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Google, User Experience, and Thinking Beyond Conversion

by Jeffrey Eisenberg
on August 24, 2010

Google is a money making machine; that is why it has tremendous
influence in the online ecology. Google has a lot to teach the world
about relevance, credibility, value & user experience. However,
Google isn’t a training company; it derives more than 90% of its
revenues from advertising. It’s fascinating that Google makes most
of its money from advertisers (sellers) but is forced, like every
media company, to think primarily about the experience of its
audience (buyers).

When buyers “buy naturally,” and sellers “sell effortlessly” you
have the ideal human-computer interaction. Interaction occurs in a
non-linear system that delivers exactly what prospective buyers
need, when they need it, so they can accomplish their goals in the
manner most comfortable to them. That’s a user experience we
(everyone from IAs to designers and even marketing folks) can all
buy into if our interests were truly aligned. Google needs to train
advertisers to do a better job while maintaining its revenues. So
how is Google “training” advertisers? With sticks, not carrots.

Quality Score: The Grand Equalizer

Theoretically at least, advertisers and searchers interests should
be aligned. After all, an advertiser pays for an ad placement based
on context. If Company A is advertising for widgets, when people
search for widgets they should be able sell tons of widgets. That’s
the theory. In practice, the user experience of paid ads is
tragically broken; just go ahead and see how many paid searches send
you to a home page or a generic landing page. That hurts Google’s
reputation for relevance. Google suffers when advertisers fail to
deliver a good user experience. Google’s solution to this problem is
Quality Score (“QS”). QS acts like a tax for those advertisers too
lazy, too structurally rigid, or just too misinformed to deliver
relevant answers to searchers queries.

QS is based on an algorithm that scores the value of the user
experience the advertiser is creating from clicking on the ad to the
target page. QS weights the value of a bid in the auction for ad
placement and forces the advertisers delivering the worst user
experience to pay more than those with better user experiences
competing for the same query. The penalties are substantial; we’ve
seen advertisers penalized more than 60% of their paid advertising
budget; sometimes they weren’t even aware.

Google’s Enforcing Great Experiences

Bryan Eisenberg and I have been thinking a lot about Google’s
Adwords program, QS, and it’s consequences. It’s encouraging us to
think that designers, developers, content creators and marketers may
wind up on the same page someday soon. Substantial penalties piled
on top of large budgets have a way of forcing even those most
entrenched in status quo to change. You might also find it as
encouraging as we do if we explain how we perceive the difference
between conversion — which is mechanical — and persuasion that is
based on a holistic user experience.

Conversion has only recently become the must-have piece of the pie.
You could see it gaining interest when Call To Action, cane out in
2006. In the last few years, it’s become mainstream. When we started
our former company in 1998, we never imagined that it would take so
long. Unfortunately, we’re not all on the same page yet.

The ability to achieve truly dramatic improvements in conversion
rates still requires a shift in “conventional” thinking. Design
teams need to understand that while the goal may be conversion, the
practice must be persuasion.

Conversion is all about “the click.” We all understand the
macro-level conversion, which is the business’s site objective. But
it is important to realize that conversion also takes place at the
micro-level — every single relevant click pulls the user deeper
into the buying decision process. It’s imperative for sites to
persuade prospects with each and every click.

Knowing What To Do Is Not the Same as Being Presented A Reason Why

Conversion is what the user does; it’s the “take action” part of the
buying decision process. At the macro-level, the visitor converts
from prospect to buyer. Helping prospects convert involves making it
easier for them to buy by getting out of their way. Getting out of
the way usually entails a copy, usability, or information
architecture adjustment.

As we worked with clients in the early days of our business, we
began to realize we could remove the obstacles to conversion, but
that would only take us so far. If conversion is fundamentally about
completing your linear scenarios, and people rarely go about
accomplishing their goals in a linear fashion – how are you
designing to address the buying process behavior of the majority of
these non-linear prospects?

Consider this example: A site selling seminars, a complex selling
scenario successfully funnels a majority of its traffic to a
registration form, but few prospective attendees who land on that
page complete the form and click through. The page rejection rate is
staggering. Thinking they have a conversion problem, the company
performs a variety of A/B tests on the form page with little
success. Nothing they do to “fix” the conversion problem yields
significantly improved results. They imagine themselves at a
conversion dead-end.

In this situation, the problem isn’t always the form; assuming the
seminar is a good one it’s the scenario visitors participate in
before they reach the form. Perhaps prospective attendees haven’t
acquired enough information or developed sufficient confidence to
feel comfortable completing registering yet. Hopefully they would
realize that this linear sales process is undermining their
prospective attendees’ non-linear buying decision process – the
site is failing to persuade before it attempts to convert.

Persuasion is about meeting the buying needs of your audience. It’s
a non-linear, multi-branched, integral part of your selling process
– you present relevant information for your buyers in a way that
suits you as the seller and hopefully allows you to make the case
for buying from you.

Non-linear scenarios are the ones visitor segments create as they
navigate your website. In this type of scenario we measure
conversion differently, from where people enter to where they
complete the intended scenario and whether or not they hit our key
value pages.

Improving an Average Conversion Rate Produces Average Results

The goal is to focus on cumulative conversion rates for the website
instead of simply an average conversion rate. This is accomplished
by explicitly planning these non-linear scenarios, or persuasive
design. When we dissect the buying process into its component parts
for each persona, then measure those micro-conversions in the
click-stream, not only can we better understand how well we are
persuading but we can also segment our conversion rates by persona

Persuasion is the next step in conversion rate marketing’s
evolutionary chain; it’s the stage where we evolve beyond primitive
relevance and weave into the user experience a compelling force that
delights users. You may clear every last one of your conversion
hurdles, but you will still face the question of how you move your
prospects from click to click, how you orchestrate persuasive
momentum. Building persuasive, persona-based scenarios that allow
prospects to “buy naturally” is the only way to achieve the dramatic
results that are possible when you think beyond conversion.

From a conversion perspective, the designer now asks, “How do I
build a single pipeline, or experience, that gets me the highest
conversion rate?” From a persuasion perspective, the designer will
ask, “How do I build multiple experiences that give me the highest
conversion rates overall? It’s the difference between trying to
increase your conversion rate from 2% to 4% (a 100% increase) and
imagining what small percentage of all your visitors you will have
to write off because they are simply “unconvertible.” Reach for only
4% or 100% of those intending to buy?

The Future of User Experience Driven by an Algorithm

The future is not about optimizing conversion, nor about maximizing
conversion, it’s about spectacular user experiences that convert
effortlessly from the users point-of-view. We are among the small
community advocating that point-of-view for years but that future
will most likely be driven not by people like us but rather by how
an algorithm determines the quality of user experience. We’re
feeling confident change is on the way and if it wasn’t for Google’s
algorithm you might call that naive.

Learn more about Google’s Quality Score

We’re fortunate that Jeffrey and Bryan are also conducting our
next virtual seminar,
Produce a More Persuasive Site: Where Design
and Marketing Meet
. At the end of this seminar, you’ll
understand how to improve your Quality Score. They’ll share 7
perspectives to help you determine the relevance in your content.
And they’ll give you 10 tips to improve your credibility,
demonstrate value, and enhance the persuasiveness of your
navigation. Learn more
about this virtual seminar.

Share your feedback

Did you know about Google’s Quality Score? What have you done to
improve your score? Share your thoughts with us on the UIE Brain
Sparks blog