop PCs and laptops as they are on tablets and smartphones, it’s important to realize many searchers are looking for information on the go.
Ads are clearly labeled
The new design also changes how AdWord search results appear. Instead of being listed in a colored box at the top of SERPs, they’ll now simply have small yellow “Ad” labels placed before their URLs. They’ll appear in the same spot as before, but the way users distinguish between them and organic results will differ. In theory, this alteration should make ads less prominent and potentially less effective, though it remains to be seen how obvious the difference will be.
These ad markers are another innovation taken from mobile search, where it was harder to distinguish between paid ads and organic content. It unifies mobile and traditional SERPs, but it also provides a somewhat clearer indication between what is paid and what is not. Content marketing should continue to be the primary tactic for search strategies, especially as this design change takes hold for all Google queries.