Google Improves Image Search, Finally

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Google announced today that it's rolling out a brand-new Google Images site designed to take much of the hassle out of searching for, browsing, and filtering images. The company says that it will also begin selling ads (with images, not just text) around the search results.

The Google Images site is now getting a billion site visits a day, and has cataloged more than 10 billion images on the Web, Google VP of search and user experience Marissa Mayer said today.

The new Google Images site, which will be available to everyone by the end of the week, will give you more to look at when you do a search. As many as 1000 image results can be displayed on a single, scrollable search results page. The images are also grouped more closely together. (Click the image at left for a full-size view of the results page.) When you mouse over a specific image, the image explodes out to a larger size, and information about the image (like where it was found on the web) is displayed below it. This gives you a good look at an image, without the usual hassle of clicking on it, going to a new page with a frame at the top, inspecting the image, then clicking back to the search results to repeat the process with the next image.

Dragging your mouse over the image results allows you to browse all the images quickly, although there's still no slideshow feature where you can view the full-size images one after the other.

After you click an image, Google Images takes you directly to the Web page where the image lives, not to a landing page at Google Images--no more annoying landing page with the frame at the top. At the destination page, the image is overlaid on its host page at full size. To see the image in the context of its home page, you simply click the site visible behind the image, and the overlay image disappears. To return to the search results on Google Images, you click the back button on your browser.

So why the sudden changes to Google Images now, after it had existed in pretty much the same form since it launched in 2001? Two things.

Bing. With a billion page views a day at stake, Google is feeling competitive pressure from its rival search engine, Microsoft's Bing, which has offered superior image search functionality since its launch in May 2009. In fact, Google's new design seems to have borrowed some good ideas from Bing's Visual Search feature (launched last September) especially on the scrollable search results page. Google has taken the concept a step farther than Bing, however: When you hover over an image in Bing's search results page, a box containing information about the image pops up; but Google gives you the same data attached to a large preview image.

Also, when you click a search result in Bing, you jump to a landing page at Bing where you must click a link to go the image's home page. In Google Images, you go directly to the target image's home page when you click it in the search results page.

Ads. Google also announced today that it will be placing image ads above the new image search results page. (Click the thumbnail image at left for a full-size look at the ads.) For instance, you may see an image ad for Nike above the image results for a search for "running shoes." The new image-based ads, which will cost advertisers more to run than text-based ads do, are likely to begin spreading to other Google properties where text-based ads appear now.

Google says that the new and improved Google Images will run nicely on Chrome, Safari, Firefox, and IE 7 and 8 browsers. The new functionality is also available on iPhone and Android mobile browsers.

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