When the first video cassette recorders and personal cassette players were the latest thing, the buttons differed. Users had to learn what to push for play, stop, pause, and other things. On various types of technology gadgets now, the universal symbols on buttons make it clear, regardless of your native language, which to push for what or what color they are. Is the same true for links online? The color used to show live hyperlinks on a Web page seems to matter to Google and the people reacting online today to the company’s efforts to test different color links, particularly black over blue.
Some Google users were surprised on Monday when their search results looked different, and it was not the ever-changing logo doodles. The users found that the clickable links were not a traditional a shade of blue; the links were presented in black. The company acknowledge that it was not an illusion or error. A spokesperson indicated that they are always running small-scale experiments on the design of the company’s search results page that are tested on small user populations.
Traditionalists, however, would argue that blue links are the Web’s equivalent of a universal button. Purists point out that hyperlinks have been blue since the creation of the World Wide Web. Sir Tim Berners-Lee, widely considered to be the father of the internet, used blue with underlining to distinguish text that contained a link and make it stand out from the grey or black text around it.
Use of blue links is pretty commonplace today, but not ubiquitous. This Web site and many others use other colors to make a link stand out. Black, however, does seem like a dull, undistinguishable option (unless everything around it is duller). Underlining on links is still used in many places, but has been dropped on many sites, including Google’s search pages.
Some pundits have claimed that Google’s search design has changed very little since the site launched two decades ago (which is not true), so they believe a change like this, if made, will affect usability. But, the tech giant is not stupid. If they do make the switch, it will undoubtedly have been well tested, with data gleaned from several test versions to discern differences in click-through rates on black links versus blue, red, green or whatever. There is too much money involved from sponsored links and advertising.
About five years ago, the company tested 41 different shades of blue for search and advertising hyperlinks on millions of web users in real time. The slightly purpler shade of blue was they ultimately chose resulted in more clicking than the earlier slightly greener shade, and earned the firm a reported $200 million more in advertising revenue.
It could be years before any change is seen. They may have been playing with certain types of links, topics or some other criteria that will have no long-term result. Or, the testing could herald other changes. Web site (and hyperlink) design is not like the recycling symbol, No Smoking sign, laundry instruction images on clothing that are international standardized symbols. As long as the link is distinguishable from regular copy, does the color matter? That is really what Google is testing with the black web page links made some people blue and others see red Monday.
Written and Edited by Dyanne Weiss
International Standardisation Organization
Mashable: Why Internet links are blue, and what Google’s ‘black’ experiment means
Fortune: Google’s Testing a Big, Small Tweak to Search Results
TIME: Google Tests New Colors For Search Results—Which Could Make it Millions
Logo courtesy of Google