20 October 2015
Why Does Google Even Have The “I’m Feeling Lucky” Button?
Google’s infamous ‘I’m Feeling Lucky’ button has been a fixture of the web giant since their very inception in 1998. The button allowed users to go directly to the webpage of the first result, instead of reading through a long list of results.
It made sense for Google because it established the idea that their goal was to give people the perfect result, every time. In a humble sort of way, it also admitted its flaws and acknowledged that you’d still need to be ‘lucky.’ It didn’t cost anything to put there, and it’s an interesting way of adding detail to the site.
But Google changed when it started allowing paid advertisements (every time you search for something, the first few results are ads). Advertising still accounts for about 90% of Google’s revenue.
Why is that a problem? Well, suddenly the ‘I’m Feeling Lucky’ button cost a lot more. Every time somebody pressed ‘I’m Feeling Lucky’ they skipped the ads that would normally be in the results section. People used the button for less than 1% of searches. In 2012 the existence of the button cost Google $110 million dollars.
Why Didn’t They Just Get Rid Of It? They did try to get rid of the button. In fact, they also considering getting rid of both buttons (Google conducts heaps of experiments, all the time – often tweaking spacing by millimeters). They decided against removing either of the buttons.
The ‘I’m Feeling Lucky’ Button had a special impact on consumer psychology. It has to do with the Referencing Effect. Consumer use points of reference to build an understanding of the value of a certain object or product. For example, if you’re looking at kinds of sunscreen in a store, SPF 30 means nothing unless there’s an SPF 15 bottle sitting next to it.
Until there are at least two options, a consumer can’t get a complete idea of the value of either. Even though the function of the ‘I’m Feeling Lucky’ button wasn’t particularly useful for users, it gave them a point of reference. It made them feel more comfortable and confident choosing to click the ‘Google Search.’ They new that it was the right choice in relation to the ‘I’m Feeling Lucky’ button. It also gave users the sense that they had options; if something went wrong after the pressed ‘Google Search,’ they would still have something else to try. ‘I’m Feeling Lucky’ was a comfort button.
Is A Comfort Button Worth $110 million a year?
That’s a lot of money to make your consumers feel slightly more comfortable. Although Google likely would spend hundreds of millions making the Google experience even a fraction better, they kept the buttons but changed their functions.
With the invention of Google Instant at the end of 2012 (which meant results came up as soon as you began typing) the buttons became useless. The ‘Google Search’ button currently does nothing, and disappears when you start typing. The ‘I’m Feeling Lucky’ button puts you through to Google’s ‘Google Doodles’; a kind of gallery of their temporary designs used to celebrate certain occasions.
Are Completely Useless Buttons Worth It? Sure. Even though they don’t do much, they still give the user the illusion of choice and the illusion of reference.
Google Did Briefly Have Only The Search Window and the words ‘This Space Left Intentionally Blank,’ but apparently we aren’t quite ready for the daunting prospect of immediate, buttonless results, because both buttons are still part of the famous, friendly, comfortable Google homepage.