Google Tweaked How It Displays Search Results. Here’s How to Change It Back.

Future Tense
The Citizen's Guide to the Future
March 14 2014 10:37 AM

Google Tweaked How It Displays Search Results. Here’s How to Change It Back.

FT-140313-google
Give me back my underlined links!

For the past day or two, when I looked at search results on Google, I felt a little crazy. The font was too big, but when I shrunk it down a level, it was too small. The results also felt somehow unanchored, as though I had to look harder to figure out what was going on.

It turns out that this is part of Google's latest tweaks to its search results. It has enlarged the default font. The yellowish background that used to be behind some ads is gone, replaced by the standard white.

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But what really threw me is that it removed the underline from the blue page names in the search results. (You can see a good before-and-after shot at the Washington Post.)

Some have celebrated this update, but I hate it. It's not that I balk anytime something changes online. It's that this is a poor design decision. Guidelines on Web design and usability widely agree that links should be underlined (with a few exceptions). The underlines are an important anchor for your eye. Without it, you are missing an important visual clue that identifies the links and, in this case, separates the search results from one another.

The links also help with accessibility. For users with visual impairments, older readers, users on poor-quality monitors, or people using devices in bright light where it may be hard to clearly see everything on the screen, the underlines are a big help in distinguishing the names of the results from the rest of the text.

The blue color and slightly larger font size highlighting the page titles on Google's results page may be enough for some people. But without the underlines, I found my frequent visual scans of the results page required more effort. I tend to skim through the page titles, looking for what I want. Identifying which text is a page title is much harder without the strong visual clue of an underline.

Fortunately, you can add those underlines back in with a couple simple steps. First, install the Stylish browser extension for Firefox or Chrome. Restart your browser if you're asked to.

Now, all you have to do is install the style I've written for you that will add the underlines back. Go here and click the big "Install with Stylish" button. That's it! The links should now appear with underlines—and you can once again feel anchored on Google.

Future Tense is a partnership of SlateNew America, and Arizona State University.

Jennifer Golbeck is director of the Human-Computer Interaction Lab and an associate professor at the University of Maryland.

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