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I'm sure that Google must put a lot of thought into the display of its homepage. With such a minimalistic design, every element matters.

So what's up with the "I'm feeling lucky" button? Why is it right next to the search bar?

enter image description here

Before Google Instant, the button could be clicked to go directly to the page of the first search results, but now as soon as you start typing, the search results begin to display and the page changes to one without the "I'm Feeling Lucky" button.

Nowadays, the button serves a new function. If you hover over it, it changes to say something else, such as "I'm Feeling Wonderful," a link to Google's World Wonders Project or "I'm Feeling Trendy," a link to Google Trends. This seems like an effective way to bring traffic to some of Google's pages that users might not know about, but it doesn't explain why the button is right next to the search bar when it's no longer related to the search function. (It also doesn't explain why the working "I'm Feeling Lucky" button is sitting next to a button that does absolutely nothing.)

I know that in 2009, Google tested removing both buttons, but decided to keep them for now, so my question isn't just why the button exists. I also wonder why it exists there. Since it's no longer related to the search function or to the "button" next to it, it seems like it would make sense to move it elsewhere. Maybe shift to one of the large side margins and give it a color and shape that draws attention to it. If Google really wants users to know about the sites the button links to, wouldn't it make more sense to emphasize that the button no longer serves its former function?

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I always assumed it was mainly for nostalgia, to preserve an emotional attachment with long time users. – Daniel Alexiuc Dec 13 '12 at 1:01
I was led to believe by Googlers that it's there mainly because its quirky, and that's something that Google want to communicate in their brand. A tiny percentage of people actually click it. – alistair Dec 13 '12 at 14:27
The "I'm Feeling Lucky" button (or rather, a link) is also present when you use instant search - you just need to hover over the instant suggestions with your mouse (an action which I think very few people do, because use of a keyboard is kind of enforced). Here is a screenshot. – Anderson Dec 18 '12 at 21:57
But if thats the case, why not detect the browser and modify the display based on the which browser is being used? Surely there are enough people using modern browsers for it to matter. – user30387 Apr 6 '13 at 19:12
The I'm feeling lucky button will work if Google Instand is turned off – user28761 Apr 7 '13 at 0:43

Sometimes things exist not because they still make sense, but because their presence is an affordance -- i.e. it works not because it's good, but because the visitor understands what it is, what it does, and how to use it, because they've been inculcated over years with this knowledge.

The "I'm Feeling Lucky" button is a grand example of this, because as you've mentioned, it's pretty useless as an actual feature -- but it exists as part of Google's branding at this point. After all, it's something that you only see if you're going to Google's home page now, which most people don't even use for the majority of their searches anymore unless they have Google as a home page -- after all, this button isn't visible on mobile phones or built-in search bars in the browser. Thanks to Google Instant, it doesn't even affect people's ability to search anymore.

Hey, reinforcing "Yes, you're at the Google site, we even have the button" is as good a purpose as any.

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The article mentioned by Tom also has this statement from Google Search boss: "It's possible to become too dry, too corporate, too much about making money." She said, "I think what's delightful about 'I'm Feeling Lucky' is that it reminds you there are real people here." – this.lau_ Dec 13 '12 at 2:37
It isn't completely useless. It works fine if you disable javascript. Personally, I added an "I'm feeling lucky" search accelerator to my browser. I admit that both of these reasons apply to only a tiny minority of users. – Brian Dec 14 '12 at 21:29

Interestingly, the button costs google up to $110 million per year.

In 2007, Google search boss Marissa Mayer estimated that 1% of all Google searches go through the I'm Feeling Lucky button – skipping Google's search results pages entirely.

That meant that Google showed ZERO ads (and therefore got ZERO ad clicks) on 1% of all Google search queries. Back in 2007, an analyst suggested the "I'm Feeling Lucky" button probably cost Google as much as $110 million per year.

So they must have a good reason to keep it.

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Correction: the button USED to cost Google $110 million per year, back in 2010. It doesn't anymore thanks to Google Instant. – Rachel Keslensky Dec 13 '12 at 4:44
1% lucky does not mean that 1% was taken away from a regular search. – Paparazzi Sep 26 '14 at 17:47
@RachelKeslensky Well they're probably paying around $110 million per year in extra electricity, server, and infrastructure costs of running many additional searches as you type from Google Instant. I guess that paid for this. – Keavon Sep 30 '15 at 1:27
up vote 9 down vote accepted

After thinking about this question for the last couple months and reading some related literature (Stephen P. Anderson's Seductive Interaction Design in particular), I've decided that the continuing existence of the button is likely due to a combination of three factors:

  1. Branding - As @RachelKeslensky writes in her answer: keeping the button says "Yes, you're at the Google site, we even have the button." Maintaining the random nature of the button even though its function has changed keeps with the branding as well.
  2. Surprise gifting (It's a "delighter") - By sending users to a fun new site that they might not know about, Google creates a pleasant surprise. And because that new site is also created by Google, such linking feels like a personal gift. The most unanticipated gifts are the most emotional, and emotion helps ensure you remember the experience and maybe even tell others about it.
  3. Variable rewards - Because the site the button links to is random, innate curiosity compels you to try clicking on it multiple times just to see where it leads you. Not knowing what you'll find makes you explore more. I've even gotten into the habit of returning to it from time to time to see if any new links have been added.
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I think it all comes down to "progressive enhancement". You are quite right that across Google domains it automatically begins to modern browsers. But in older browsers, users still have to click search or hit enter. And so the 'I'm Feeling Lucky' button is left as a valid alternative option to retrieving search listings.

For example, so many users search for 'Facebook' to access it, so for users on older browsers it makes more sense to hit 'I'm Feeling Lucky' and go straight to Facebook, rather than actually performing a search and then clicking on a result.

As Jimmy mentioned, it's important to keep it alongside the Search box, because its function is directly related to what you type in.

You ask: Why still display it on modern browsers? We can only speculate. Maybe it is just a matter of consistency. So that whether you use Google at home on your new computer, or at a hospital on a ten year old machine running IE6. The view remains the same: one search box, two buttons.

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But if that's the case, why not detect the browser and modify the display based on the which browser is being used? Surely there are enough people using modern browsers for it to matter. – Graham Herrli Dec 12 '12 at 22:44
@3nafish See updated answer :) – slawrence10 Dec 12 '12 at 23:04
Are you sure it actually works on the older browsers? It brings users to a completely different place in the newer browsers. – Vlad Spreys Apr 12 '13 at 23:11

Why is the button near the search field? Because "I'm feeling lucky" still takes an argument from the main search field, so it needs to be grouped with it in order for that interaction to be understood.

Why don't they pull it away and emphasise it? Because that would remove focus from the main field, or worse, have the user pulled in two directions simultaneously. That's bad.

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Can you explain what you mean by "still takes an argument from the main search field"? At least in the version of Google I'm accessing (as described above), as soon as you enter anything in the search field, the page changes and the "I'm Feeling Lucky" button goes away. – Graham Herrli Dec 12 '12 at 22:14
@3nafish - that's only the behaviour on .com; retains the standard behaviour. – Jimmy Breck-McKye Dec 12 '12 at 22:19
Okay. I realize that Google is constantly testing out different versions of its homepage. (The link I included mentions that they're usually testing 50-200 different versions at a time, although those probably aren't all changes in the interface.) That's why I specified how my version of Google functions. I'm interested in why it functions that way for me, even if it does function other ways elsewhere. – Graham Herrli Dec 12 '12 at 22:24

I believe it is left there to let users feel good. Since its been there for ever they dont want to take any chances and induce anxiety in users.

1 little bit of anxiety = major net loss for google.

Perhaps they ran the same tests they did when they tried to figure out if a "slow" page (100ms slower) affects user behaviour. It sure does, in fact the test probably costed them millions.

I would imagine there to be a monitery statistically proven reason for the lucky button to be kept.

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You write "I believe" and "I would imagine." Do you have any evidence to support those claims? – Graham Herrli Apr 12 '13 at 14:35
If I did I wouldn't have said "believe" or "think" ;) I have read somewhere, but cant cite it, and not sure 100%. – user1721135 Apr 12 '13 at 19:39
"It's possible to become too dry, too corporate, too much about making money. I think what's delightful about 'I'm Feeling Lucky' is that it reminds you there are real people here," Google exec Marissa Mayer explained, or at least tried to. – user1721135 Apr 12 '13 at 19:42

When you click the I'm feeling lucky button, Google loses money. That's probably the reason why they made it no longer serve that (any) function.

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We're looking for long answers that provide some explanation and context. Don't just give a one-line answer; explain why your answer is right, ideally with citations. Answers that don't include explanations may be removed.

Can you elaborate on that? – Charles Wesley Jun 28 '13 at 21:55

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