Google offers the possibility to search for several different types of media/information: Web, Images, Video, Maps, etc.

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Lately I noticed that these choices for other types of information is being switched around, resulting in a lot of errors by clicking the wrong item. Sometimes Images is put in place of Videos, Videos in place of News, etc.

My question is whether anyone knows why this is done? Is there a valid reason for this mechanism? I am not asking for an opinion but really a UX reasoning as to why this could be useful.

-- Edit to clarify why I don't like it --

I use the images function on a regular basis. So often that it became a habit for me to click the second item without reading. It is a form of muscle memory really. We all rely on muscle memory if we do things on a regular basis. It is a way of offloading your mind and getting things done with less cognitive effort.

Try a different keyboard where the ctrl key is placed somewhere else (or a mac keyboard for example). You'll probably misclick the first few hours but after some time you've learned where the ctrl key is and you can happily continue working without thinking about it. The problem here is that you can never learn it because Google keeps moving the buttons around.

That is my issue with something like this. Regular users will probably not notice this but for powerusers it becomes annoying.

  • 3
    The situation is arguably even worse in my language, where "Images" and "Maps" are almost the same word ("Kuvat" and "Kartat"). I have to read the links carefully to avoid misclicking.
    – ntoskrnl
    Nov 7, 2014 at 17:37
  • 2
    Now I wonder whether there is a browser addon that changes those textual links into visual icons.
    – Crissov
    Nov 7, 2014 at 19:26
  • Do you actually click on those links by learning just the one position they once appeared in and expecting them to appear in the same place always? For me, I don't rely on such muscle memory. I just scan through the items presented looking for what I want (Images, Maps, Videos, etc). It's very quick and I don't find it a hassle.
    – ADTC
    Nov 8, 2014 at 2:28
  • I always go to images.google.com and then search. Neatly works around this. Nov 9, 2014 at 17:44
  • I do like this behaviour, but there is a bug where the same search term will have a different tab ordering depending on where the user is located (search, images etc). This breaks navigation in my view. Nov 11, 2014 at 23:03

2 Answers 2


They arrange the items depending on what you search for.

I.E. searching for 'Tax' is likely to return many News results, so that is shown alongside 'web':

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Searching for 'Mexico Flag' is likely to return lots of images, so they set 'Images' as the next tab:

enter image description here

Whereas searching for 'Bristol' (A city in England) returns 'maps' as the next tab:

enter image description here

So there is a valid reason for why they switch tabs around. Whether it actually makes a benefit is different mattter.

  • 2
    When I tried to make some screenshots for the post this also occurred to me. Then again I do wonder whether this is tested with users. I'm not keeping count but it happens to me quite often, I'd say once a day with a fair amount of googling, that I click on video by accident. This becomes quite annoying when your searching for pictures. Or does the Google team put something like this live, test, and then decide to keep it or not?
    – GWv
    Nov 7, 2014 at 11:10
  • 14
    @GWv Google do a lot of testing. They're always running A/B tests because they have such a vast target audience they are able to run many, many tests all the time. They won't put anything fully live if it's not tested because it'll potentially harm their business. They don't tend to publish their test results though, so unfortunately we'll probably never really know what the impact of this change is (unless we notice they've rolled back this change in future, in which case we can deduce it was unsuccessful!)
    – JonW
    Nov 7, 2014 at 11:20
  • 8
    @GWv, this has been going on for quite awhile now and although I as a poweruser dislike it, I am quite sure that for the vast majority this actually is quite an improvement. Nov 7, 2014 at 14:10
  • 1
    I like it, because it sorts the "Images", "Videos", "News" tabs by relevance to what I searched. Just read what you click and there shouldn't be any issue.
    – Zack
    Nov 7, 2014 at 16:34
  • 2
    @Zack yes, when it guesses correctly - unfortunately its success rate is low enough for me to really hate this approach. It can't read my mind, but it pretends it can.
    – RomanSt
    Nov 7, 2014 at 23:56

Google does a lot of testing, but that doesn't mean they've tested this issue. The use case that was described in the original post was "I use the images function on a regular basis.", so frequently that the text was no longer read, only the position of where the link is located. But location changes and causes the issue. This breaks the usability rule of consistency (consistently displaying links in the same location for every search so I know where to look instead of shuffling the order to meet some kind of relevance algorithm that might seem cool in principle, but causes issues for frequent users). One thing to point out on the side of Google is that this is probably an edge case. It's not likely that a majority of Google users are repeatedly and frequently doing image searches at a poweruser level. Even so, with an audience the size of Google search, even if it's a small percent of users, we're probably still talking about a lot of people.

For a power user that is doing repeated searches, telling them to just read the text is not a valid solution to the problem. Imagine that you are supporting a product and a customer calls in and complains that links are moving. A response of "read the text" would probably leave a bad impression.

The problem has already been stated, the user is not reading the text and is relying on muscle memory. In a sense, your telling the user to shut off their instinctive reaction to the UI, slow down, and read text to make sure it's correct. The problem is that link options are being shuffled around, making for an inconsistent experience and telling the user they need to do something differently doesn't solve this issue. If the re-arrangement of links would need to stay for some reason, one possible approach to fixing this would be to visually distinguish the link options with color, and potentially icons for those that are color blind (potentially including the existing link labels with the color and/or icon additions). That way the user can start relying not on positioning, or reading each link until they find the right one, but on icons and color to target the desired link.

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