Friendly reminder from Google
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Friendly reminder from Google

Today Google changed the background of their home search page by including professional photographs. Their blog cites increased personalisation as the reason behind the move (ultimately users could have used their own images). Google received a lot of criticism because the change was seen as “too Bing-like”, redundant (because of iGoogle) or not in keeping with the visual cleanliness of the Google experience. Because of the furor, by early afternoon the search page was returned to its original, sacred beauty.

google, blog, imagery, search engine

Example of Google search page (source: Google Blog)

Charitably, one could argue that Google is known for experimentation. They frequently release beta products (Google Wave), and even step into mobile device hardware like the Google Nexus One. Not all products meet with wild success (Google Wave and Nexus One), but many do. So, this is just another experiment that didn’t make the cut. Right?

Google is also smart. And if they know one thing, it is their users (after all, they have all the data). What they have done is remind Google users why they use the Google brand. Remember: Google is simple, easy and clean. Sure, they have given some attention to their least¬†threatening rival,¬†Microsoft’s Bing, but they have also provided a brief comparison of the two brands. It is risky, but it should pay off as the blogosphere breathes a sigh of relief. The return to normal also demonstrates their readiness to listen to users, another point of brand differentiation.

  • If they had kept the professional photography, what would distinguish Google from Bing? Not much.
  • Even if users got the hang of using their own photos, would users want the added step of signing in before every search? Not likely.

It seems unlikely that Google would risk confusion with Bing and complicate what is expected to be a straightforward experience. Perhaps they had identified an issue related to comparative brand value. So maybe this was an experiment; just not the type they usually conduct to try out a new product. They tested their brand with the goal of understanding and improving it. In the meantime, we are reminded that Google is different from the rest.