Google launched a revamped homepage, but it is still in the trial phase and only a limited number of users have access to the new design. Meanwhile, some experts and lawmakers are claiming Google’s recent face lift intends to promote more of the company’s businesses without cluttering the homepage.
The website’s redesign has undergone various changes since its initial debut over a month ago. The current version omits the black menu bar that runs horizontal along the top of the website, and it is now replaced by a gray Google logo. Upon clicking the new graphic, seven services under the search engine appear with an option to view 13 more services.
The core seven services in the trial design are Google Plus, Search, Images, Maps, YouTube, News, Gmail and Documents. The “More” tab below the vertical menu reveals options for Calendar, Translator, Mobile, Books, Music, Offers, Wallet, Shopping, Blogger, Reader, Finance, Photos, and Videos.
Google users can also change the background image of their homepage with the trial design, and they can access iGoogle or their Google Plus notification center and Settings options from the main search page.
“[Google is] trying to deal with how to service all the different Google properties without making the page cluttered, because Google is always very keen to hang onto the plain minimalist front page that they have always had,” said Davies Murphy Group principal technology analyst Chris Green.
The redesigned homepage could have further consequences regarding advertising. With the new look, users now need to click twice to enter Google services, such as Images or News, rather than the previously required one click. The extra step may work to the website’s financial advantage.
“For the sake of clarity it’s better having the extra click. What it also means is that, for most people, their first route into the Google universe will be back through the search bar again, which helps the firm expose more people to advertising,” Green explained.
Google’s newest change, product placement in search results, is also working to the advantage of the company. However, it is facing much public scrutiny. Competitors claim Google is abusing its power in web search by using its global popularity to gain momentum in the $110 billion online travel business and other services.
The search engine began placing its new flight-search service above general results for travel-related topics in December. The intentional move made the company’s flight tool appear prominently above other online travel businesses’ results, including Expedia Inc., Orbitz Worldwide Inc. and Priceline.com Inc.
Google flight-searches such as “NYC to LAX” currently provide an interactive chart by Google that displays the cheapest airfares between the two cities. The flight tool also links directly to the airlines’ websites. Meanwhile, links to the top travel websites are pushed down the screen.
Two U.S. senators called upon the Federal Trade Commission in December to investigate whether Google exploited its search power, and the senators questioned if the company could remain an “unbiased” search engine with some of its new services that derive substantial advertising revenues.
“A key question is whether Google is using its market power to steer users to its own web products or secondary services and discriminating against other websites with which it competes,” wrote Senators Herb Kohl and Mike Lee to the FCC.
The FCC has investigated Google’s practices for the last six months. The Financial Times also reported that the European Commission is researching claims that Google “downgrades some rival websites” in search results to boost its own services.
In a Sept. 21 written response to the Senate’s antitrust subcommittee, Google Chairman Eric Schmidt defended Google products’ placement. He said Google’s fundamental goal is “to connect users to the information they seek,” and the company aims to provide answers-not just links-for many searches.