In this series of articles, we will explore and explore various digital experiences, analyzing them step by step to identify relevant heuristics and concepts rooted in psychology. This series will be opened by Google Search, a popular service that helps countless people find information on the vast expanses of the Internet every day. Before moving on to search results, we’ll start with the landing page and the search process. Let’s get started!
In its 21-plus years of existence, Google’s landing page has changed only slightly. The purpose of this page has remained unchanged to provide people with a quick and easy way to find information on the Internet. In fact, it was implemented so efficiently that the actual search on the Internet became synonymous with the name of the company. A major factor in the success of Google search is its simplicity. The page consists of almost a single search field, which is located approximately in its center and is always focused by default – ready to receive the search keyword. After you start typing, a list of suggested keywords will appear below the input box, based on what you have already typed. This list of predicted keywords keeps updating as you type, and is designed to show the keyword you are likely to type before you finish typing, thus saving you time (and mental energy) …
A key psychological heuristic used on the Google Search landing page is Hick’s Law, which states that the time it takes to make a decision increases with the number and complexity of the choices… Google minimizes the number of keyword input decisions by eliminating any additional content that might distract from keyword input or require additional decisions. The design serves this sole purpose of keeping the page focused on the search process by placing the search box in a prominent place, automatically focusing the default search input, and removing advanced search options. Once again, Hick’s Law is used when you start typing and predictable keywords appear, eliminating the need to write the entire word (assuming a match is found). Google’s goal is to initiate query-driven searches as quickly as possible, and it follows that goal, removing any obstacles that might lead to additional decisions being made.
The next step is the search results page, which displays the data found based on your query. The original search keyword appears at the top of the page, along with additional options to filter the results. The results are presented in a list, and each is presented as prominent pieces of content, separated by large intervals, so one result is easy to distinguish from another. Optionally, the search term definition will also appear at the top of the results on this page as a sidebar card that provides additional information about the term (usually from Wikipedia).
Hick’s Law also carries over from the previous page to the search results page. This is where you’ll find additional options for changing your search, rather than on the landing page, which aims to remove as many obstacles as possible. Only after you have entered your search query do additional options become available to filter the results and therefore make additional decisions.
Another important design feature of the search results page to look out for is that the original search query is still displayed, which is useful as it reduces the load on our memory. Working memory is a cognitive system that temporarily stores information and is essential for reasoning, behavior management, and decision making. Its capacity is limited, so the more decisions are made, the less likely we are to quickly recall items previously stored in working memory. You can think of every element on the page as a potential decision point: people browse the page looking for information that is relevant to what they are looking for and mentally assess whether the content can help them achieve their goal. Therefore, it is helpful to see the original search query if users have forgotten what they were originally looking for.
The next important key part of Google search is performance. Google search is known for its speed of delivering results – it even displays the time it took to get those results at the top of the page. This is directly related to the Doherty threshold, which states that performance improves when the computer and its users interact at a pace (