Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Search or Experience, But Not Both

Recently, I had the idea to perform a test that truly tested the relevance of the search results themselves; on Google, Yahoo! and MSN. My thought was this; when you look at the results themselves, they are not that different, so why does Google have nearly 64% of the search market share (according to Hitwise) where MSN sits in a distant third with less than 9%?

Is there something we’re not considering here?

Does Google just make it easier to do what you need to get done?

I think the answer to both of these questions is yes. There are some things that we’re not considering here, and having a background in graphic design made it easy for me to have an affinity for what’s being missed. As Marissa Mayer will admit, Google is very focused on the end user quite passionately and I’m sure that a part of that market share can be attributed directly to that fact, and maybe more than just a part.

The gist of our study involved a single page of results on paper from each of the big three engines using the same keyphrase, in this instance we chose “digital camera”. We passed this around a small sample of people and had them choose what they felt the top 3 most relevant results were out of the entire list, not on each page.

Not only were the results surprising, but they were completely backwards from what we and every other search marketer would have expected.

When we scored the results (3 points for 1st choice, 2 points for 2nd choice and 1 point for 3rd), MSN came out as having far and away the most relevant results. The margin was not just a 10% or 15% margin, MSN was more than 3 times as successful as Google in terms of its relevance. And when measured against Yahoo, MSN outperformed those results as well, doubling Yahoo’s relevance score.

It seems that Google is doing many of the other things right in order for their relevance to be perceived as well as it has been. Their Progressive Disclosure model has allowed them to keep the interface clean and their users well taken care of, as the Google tools they need only show up when they need them.

Basic design principles are adhered to on the results page and, as much as people mock the simplicity of the homepage, there are more benefits to it than looking clean and tidy. This “clean and tidy” homepage also keeps the user’s mindframe “clean and tidy” or more focused if you prefer. There are less distractions to a user’s focus when compared to the portal page for either Yahoo or MSN.

This is proven through our Eye Tracking 2 whitepaper. When you compare the condensed pattern on Google results pages against the spread out activity on the busy portal pages, it displays obvious remnants of distraction. And when you consider that short
-term memory has a forward memory span of approximately seven items plus or minus two (Miller, 1956), those distractions are doing more to detrimentally affect the pure search experience by filling our little short-term memories with news, pictures, ads and information… All of which have nothing to do with what we’re searching for.

So, MSN may have the most relevant results (according to our little panel), but it turns out that it’s more important to do the rest of the search experience up right. Which begs another bit of insight; it seems that in the phrase, search experience, the word that we would expect to be the most important often isn’t.

So MSN, or Windows Live Search as you are trying to be referred to as, if you want to put a cork in the leaky dam of market share, put more experience into the search experience.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Usability for Children - Lessons Learned

Recently at Enquiro, we performed a Usability Study on a children's website for kids between the ages of 8 and 11. The study itself was a success, and there was enough valuable information to keep the site owners busy for some time to come, though it did open our eyes to working with children.

Below I've listed a few of the things that you should consider if you plan on performing a Usability Study with a younger demographic.

  1. Assure them that this is not a test, especially if they just came from school. Kids are so used to being tested at school, but not really used to people asking for their opinion on, well, anything, so this is foreign to them.

  2. Ensure that the study isn't too long. If what you're studying is not a cartoon, then make sure you're not forcing them to sit still for too long. A half hour was pushing it for some of the children we had participating in the study.

  3. Be accommodating with your time. Children are on much more of a schedule than you are, especially younger ones, so be flexible to when the children are available, they are, after all, the most important part of your study.

  4. Realize that recruiting a target sample of children is not an exact science. Your target may be fairly specific (for instance, 8-11 year olds), but realize that there are very young 8 year olds as well as very old 11 year olds out there.

  5. Don't compensate them like adults. Instead of handing over a $50 bill, which to you might seem adequate, consider the example of the Dentist you had as a child. For me the best part, and only reason I agreed to go to the Dentist, was that at the end of it all, i got to open up the drawer with all the toys in it. I'm not suggesting a toy drawer, but consider how to adequately compensate a 10 year old.
Anyways, these are simply a few things to keep in mind when considering a study with a younger demographic. All things considered though, I would really recommend doing a study like this because there's nothing like seeing children's sites through the eyes of a child.

This is the first generation to really have had computers in their life since the time that they were born. While many of us learned about and grew into the internet, almost every decision that these 8-11 year olds have had to make is in some way influenced by the internet. Even a number of social activities are centered around communities on the internet, there are neopets and penguins to take care of after all.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Apple Gore

Okay, it's pushing it for a title, but hopefully by the end of this post it will make more sense.

In the recent months, there has not been a hotter topic than green. To loosely quote Nigel Tufnel, "It's like, how much more green could this be? and the answer is none. None more green." Every mention in politics is spotted with the politician in question addressing the environmental concerns of their constituency and making plans to address them in an effort to not only save face politically but also to do the right thing.

There is one man that has made this issue buzzworthy and made it easier for us to be green. There is also one organization that has made it its legacy to leave the world a better place than when it arrived, whether by saving the whales, or through their greenmyapple campaign, meant to convince Apple to incorporate more green practices into their clean designs.

It was hard for me to swallow, being a big Apple fan myself, I just assumed that their business practices were as clean as their interface. I suppose that's what releasing white laptops with bright blue screens will do for you. A friend stumbled across the greenmyapple site, created with tongue firmly wedged in cheek by Greenpeace. The site design itself is based on the website interface with navigation interesting enough to grab your attention and drive their point home. This is a poignant view from the eyes of Greenpeace.

One of the main navigational elements, iPoison & iWaste, draws attention to the toxic chemical levels of major product lines, as well as the disposal and recycling practices of Apple, which, it turns out, have placed Apple squarely at the bottom of the list in the Guide to Greener Electronics. Many other major computer manufacturers, including Dell and HP have agreed to the implementation of a recycling program that includes the company taking the product back.

As for the toxic chemical levels, other companies have set a date to remove chemicals like PVC from their products, but Apple still has yet to set that date. And what this means for the environment is that there will be more toxic pollution when the products are produced as well as when they are thrown away, especially without a product return practice in place where the disposal method can be more environmentally friendly. Currently, product lines like the iPod nano and MacBook still contain PVC.

Greenpeace go on to make a lot of great points about moving the Apple organization forward, and thank goodness also for Al Gore who has made green living a more top-of-mind practice for all of us. But since I've seen this website, something has kind of been rubbing me the wrong way. One of the things i remember about watching An Inconvenient Truth this past year, amongst the staggering statistics about what a world sized pickle mankind has gotten itself into, is that throughout the movie Al Gore is prominently using a mac.

And I only say prominently because I remember seeing the apple logo on the back of his laptop numerous times, and I'm not sure what to make of this. My thoughts are that this was either a cunning marketing effort by Apple, making it possible for Al Gore to have made this film through sponsorship and product placement dollars, and being able to associate themselves with the wave of green without having to practice it themselves. Or it could be the ignorance* of Al Gore to Apple's stance on greener business practices or simply his preference to use a mac.

We don't expect the man to be riding a bicycle from state to state, carting his laptop made of wood to each presentation. Where we are on the scale from sleeping on and eating grass to where North America is right now is up to us. If a Mac laptop is Al Gore's preference, then, really I can't blame him, I prefer one as well, but when the time comes for me to buy my next computer, I will certainly be looking into the dialog between greenmyapple and Apple itself to see if Apple has admitted that it needs to clean up its act.

If the reason that he uses an Apple is because he is simply unaware, then Apple may have one of the more prominent figures in North America leaning on them to go green. And if this really is the case, i urge you to contact the makers of An Inconvenient Truth here.

If the reason that the mac was shown so prominently throughout the movie is because of a sponsorship or product placement deal, then it concerns me, but I am also very glad for the world that this movie has been made, so really, I can't be that upset. But when more people like myself start to put 2 and 2 together, it may come back to bite Apple.

* When i say Al Gore's ignorance, it is not at all that i believe he is a stupid individual, I simply mean that one person cannot know everything about everything, we are all ignorant to many things.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

The Wisdom of Crowds?

Recently, Gord Hotchkiss, the President of Enquiro, discussed the Social Fabric of Search and how the Wisdom of Crowds is shaping the future of how we find and access information. Some of the most powerful up-and-comers are cited, including Search Wikia, Stumbleupon, Digg and he focuses on Yahoo Answers giving us possible clues as to Yahoo's strategy for meeting Google and MSN head-on.

I’m a huge believer in the power and knowledge of a team, and there can’t be enough said about the potential of community and social search either. I don’t believe we’ve even scratched the surface there. Amazon had no idea what they were starting when they let users review and rate the products from their site. That was really the crack in the dam that triggered the rest of us into changing our perspective on this one-way internet thing.

But we’ve all seen Frankenstein and the Elephant Man… What is it that makes mob mentality different from the wisdom of crowds? What is it that turns a peaceful protest into tear gas and jail time? It’s likely that some people would say police brutality, while others would say a bit too much passion turning to violence amongst the affected.

As Gord mentions in his post, “the biggest challenge with this variation of social search is that it depends on the engagement of individual members of the community”. But, even though it is social searches biggest challenge, I believe it is also its saving grace.

The big difference that I can see between the Digg or Stumbleupon model and the peaceful protest is that, though these members are part of a larger group, they are contributing to that group individually, equally, without one Alpha member running the show, ensuring that no one member has any more power than another, except through their own trended reputation on the individual portals. Whereas, in the peaceful protest, all it takes is one member in the center of the group to start an immediate fire that, barring a miracle, cannot be controlled through quick and efficient PR.

This is not to say that fires do not happen, because they do, irresponsible businesses have seen their reputation crumble through defamation generating buzz. See, Dell Hell, and the public’s shift in how they viewed Dell’s customer service after a few particular blog posts venting their thoughts caught the attention of the community. Since then, Dell Hell has become part of the global vernacular, describing the level of service offered by Dell.

But, as long as your organization is responsible, has a good head for discussion amongst your communities, and plays a part in constructively using the feedback from your audience in order to give them what they want, there are endless opportunities popping up all the time.

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

SearchTank Reviews Usability Practices

Marina, head of research at Enquiro, has just posted about Michael Ferguson's (Senior User Experience Analyst for Ask) task of “helping the design, marketing, engineering and R&D teams build valuable and delightful experiences”.

Michael divulges some of his more simple rules and guidelines, which Marina discusses in great detail with practical examples.

Those main guidelines are here:

  1. Speak clearly: use direct and simple language.
  2. Make it clear where someone is in the experience and what their choices are. Make the choices distinct from each other.
  3. Reduce work on the user's part wherever you can. Less to think about, with fewer clicks, keeps them in the flow.
Visit Marina at SearchTank to get her insight.

Monday, January 29, 2007

The Macification of Windows: Vista vs. OSX

Here I will be looking at Windows new, much more user friendly, Vista release which will be available as of midnight tonight. And even though we know we're all going to go out and buy it, I wanted to look at what Microsoft themselves are outlining as the top reasons why we should have it now (100 reasons you'll be speechless), and how we could have had this 2 years ago if we had chosen Mac OSX (Note: traditionally I am a "mac" guy, though through the course of my day I spend most of my time on a PC. I must say though, I am really happy for all of you PC folk who get to experience an OS that is finally all about you.)

1. It makes using your PC a breeze

In Microsoft's description of the breezy use of your PC, they mention search on the fly, Windows Aero and Windows Flip 3DA. Well, in the order they are mentioned above, the mac has had
Spotlight since its Tiger release, which searches the entire system as you type, delivering results before you've even finished typing your query.

Windows Aero is just another way to say Aqua, Apples smooth, Unix based user interface which has been in place since the first release of OSX.

As for Windows Flip 3DA, a function that allows you to see everything you're working on at a glance, Apple perfected this with their feature called Expose (seen right), which, either at the press of a hotkey or by sending your mouse pointer to the top corner of the screen, displays every active window instantly on the desktop small enough that you can view them all, allowing you to choose any of the open applications to visit (also instantly).

2. Because all of your music is just a remote control click away
Okay.. the iMac contains a feature called FrontRow, allowing you to control not just your music through iTunes, but your photos (through iPhoto), existing movies on your computer (even those made through iMovie), or a DVD. Yes, all using a remote control. You can also connect this media through your television using the new Apple TV box (for Mac and PC) or if you only feel the need to stream your music to your Home Stereo system, an Airport Express will gladly feed your iTunes through those speakers you spent oh so much money on a few years ago, before you bought your laptop.

3. It's the safest version of Windows ever
Okay, when was the last time you heard of a killer Mac virus or security breach. Not to say that it isn't possible, but there is considerable security set up on every Mac out of the box.
All the communication ports are closed and all native services are turned off by default, and the average user would never even notice. If you are extremely concerned about certain content on your computer, Apple has even gone so far as to include FileVault in the standard OS, which uses the latest government security standard, AES-128 encryption, to safeguard your hard work. It encrypts and decrypts on the fly, so you don’t even know it’s happening.

As far as parental controls go, Apple has an extremely dynamic set of tools to set the limits on internet sites, ichat buddies, application accessibility and anything else you can think of that you know your kids can get into! Here is a great demo.

4. See your world in a whole new light
See answer 1. It's funny how Aero made it into the top 10 (of 100) twice. See Aqua by Apple.

5. It can find your stuff
Oh boy, turns out, it's more than just Aqua being repeated. See question 1. Apple's Spotlight application finds anything and everything on your system instantly.

6. Because you're always on the run
This is a funny one, as it appears to include the use of portable devices separate from your actual system.. but sure, I'll speak to it.

Okay, keeping your PC and portable devices up to date is an essential feature for todays professional, however, it is not exclusive to Windows Vista. All of the main providers of portable devices have included the Mac market, including Blackberry and Palm, meaning that ensuring your data is synched to the right location is a snap. And with the introduction of the iPhone, Apple has once again surpassed the expectations and capabilities of its competitors by including almost an entire system on one simple, feature packed device.

And as for the Tablet, that one we'll have to give to you PC. Although I'm not sure how much of an accomplishment that is as the market for the Tablets is still considerably small.

7. Because you can freeze time
One word... iPhoto. Personally, I have thousands of photos archived in my library, by date,
keyword, rating, or any other label i choose. Not only that, but iPhoto will literally recognize almost any digital camera on the market without you having to install any third party applications. Google's Picasa has come a long way towards this, but this has been standard for years on Apples now.

8. Your PC can take care of itself
Apple believes in preparing a product proactively. There are diagnostic applications available indeed, Disk First Aid etc., but the released versions of OSX have been rigorously tested, and whenever there are updates to be installed, they can be run and installed in the background automatically. No fuss, no muss.

9. Unchain your mobile PC
So, a wireless network then? Okay... Thanks Vista! I've been waiting forever to be able to run my laptop from my living room without having to drag the wires all the way from upstairs.

Number 9? Really?

10. Surf more safely
And, ending on a repeat note... See question 3.
But in addition to that, the built-in personal firewall for OSX protects your computer from unauthorized access by monitoring all incoming network traffic, and if you use stealth mode, your Mac won’t even acknowledge its existence to people scanning for machines to attack. Seems pretty secure to me.

Okay, well, that's the Top 10 Reasons You'll Be Speechless, addressed from a Mac perspective. Those of us that are Mac users have been happily satisfied with our daily user experience, proud to share it with anyone that would listen. And it appears that we've been listened to, maybe not actively, as not many PC users will admit to wanting more, but they do appear to be sending the Vista developers the Apple website address as a blueprint for what they've been hearing about.

Now, this is not to take away anything from Vista itself. Microsoft appears to have created an operating system that really puts the user at the forefront. This was long overdue, and not a small feat, and preliminary reports indicate that it will be a success.

Just ensure that Vista wins you over by the experience it provides from here on out, not by the sheer amount of advertising and marketing dollars they intend to spend in order to prove to you that this is revolutionary and that no one has ever created an operating system so fluid and user-centric before. Because this is simply not true.

Manoj Jasra Interviews Bill Slawski

Manoj Jasra from Web Analytics World is at it again. This time he's discussing research, social media optimization and social bookmarking with Bill Slawski, the President of SEO by the Sea.

Listen to Manoj's latest foray into podcasting to hear what Bill has to say about:

  • SEM in 2006 (specifically Social Media Optimization and Social Bookmarking)
  • What we can expect in SEM in 2007
  • New patents by Google and what we can expect from Google in the future
  • Google's steady Growth and Google's competitors
  • The future of Yahoo, MSN and how they can make up ground on Google
And listen for Bill's info on Danny Sullivan's secretive Search Marketing Expo, which I know we're all keen to see the launch of. It's a great listen and well worth your few minutes to start your week off right. Great work Manoj.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Search and the Strength of the Human Spirit

Helen Hill, my sister-in-law, was one of the two people on this earth that I really felt were taking it into their own hands to make a difference in New Orleans, if not the world. If you were to perform a search for her name right now, you would learn, among other things, that there wasn't a picture taken where she wasn't smiling, that her unique talent for DIY animation has earned her recognition the world over, that she kept a pocket full of change so that there was always something to give the growing homeless of New Orleans, that she was an amazing mother, a loving wife, a daughter that made her parents and family proud to know her, and that she was killed on January 4th leaving a huge hole in the hearts of her friends and family worldwide.

I miss her... and so do her friends the world over. If you met her once, you would too. On the day after the incident her friends from LA, where she had attended Cal Arts created a tribute site for Helen,, that people from all over the world have now poured their hearts into with memories, pictures, video and audio of her sweet voice. The site was almost immediately accessible via Google and became a bright spot on the search page littered with stories of her murder and of the baby and husband, a Doctor for the poor of New Orleans, a beautiful, caring man, that she left behind. This man, Paul Gailiunas, who survived the attack, is the other person on this earth that i feel has taken it into his own hands to make a difference, and who's spirit has been buoyed by all the support and love sent his way from all over the world, and by the love of his 2 year old son Francis.

I write this post to commend Google on recognizing this site as quickly as they did, not because it was the right thing to do, or they were affected personally, but because they are so efficient and relevant. And in times like this, when everything else is so calamatous and emotional, it's nice to have something efficient and relevant to rely on.