Google Unveils Biggest Site Redesign

In a move that is sure to alienate Google traditionalists, the search company unveiled the biggest change ever to its homepage Wednesday, making a push toward what it calls "a universal search model." Believe it or not, the idea started with Britney Spears.

Marissa Mayer, Google's vice president of search products and user experience, introduced the new design and search results page at the company's Searchology media event. The idea is simple: instead of having separate search results pages for the Web, images, news and more, the top results from each category are combined onto a single page.

The move toward such a universal search is not new; in fact, Mayer herself first mocked up the idea back in 2001 with a sample page listing search results for "Britney Spears." Results in news, images and Google Groups appeared to the right of the main Web results listing.

"And while that Britney Spears mockup was the start of Google's universal search vision, it was instantly obvious that this would be one of the biggest architectural, ranking, and interface challenges we would face at Google," said Mayer.

Wednesdays homepage change is the first fruits of that endeavor, which took over 100 Google engineers years to complete. Google co-founder Sergey Brin noted that over half of the company's development efforts were devoted to the projects.

Although the current update only adds images, news, books, video and maps into the standard results, Google says more integration is to come. The company's vision is to ultimately include results from all of its content in an effort to provide the user exactly what he or she is looking for.

"For example, a user searching for information on the Star Wars character Darth Vader is likely interested in all the information related to the character and the actor – not just web pages that mention the movie," the company detailed in a press release. "Google will now deliver a single set of blended search results that include a humorous parody of the movie, images of the Darth Vader character, news reports on the latest Lucas film, as well as websites focused on the actor James Earl Jones – all ranked in order of relevance to the query."

In addition to the universal search changes, Google rolled out a new navigation bar at the top of its pages with links to all of its search properties. The links will change depending on the search query, enabling a user to quickly jump to the relevant page. The bar will eventually extend across all of the company's products, tying together pages that were formerly separate.

Mayer also showed off at Searchology experimental features that can be turned on. These include left-hand search navigation that enables users to quick drill down into a specific search category, as well as a right-hand contextual navigation box, which displays similar search queries and related categories.

Google's ranking algorithm has received an overhaul to support all of the new functionality, which requires additional technology infrastructure. The company did not detail the changes, but those specializing in search engine optimization will surely spend the next few weeks testing it out.

"The level and speed of search innovation at Google has increased. Most of this innovation addresses basic ranking algorithms and is often not obvious to users. Users just see more accurate results, more often, in more languages, which is our primary goal," remarked Udi Manber, Google's vice president of engineering.

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