Why do a Fade in Web Page?

Google recently announced their fade in homepage. From a marketing perspective I think it is interesting to try to figure out why they did that. Marissa Mayer wrote:

the variant of the homepage we are launching today was positive or neutral on all key metrics, except one: time to first action. At first, this worried us a bit: Google is all about getting you where you are going faster — how could we launch something that potentially slowed users down? Then, we realized: we want users to notice this change... and it does take time to notice something (though in this case, only milliseconds!). Our goal then became to understand whether or not over time the users began to use the homepage even more efficiently than the control group and, sure enough, that was the trend we observed.

I think there are 3 big reasons to consider such a test

  • it is now impossible for any competitor to win by being viewed as more minimalistic (on the homepage, anyhow)
  • as Google noises up their search results with various verticals (from their universal search) they want to remind searchers how beautiful and minimalistic and elegant Google is
  • to get people to pay more attention to the ads below the search box (making them appear a second later makes them POP much more than if those directed ads were there right off the start...and as Google enters more verticals with new features they will use that announcement area on the homepage much more often)

The blank page conveys simplicity even as Google dominates new verticals by becoming more complex.

Such initial perceptions matter a lot in marketing. You see people quote your site as being advanced or basic or some such, and when some such statements skew in the direction that is opposite reality that comes down to mis-perceptions.

We are planning on doing a new site design soon(ish) because while our site design was perfect for what it was back then (a personal blog about SEO) as our site has bolted on so many pieces (training + community +newsletter + tools) that I think the design doesn't fit all the stuff we have added to it. If you shift with the market but do not shift your design it is a bit of mixed messaging, and anything that increases doubt or confusion is a tax on conversion.

Published: December 6, 2009 by Aaron Wall in marketing


December 7, 2009 - 12:39am

Why do a fade in web page? To show different content to bots and to humans, of course :D.

December 7, 2009 - 1:54pm

A new type of Google cloaking :D

December 8, 2009 - 2:34am

Nono, it's "mouse-triggered IP delivery" haha ;).

December 9, 2009 - 8:16pm

Bing -at least in Holland- is hitting pretty hard with the nice backgrounds and all. It's more inciting (sparkling the imagination) to use.

With nl.msn.com, Microsoft has proven their ability to communicate visually (with images) for years now.

The first impression before the fade in takes us back to 2004 or so when nobody even thought of using Google and altavista was the best search engine to be at (for us Europeans at least).

Then suddenly with the meta tags, spammers got great results with Google and they started pushing Google over the other browsers.

And now what we have? Clutter! More and more searches i do on Google give cluttered or sometimes even disappointing results.

Google not understanding the differentiation between the words /car/ and /auto/ is an insult to the search engine itself. I can see that it's better for profit and maintainability but for the end user who uses a search engine to find AND explore it's mind numbing.

Recently, Google removed all search references to the search term /climategate/. The first time in my life that I've witnessed worldwide censorship.

I do not think the "fade" is there to take us back to the "good old days". It's there to interrupt just before you do the search, so we may change our mind and click on other area's of the screen.

December 9, 2009 - 12:18am

I do not think the "fade" is there to take us back to the "good old days". It's there to interrupt is just before you do the search, so we may change our mind and click on other area's of the screen.

I agree with you...it was done to get you to pay more attention to yet another ad unit *while* claiming that it was done to remove clutter and add clarity.

So they get the best of both worlds really. More attention to their ads AND the marketing angle of how simple and elegant and powerful they are. SMART!

Melissa Gonzalez
December 9, 2009 - 9:51pm

I think its something new, sometimes things need to be changed up in design and then tested. The benefit of a fade in is that it allows for the visitor to concentrate on one important point or call to action for a short time and then see the rest of the page content.

I think it's a good idea.

December 10, 2009 - 3:02am

But I think the reason they did the fade in was just the opposite ;) ... to make the searcher pay more attention to the surrounding bits.

Jim Spencer
December 11, 2009 - 7:00pm

Just a quick thanks for your thoughtful prose.

I was talking with Peter D the other night about your forum and then this post reminded me that I was a member here when you first opened up. It also made me wish I hadn't dropped out due to inaction on my part after a PayPal snafu that halted payments.

I never really started to participate in the membership area at another site where I am still a Pro member. Here there was a lot of give and take of advice and I made a few friends that I am still in touch with over IM.

I use the SEO For Firefox every week, if not every day.

So, thanks for what you offer Aaron. It is appreciated and very valuable.

December 11, 2009 - 8:02pm

Thanks. And of course paying for what you value means more than stating you value it. ;)

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