MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif.--In its biggest revamp ever to its home page, Google on Wednesday launched its version of universal search, a redesign that will list in one place search results from a variety of media.
Combined with its other new features, universal search not only makes it easier to find relevant information in one place, it will put even more pressure on Google's competitors.
Instead of using separate search pages for photos, video, news, archived news, scanned books and other sources relevant to, say, "Steve Jobs," Google's universal search users will find links to all of those sources in a single search attempt.
"Now with universal search we can provide a more holistic answer," Marissa Mayer, Google's vice president of search products and user experience, said during a "Searchology" media event at the company's Mountain View, Calif., headquarters.
To illustrate further, Mayer searched for the classic black-and-white horror film Nosferatu. The first result was a link to a popular film site, IMDB, and the second was a link to the actual movie, which can be played on the page in a window. A search for "I have a dream" will display results related to Martin Luther King Jr.'s famous civil rights speech, as well as to a video of the speech. The results also will include video from other sources such as video-sharing site Metacafe.
Other Google features were retuned. Some Google Oneboxes, which offer an instant result at the top of the search results to things like weather, will still be displayed, Mayer said. More significantly, the Google home page eventually will have ads featuring more than just text: some will include video and display, Mayer said in remarks to reporters afterward. "That door has always been open," she said. "We don't have a particular timeline in place."
This is the first major revamp of the site and its underlying architecture in several years, said Google co-founder Sergey Brin. The work began about two years ago and more than half of the company's search efforts were devoted to it, he told reporters after the event, adding that the site will continue to evolve. The changes will expose to more people some "underutilized" Google services, such as Book Search and Video search, and they will help boost Google's already huge market share, Brin said.
"Our data says we not only are the best (search engine) but we're widening the gap," Brin said. Google has about half of the market and even is the top Web property globally, according to comScore.
Advertising in other media
Google has leveraged its search dominance into a lucrative advertising business and allowed it to ride a boom in search-related advertising that is unparalleled. The company now is pushing aggressively into other forms of advertising such as print, television and radio.
Mayer also announced the addition of a Universal Navigation Bar at the top of Google search and other pages. Its purpose is to allow users to quickly get to other Google services. For instance, the main search page will include quick links to Google products such as Images, Video, News, Maps and Gmail. The Gmail page will include quick links to products such as Calendar, Documents, Photos and Groups. Previously, there were links above the home page search box to other Google products.
A new Contextual Navigation Links that appears at the top of the page right under the logo allows people to drill down in search results. A search for a celebrity, for example, would allow you to click on news, blogs, video or images to go directly to more results in that media type. A search for the Python programming language would bring up links to blogs, books, groups and code about that keyword.
The new features should be live by the end of the day Wednesday for most searchers, Mayer said.
In a posting on his Search Engine Land blog, search expert Danny Sullivan said the universal search change was "the most radical change to its search results ever."
The changes "make the Google search results richer" and will probably entice people to spend more time in the "Google universe," said Greg Sterling, principal of consultancy Sterling Market Intelligence. "This puts a lot of pressure on Google's competitors."
However, "the bomb that was dropped here," Sterling said, is Mayer hinting that the search site will eventually include other types of ads.
People can sign up to try features that Google is experimenting with at Google Experimental. Some of those include left-handed search navigation, a feature that adds a timeline to the top of search results and one that adds a map view to results.
Google also is working to break down the language barriers on the Web. The company will soon launch a feature that lets you search for information that might be available only in other languages and receive the results translated into your native language. The system will automatically translate the results into the language the query was conducted in. For example, someone speaking Arabic would type in "restaurants in New York" in Arabic and receive back results in Arabic but from English-language sites.
The company also is working to improve the relevancy of search results by guessing what queries might be helpful to the user. For instance, someone typing in "overhead view of Bellagio pool" might benefit even more from the system automatically searching for the keywords "Bellagio pool pictures," and that would be included in the results. This feature will launch soon but users may not even notice, said Udi Manber, vice president of engineering.
In explaining the purpose of the Searchology event, Elliot Schrage, vice president of global communications and public affairs at Google, said search remains the foundation of the company's business. "Search doesn't get the attention it deserves because we're frankly a victim of our own success," he said. Search "is, remains and will always be the heart and soul of Google."