Home Page Googlization

Jared Spool

April 5th, 2006

In today’s UIE Roadshow in Seattle, an attendee asked Christine Perfetti an interesting question:

“Do we have any evidence users would favor making Search more prominent on the home page, maybe even making the search box the only feature, because users would prefer just to type in their keywords and go?”

What’s even more interesting is three other clients have asked us this exact question in the past 3 weeks.

The rationale is this: Google’s home page has a simple search type-in box prominent on their home page, with virtually nothing else. Everybody loves using Google. Therefore, doesn’t everybody want the same simple design on every site they visit?

People are calling this approach Home Page Googlization.

On the surface, the rationale does seem to make sense. Google is an experience that people are very familiar with. It’s the starting point for many trips to the web. Why not transfer that experience to your own site?

Often, this is coming from sites really struggling to make their content easy to find. Intranet designers are fighting with their portals. Internet site designers are struggling to get everything they offer represented on a logical form on their home page.

Why keep the struggle going? Why not leverage the experience of Google?

The main reason is the experience of using Google is not the experience of using any other site. People go to Google to search the entire web. And Google has the game of numbers behind them. Because they’ve indexed billions of pages, they have probability on their side. Someone types in a keyword, no matter how odd or wacky it is, is likely to turn up some result somewhere. (For example, the mistyped word “Vidoes” produces 2,210,000 results. Every single one of them is probably close to what the user was seeking.)

But other sites aren’t indexing billions of pages. At best, it’s millions, but usually, it’s far less. This means many requests, even reasonable queries, will produce the dreaded No Results response. Unless the designers can eliminate these for 99% of the queries, Googlizing the home page is only going to frustrate.

All the evidence we have tells us, most of the time, users want to find strong trigger words to click on, not a box to type their trigger word into. When the trigger words are present on the page, users are far more likely to succeed. As designers, we need to focus on design solutions that make trigger words more prevalent, not less.

We’re anxious to see if someone has successfully Googlize their home page. We’ll be really impressed if someone manages to improve their user experience by minimizing the home page design down to a single search box. Until then, we’re going to keep to our opinion that it’s a move in the wrong direction.

16 Responses to “Home Page Googlization”

  1. Eric Scheid Says:

    Check out the website for Sarasota Memorial Hospital. When they originally launched their search interface they didn’t have all the extra links on the home page .. just the one search box thing.

    I originally wrote about this site on SIGIA-L back in October of 2004. Thomas Vander Wal pointed out a real problem: if the only access to the site is via a search box then this means external search engines will have a hard time crawling and hence indexing the site.

  2. Mitch Says:

    Thanks for the article. Very helpful. I was just thinking about doing this – making a site with a homepage as simple as possible, modelled on google.

    The site in question is a Web developer/designer tutorials site. I wonder if it would work because I do know the terms people would search for. Then again, the site already has search, so it would not be adding any new funtionality: it would be removing some or all of the existing menus, which would remove browsing.

    But I’ve found, actually, that most people do not use the search on my site. I do not know why. Of course, if I removed my site navigation and provided only search, the use of search would increase. Would it work better or worse? Are people not using search now because they don’t like it or because they don’t need to or because they don’t notice it? All unanswered questions at this point.

    Most users get to my site through Google, directly to the page they were looking for and, I assume, they browser, which seems to work out well. The site is doing well. So I can see designers wanting to emulate Google’s UI. But, in my case, I think the users would have already by-passed the search step by using Google. I don’t see them going to my homepage looking to search like they do with Google.

  3. Ryan Bates Says:

    I think it’s really about providing what the user expects to see. The large majority of users going to google only want to search and expect to see the search box displayed prominently on the home page. I doubt many other sites have such a large user base expecting the exact same thing – a search box. This is how google can afford to put almost nothing else on the front page.

    Almost every other site needs to satisfy a long list of expectations for a variety of users. Perhaps some come to get ahold of the company, to see what new products are out, to subscribe to the e-newsletter, or to see what special deals are going on now. If the user is just presented with a search box, he is stuck because there are far too many ways to describe what he is looking for.

    I think an interesting user testing idea is to give them a goal to accomplish on the site; but, before they see the site, they should write down how they plan to accomplish the goal. For example, if the goal is to contact the company, the user might write “look in the navigation bar for a ‘contact us’ link” or something similar. If the site does not meet this expectation, it will not seem innovative to the user and he will have to find an alternative method.

    Of course, every user expects something different, which is main reason UI design is so hard. Providing what the majority of users expect is the most you can do.

  4. Chris McEvoy Says:

    Prompted by this post and Don Norman’s article about the Google homepage design I decided to produce a de-googlized version of the google homepage.

    http://www.usabilityviews.com/simply_google.htm

    I only finished this 10 minutes ago, so this is an exclusive.

  5. Jesper Rønn-Jensen (justaddwater.dk) Says:

    Jared,
    It’s interesting to read your post in the perspective that Google did some small design changes couple of weeks ago. My colleague blogged about it previously. In this redesign they put slightly more information on the screen by previewing how many results a similar search would generate in a related area.

    Chris, I really love your mockup. It reminds me of a mashup between a sitemap and a search engine. (and by the way, I’m really glad that the PigeonRank found way to your page — that story’s so hilarious)

  6. Chris McEvoy Says:

    The Italian Bank IW have googlized.
    http://www.iwbank.it/

    via the Google Enterprise Blog
    http://googleenterprise.blogspot.com/2006/04/are-you-search-centric.html

  7. blog.forgreatjustice.net » “Simply Google” - emphasis on the sarcastic use of quotes! Says:

    [...] And Google’s UI approach isn’t the end-all either (The idea of “home page googlization” seems like the case where everything looks like a nail for your GoogleHammer.) I’m skeptical that this flattening of all features is moving the page towards greater usability, but I look forward to seeing how these experiments progress, and what they come up with, [...]

  8. Ardith G Says:

    Google isn’t as flat as many people seem to think it is. In addition to the search box I count 10 navigation links. If your content can be fairly easily tagged (either up front or behind the scenes) and fits into a similarly small number of categories, googlization might work. Or if your metrics show that your visitors are already using search rather than navigation.

  9. Elizabeth Harris Philbrick Says:

    Even Google no longer has a simple “Googlized” searched based landing page.

    I was only slightly suprised to see a Yahoo!-esque landing page with sudo customized content options today.

  10. Ben Carter Says:

    Quite simply, typing can be a pain when I’m on the hunt for information – if I wanted to type all the time surely I’d be using a command prompt and not a mouse. I’ll carry on clicking, thanks!

  11. We’ve Googlized a client’s home page! @ Stephan Spencer’s Scatterings Says:

    [...] I’m usually of the mind that home pages should be rich with textual content so the search engines have something to sink their teeth into. In most cases it’s your home page that gets the most weight of all the pages of your site, so you don’t want to squander that opportunity. However, there are (rare) exceptions to this — times when another approach is in order — where you strip away all but the most essential components (sometimes all the way down to just a search box). This is referred to in some circles as “home page Googlization.” Usability guru Jared Spool recently blogged about home page Googlization. I pretty much agree with his take on this subject. However, we felt that the homepage of our client TrustCite was an exception that warranted Googlizing. The design is very minimalistic. Have a look at it. For this site, simplicity and responsiveness was of primary importance, because the site is meant to become a frequently used resource for New Zealanders. Its singular purpose is to help Kiwis find reputable tradespeople and service providers by relying on feedback from the user’s social network. The primary method of locating these suppliers is through the search box, although there are strong trigger words on the page tucked away under the “Browse categories [+]” link. [...]

  12. We’ve Googlized a client’s home page! » Wagalulu - Web Development » » We’ve Googlized a client’s home page! Says:

    [...] This is referred to in some circles as “home page Googlization.” Usability guru Jared Spool recently blogged about home page Googlization. I pretty much agree with his take on this subject. However, we felt that the homepage of our client TrustCite was an exception that warranted Googlizing. The design is very minimalistic. Have a look at it. For this site, simplicity and responsiveness was of primary importance, because the site is meant to become a frequently used resource for New Zealanders. Its singular purpose is to help Kiwis find reputable tradespeople and service providers by relying on feedback from the user’s social network. The primary method of locating these suppliers is through the search box, although there are strong trigger words on the page tucked away under the “Browse categories [+]” link. [...]

  13. <Erase una vez… » La googlización de las páginas de incio? Says:

    [...] Es una tendencia muy importante que comenta un Gurú de la usabilidad Jared Spool, En el artículo original: Home Page Googlization. [...]

  14. dan Says:

    i work for a shopping site, and we did some usability testing on this point – we found almost exactly what you’re talking about. people wanted links to click on, rather than having to think about the exact terms to search for.

  15. » Google user experience talk - iQ Blog Says:

    [...] know HTML and was too lazy to learn much of it before getting his site live. And now there’s lots of debate of whether the design is a paragon of simplicity or just a clean door to a very messy [...]

  16. Google Maps und mein eigenes Google | DrWeb.de | Online-Magazin Says:

    [...] dazugehörige Artikel von Jared Spool, dem Altmeister der Usability, beschäftigt sich mit der Frage, ob man von Googles Design lernen [...]

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