A Blog by Jonathan Low


May 10, 2016

How A Switch From Blue To Black Ink Could Earn Google Millions In Additional Revenue

'Google Blue' is the iconic color in which most consumers' search results are delivered - and which a majority probably never think about. In fact, Google has periodically tested as many as 41 different shades of blue and then changed to the one most people click on. The last time this experiment was conducted, it earned the company an additional $200 million in revenue.

So the fact that Google is now experimenting with a shift from blue to black suggests that testing consumers' cognitive and emotional reactions to various elements of its search model may mean that a change is coming - which could also presage an uptick in business.

What may be most fascinating about this is that it reflects earlier tests in print catalogs and even the famous (or infamous) experiments at Westinghouse's Hawthorne plant in the early 20th century, all of which were designed to manipulate the subjects' reactions in order to get them to buy more or work harder.

Many changes on the web are tests, even if we are unaware of them, but for which users will pay - one way or the other. JL

Cara McGoogan reports in The Telegraph:

(Google) appears to be A/B testing black links for its search results. Its A/B test of different shades of blue - nicknamed "50 shades of blue" - earned the company an extra $200 million.
Google users have noticed something different about the search results being returned at the moment: they're not the iconic Google blue, but black instead. The Silicon Valley giant appears to be A/B testing black links for its search results, much to the disappointment of many users. 
The test replaces traditionally blue link titles with black ones. The body text and link addresses remain unchanged, being black and green respectively. 
Google blue and black links
Google blue and black links Credit: Google 
Google puts a lot of thought into the exact colours it uses in its services - and for a good reason. A few years ago its A/B test of different shades of blue - nicknamed "50 shades of blue" - earned the company an extra $200 million (£138 million).
Designers at Google couldn't decide between two different blues, so they decided to test 41 shades between each blue to see which users preferred. In the test, Google showed each shade to one per cent of its users, and found that users were more likely to click on a slightly more purple shade. 
Until last year Google's navigation was red Credit: Google
In a more recent test, the company last year spent months trialling blue navigation links before it finally replaced the red ones for all users.
The company has been criticised for its meticulous attention to design detail in the past. When Doug Bowman, a top designer at Google, left the company in 2009, he said: "It's true that a team at Google couldn't decide between two blues, so they're testing 41 shades between each blue to see which performs better.
"I can't operate in an environment like that. I've grown tired of debating such miniscule design decisions. There are more exciting design problems in this world to tackle."
If the comments from users on Twitter, Reddit and Google's forums are any indication, it is not likely that the changes will be rolled out across the board any time soon.
Other than the red links it uses in China, and different shades of its blue Google has not used other colours for its search results before.
A spokesman for Google said the company is "always" testing small changes to its results page. On this occasion, Google admits, "We're not quite sure that black is the new blue."
Google is not the only major technology company to carry out A/B tests on its users. Netflix recently admitted that it tests six different images for many TV and movie titles, and rolls out the one that most viewers click on.
Facebook has also conducted tests designed to emotionally manipulate users by highlighting positive and negative emotions, while OK Cupid has deliberately matched incompatible people to see the outcomes. 

How to change Google back to blue

There isn't a blanket way to turn off Google's A/B testing, but users on a Google Search Help Forum have reported that logging out of their Google account and back in again reverts the links back to blue. 
A Reddit user also reported that disabling "Your searches and browsing activity" in Chrome's settings turns the links back to blue. To disable the feature go to the Google home page and click on the grid icon in the top right hand corner and select "My Account".
In the "Personal info & privacy" box select "activity controls". In here you can toggle a bar that turns of "Your searches and browsing activity".
Chrome extensions such as Stylist can also be used to restyle any web page,  including Google's flagship one.
Google declined to comment about the new feature.


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