Google search is fine, but could be better
When practicality is mentioned, people often come up with the good usability of Google. Although Google got ahead with innovations in the early days, now it is high time to give its users a better user experience and smoother usability.
It is hard to deny that Google is pretty ugly. Fresh and good design is an important component of usability. Good style evokes trust and makes users more tolerant of the shortcomings of a user interface. And while Google might have earned our trust it could still ease with an inspiring design the pain that users often feel when fronted with clumsy processes and weird solutions.
Use of space
Google is very generous with space around the search box. The Google logo is fairly big, it competes permanently for our attention. A visible and recognisable logo is an important factor in brand building but a smaller sized logo would do the job too. Even with such no human being would ever forget that s/he entered Google’s realm. I have to admit that Google has done the first step in decreasing the logo size (earlier it was really huge) since I first criticised it but it is still too big.
Google leaves enormous white spaces around the search box without any use or aesthetic value whilst it stuffs important functions to the search box and to the upper area of the page. Even if their goal was to make it viewable in many different screen sizes it could have been achieved with a different, flexible and more usable design.
Starting a search
Google has a convincingly long search box. We can type really really long queries into it. Earlier I have criticised Google for using too small letters which were not very readable mainly for old people who already became heavy Google users. It has been changed recently which was also a small but good move to enhance Google search. They have also enlarged the Search button what makes me equally happy, although it could be more colourful as the too many stuff around the search box make it less visible and harder to find it.
Feeling lucky button
Maybe you have noticed Google’s I’m feeling lucky button. Maybe you were even balder and tried it. If so I am sure you soon came to the conclusion that it is totally useless. The I’m feeling lucky button takes you immediately to the first search result page without letting you see the other results. But do you really trust Google so much that you would go to the first page it offers without seeing the whole selection? I do not. Google actually admits that, no one uses this button. Nevertheless it keeps this useless button there saying that people like it because it makes cooler the otherwise monotonous design. I think it just invites chaos. As you can not guess about its function from its name, the I’m feeling lucky button just takes away a good space from something more important, not to say more meaningful.
Place of search parameters
As many Google subpages put the search button after the search box it would be wise to do so on the main search page too to reach consistency and better workflow. I would put the search parameters (web, pages from this and that country etc.) under the search box without the redundant search label. When Google keeps them under the search button the workflow is broken which should consist the following three steps:
1. Giving the search keywords
2. Setting parameters
3. Starting the search by hitting the search button
Google parameters can not ‘feel lucky’ either. They are in the wrong place and unfortunately they got wrong names as well. The parameter Web would have more contrast with local versions if it had been labelled as whole web. The word Google on the search button is totally useless too.
When we search for pictures the search interface rearranges without any reason and seems to be a bit falling apart. The gmail link triggers similar effects. By clicking it we get a completely new menu bar. The bottom of the page is fairly okay although pretty ugly too.
Hardly handled extra tools
While Google was very effective in acquiring and developing other tools their integration is not that successful. The Web, images, videos link row is very far away from the search box. Nobody recognises them. I would also shed more light on advanced search. Whilst other functions are remote, language tools are too close to advanced search. Language tools link takes attention away from the main task and I really do not know why language tools are more important than gmail. In other languages than English the settings are also at the advanced search link. Perhaps they fixed it in English but forgot to move it in other languages. Who knows…
Sloppiness at search
When we finally start a search we can observe inconsistent behaviour again. At the results page we do not see the language tools anymore. I do not know why they are more important at the main page than here. When we want to scan our search results it would be quite important to see our original keywords but Google puts them on the far far right side making this job quite difficult. Although we see our keywords in the results page the words are scattered along the result text snippets and some of them might even be missing from there. At the side of our keywords Google proudly shows how many seconds the search took and while I do not mind if a service is fast, if it is not numbers will convince me otherwise.
We know that Google lives from advertisements so we tolerate the ads because we want Google to survive. Sometimes we even find them useful but it would be good to know what is the difference between the ads in front and the ads on the right side. As a user I would be more tolerant if I knew the reasons. Google wisely bolds the keywords but they are blurred by the clutter around them. They should give more prominence to the found keywords.
Strong points on the search page
Google quite rightly does not try to disguise advertisements. Google tells us, hey, these are truly ads but maybe they are useful, check them out. The only but not surprising problem is that the ad arrangement and handling is ugly again. On the other hand, I like that Google offers me a cached version of the results so I can reach the useful stuff even if it gets unavailable. It is also wise that Google shows the urls of individual results in the same place and in the same format.
Useless tools on the search page
Hardcore Google users were very enthusiastic when Google implemented its promote and remove buttons at each individual results. It seemed to be a clever idea to put them there but the useless nature of these options became obvious soon. When somebody searches a term with a high probability it is the first and the last time that the person typed these keywords to the Google search box. If s/he promotes or removes results s/he only helps the others. It would all be really nice if we were willing to help other people seeking for the same or similar stuff as we but we are obviously selfish when we want to find something. Thus whereas on number of occasions Google has proved to have a very strong sense of reality at this point its developers seemed to be quite naive. I would remove these buttons because they just increase visual clutter.
Ignoring language technologies
Google is also very ignorant of language technologies. There are tons of free language technology tools for English and for medium sized languages like Hungarian but Google does not bother with the implementation of them. Google is like Microsoft in this field. If they use it it is good enough. Keeping with the Hungarian example, a Hungarian noun has hundreds of word forms (as apposed to English nouns having two forms e.g. dog-dogs) so when we search any of them we would be happy to get the other word forms of the same word stem in our result page too. When I searched the Hungarian word form ingatlanjaitokkal (with your real estates) Google had no intention to give back results with ingatlan (real estate) or ingatlanjaitok (your real estate) when it had no result for ingatlanjaitokkal. It would be easy to solve these problems with a simple free stemming tool, but since the 15 million Hungarians use Google without that too why would Google work on usability on this field?
Google can do several things what we simple mortal users can only dream about. It seems we have to fight for them to deserve them. iGoogle would be a good solution for the problem but unfortunately it is also hidden. Google, however, might pay a high price for this neglectful behaviour as Bing and other competitors can use its weakness and attack it where it is in realty really strong.