I just noticed this yesterday. There was nothing in the left column of my search results on Google. I often look there to change my location or the time frame of search results. Sometimes I use the "related searches" to find similar search terms that might be more appropriate for what I want to search for. Now that I know those options are still available that's great. They are on the top of the page rather than on the left side. They're hidden as well. You simply click the "Search Tools" button in the upper right to get them to appear.
Why are these options important? Many people probably have never noticed or used them. Here's some reasons why they are useful.
1. The time setting. The default is "any time". This is very useful if you are looking for something and it's important that what you find is not old. There is a lot of out dated information on the Internet. This setting allows you to filter out that old information and find current information. You can find information for the past hour, the past 24 hours, the past week, the past month, the past year, or enter a custom date range.
2. The results setting. The default for this one is "All results". Options are Sites with images, Related searches, Dictionary, Reading level, Nearby, Translated foreign pages, and Verbatim. I've most often used the Related searches option. This will show you related search terms that can give you ideas of better search terms to use.
The sites with images option shows you images from websites that match your search. This is a fun one to try! When I tried this using the search term "web design mn" the first search result showed images from several different websites. The rest of the search results showed images from individual websites, for example there were about 4 or 5 thumb size images from each website. Some had text below them but many did not.
The dictionary option will vary depending on what you type in. If you enter one word you'll get a definition of that word from Google followed by links to other definitions on other websites. You'll also get a list of synonyms and a translator function on the right side of the screen.
The reading level option can be extremely useful. According to Google this allows you to filter search results to find websites that match the reading level you are seeking. If you are looking for information from expert scientists you might choose to use the advanced reading level. If you are an elementary teacher looking for information for 1st grade students you might use the basic reading level option.
The nearby option triggers a local search. In other words this will show you local businesses if your search term applies. For example, when searching for the term "plumbing" without using this option you won't get a list of local plumbers. But if you use the nearby option with this search term you will get a list of local plumbers. This list will include plumbing businesses from Google's local business directory which will correspond to a map that appears on the right side.
Using the translated foreign pages option will help you find websites that might be better results that happen to be in another language.