Google’s 2014 Redesign: Before and After

Posted by Dr-Pete

Over the past few months, Google has been testing a redesign of both their overall SERP format and their AdWords blocks. In the past day or two, it appears that they’ve rolled these changes out to a large part of their audience. While we still have a chance to grab before and after versions of the SERPs, I thought it would be worth a quick stroll down memory lane and a look at the future of Google.

I. Basic search result

Let’s start with a pretty basic search result, a query for [pygmalion]. Here’s the before and after:

The title font in the new version is slightly bigger, and Google has done away with the underlining. Interestingly, the source URL is actually a little smaller. The snippet and mini-links seem to have remained the same.

II. Expanded site-links

Here’s a #1 result with expanded site-links. The query is [carolina place mall]:

Like the main result, site-links are also getting the larger title font without underlines. This example also clearly shows that some title tags will get cut off with the new, larger font. This could impact click-through rates, so you may want to consider shorter titles going forward (at least for critical pages).

Notice the faint horizontal divider at the bottom. This sets the expanded #1 result apart from the rest of the SERP. These horizontal dividers are used frequently in the new design, and I strongly believe that they are a move toward a more card-like look (akin to mobile, Google+, and Google Now).

III. Image vertical results

This is what the new image vertical results look like. The query is [roger williams university]:

The new format has the new font, plus a fairly pronounced “More images…” link. Again, the vertical results are separated (above and below) by a horizontal divider. The images themselves appear to be formatted the same.

IV. News vertical results

Here’s a query for [wtop traffic], showing the redesigned news vertical results. Note that these were captured on different days, so the actual articles have changed—the count/layout are equivalent, though:

All articles links are using the larger font (with the same implications for length/wrapping). Like image vertical results, news results get a top and bottom divider. In general, you can see that almost every type of result is taking up significantly more vertical space.

V. Local pack results

Here’s a 3-pack of local results, for the query [lands end] and focused on San Diego, CA:

Larger font, no underlines, horizontal dividers—you know the drill. Note the lighter-gray text on the actual location information (address and phone).

VI. In-depth articles

Here’s a look at Google’s newest vertical, in-depth articles. The query is [palm oil]:

The redesign pretty much follows the pattern of the other verticals. Note that the actual header font—”In-depth articles”—is a bit smaller and slightly grayed out.

Google has been testing many variations of in-depth articles, and all of them suggest that this expanded format may be replaced with something more Spartan. Here’s a recent test (this is not live, and this design will likely change), for the query [foreclosure]:

While this test format follows the rules of the redesign, it is in every other way dramatically different from Google’s current treatment of in-depth articles. Note that this test version appeared in the “#2″ slot (right after the first organic result), whereas current in-depth article blocks usually appear at or near the end of page 1. Expect in-depth articles to get a major overhaul in the next few months.

VII. Video thumbnails

In 2014, video results are really more of an enhancement than an actual vertical. Here’s a quick before and after for the query [wild kratts]:

This is essentially just an organic result, with a bit of information and a thumbnail added—the general layout and thumbnail characteristics have remained the same. This also true of authorship results and review snippets—the title and URL fonts have changed, but the general layout, thumbnail size, etc. seem to all be the same.

VIII. AdWords (top)

On top of the general design change, Google has been testing a new AdWords format for months—these may be rolling out together, but the tests themselves have been separate. Here’s a reasonably complex AdWords block from the top of a query for [keens]:

In addition to the larger, non-underlined titles and horizontal divider, the colored background is gone, and a yellow [Ad] box appears next to each individual ad. The “Ads related to…” text has been removed as well.

IX. AdWords (right)

The AdWords block in the right-hand column has also changed, but the difference is a bit less dramatic. Here’s the same query ([keens]):

There’s just one yellow [Ads] label for the entire block, and there’s no change to the background (because the old version didn’t have a colored background). The new fonts do expand the titles significantly and increase the vertical area of the total ad space.

Note that the AdWords block on the bottom of the left-hand column looks very similar to the redesigned top AdWords block. Other SERP elements, including the knowledge panel, answer boxes, paid shopping, and carousels seem to have been unaffected by the redesign (so far).

It’s in the cards

Back in November, I predicted that Google would move toward a more card-like format in 2014. While my future SERP concepts were heavily influenced by mobile and Google Now and are more extreme than the currrent redesign, don’t overlook the way Google is using dividers to separate out SERP elements. As mobile and tablet proliferate, and new devices like Glass come into play, Google wants to have SERPs that they can easily mix-and-match, providing whatever combination is most relevant for each device and situation. For now, desktop remains a fixed, two-column format, but Google’s design decisions are being driven more and more by mobile devices, and the future is in individual information elements that can be easily rearranged.

To see this idea in action, here’s a local (Chicago suburbs) search for [starbucks]. Notice how the dividers separate the expanded top ad, the expanded #1 result, a local 3-pack, a news box, and, finally, the rest of the organic results:

While a horizontal line might not seem like a big change, Google is clearly working to carve up the SERP into units that can potentially be mixed and matched. Also note where “#2″ is on this page. As simple as they may seem, these design changes are redefining organic results.

Do you like it?

Trick question—no one cares. Sorry, that was a bit harsh, but here’s the reality: Google has been testing this for months across what are probably millions of unique visitors. A few dozen marketers complaining about the new design is not going to sway their decision. At this point, the decision is 98% made, and it’s made based on Google’s goals and Google’s data. The best you can do is try to assess how these changes impact your bottom line and adjust accordingly. Don’t waste your time shouting at the wind.

One final note: While this redesign seems to be rolling out, Google has not officially confirmed the change and it may still be in testing (albeit widespread testing). I wanted to put together a post while we could still compare and contrast the before and after versions, but this design could still change over the next few days, weeks, or months.

Update: In the comments, Gaurav pointed out that Google’s lead search designer, Jon Wiley, confirmed the roll-out yesterday on Google+. Looks like it is at least mostly official.

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March 13, 2014  Tags: , , , ,   Posted in: SEO / Traffic / Marketing

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