Archive for the ‘Usability and User-Experience (UX)’ Category

Google’s Geology Logo

Wednesday, January 11th, 2012

I thought the Google logo commemorating the birthday of Nicolas Steno, popularly known as “The Father of Geology”, was a particularly effective logo treatment:

Google Nicolas Steno Geology logo

The 3-D letters which are made to communicate the concept of cut-away views of earth sections to show layers of rock and sediment were effortless-seeming in their execution. This is a really great example of typography and graphic art — it’s very nearly an infographic — and, it does all this without losing the recognizability of the Google name (which some of their special logos have done).

Very cool!

New Google Maps Ads Bad For All Constituents: Consumers, Businesses & Advertisers

Monday, November 21st, 2011

Google Maps has introduced “bubble ads” which feature an advertiser in the info bubble/tooltip that appears above pinpointed locations in the map interface. Mike Blumenthal points these out with a “rogue’s gallery” of inappropriate ad placements. I believe these must be the “big changes” alluded-to in Google insider rumors I reported upon a few weeks ago.

It’s not hard to find instances of ads which arguably should not be allowed to be displayed smack along with a business’s listings. Here’s one I just grabbed showing an ad below a local doctor’s listing — the ad urges consumers and potential patients to “Check for disciplinary action”, and has parsed the doctor’s name into the ad itself — casting an implicit aspersion upon the doctor, and potentially damaging the doctor’s conversion rate if the advertiser’s site has some sort of negative information about the doctor:

Bad Ad Placements in Google Maps

As Mike points out in his post, there are many cases of inappropriate ads showing up with these — and, it’s hard for me to find a whole lot of cases where an ad might be considered “appropriate” from the perspective of businesses “graced” with oddball ads. I can see where such ads would make sense for some landmarks and other non-business places, but for business listings themselves, such ads are at best distracting and at worst they are actually damaging to businesses’ referral rates.

From the perspective of small businesses, the new ads are far worse than having nearby competitors appearing on their profile Place Pages — these ads are visible at a higher level in the consumer research cycle, and interfere with the potential for users to move any deeper in clicking through to read more details about the business’s information. The related listings showing and ads which have been displayed on Place Pages are shown lower on the page and are not as prominent in the cycle as consumers seek provider information.

One has to wonder how Google can keep a straight face in claiming that the advertising side of the house is separated by a “firewall” from the search engineering side at this point!

One also wonders how Google intends to spin this to local businesses — it feels very extortionary — “you’d better advertise on your own listing, or we’ll let someone else take it hostage!”

This appears to be yet another of many instances where Google does a poor job in designing the online user-experience due to an obstinate refusal to do any sort of user experience testing or focus group testing for local business owners — which are one of the major constituent audiences which makes use of Google Maps. Not only does this new ad presentation *not* improve or avoid detracting from the user experience, it damages how Google is perceived in the eyes of millions of small businesses.

How is it helpful to Google Places to make local businesses feel downright hostile to your company?

Google Maps Hates Small Businesses By Launching Local Folksonomy Descriptive Terms

Monday, June 13th, 2011

Google has just announced that they’ve launched “Descriptive Terms” to appear with business listings in map search results. According to them, these descriptive terms are some of the most common terms found in user reviews, blogs, web pages and other online references which describe the business. For instance, if you search for “Barbeque Restaurants”, you might see a business which lists such items as “banana pudding”, “pork chops”, “texas style”, “baked potato” and “chicken poppers”:

BBQ Restaurant Descriptive Terms

So, the cool part of this idea is that the feature will highlight user-generated terms which are frequently used in reference to the business. This is a type of an ontology formed by the vox populi, or common man. More properly, these Descriptive Terms begin forming what’s known as a “folksonomy“, which started coming into vogue with social media, particularly around the concept of tag clouds.

(It’s very slightly ironic that Google Maps has now deployed what are essentially small tag clouds with business listings, since I’ve heard some Google Engineers mildly disparage tag clouds as being potentially un-userfriendly and potentially bad on sites in some cases!)

But, the really UNCOOL part of the new Descriptive Terms is that Google appears to’ve launched these willy-nilly without properly safeguarding against sensitive/bad terms that they can end up highlighting.

With very minor testing, I can see numerous instances where the terms selected by the algorithm are inappropriate and unfairly damaging to the businesses. (more…)

Google Site Blocking Feature – An Assault On SEO?

Friday, March 11th, 2011

During this week’s SMX West conference, Google announced a new feature whereby searchers may block domains from appearing in their search results:

Google Block Domains from Results - Rush Limbaugh

The part of Google’s announcement which grabbed more attention from search engine optimization experts is this statement from the end of the post:

“…while we’re not currently using the domains people block as a signal in ranking, we’ll look at the data and see whether it would be useful as we continue to evaluate and improve our search results in the future…”

I think it entirely likely that Google will (more…)

Google Instant Previews Ironically Leaves Out Google Maps, Flash & YouTube

Wednesday, February 16th, 2011

Google’s Instant Preview feature, which allows one to click on a little magnifying-glass icon in search results in order to see how webpages appear, doesn’t support Google Maps, YouTube, nor Flash interfaces.

For instance, here’s the Map page from Elvis Presley’s Graceland website:

Graceland's Map Page

Yet, in Google Instant Preview, the main graphic element of the map is missing entirely:

Graceland's Map Page in Instant Preview

Google rolled out Instant Previews with some fanfare a few months ago. According to their statements at the time, people making use of the previews were “more satisfied” with search results they ultimately clicked-upon, thus providing an excuse for its addition on the search results page (this is no minor thing — Google’s search engine result page or “SERP” is prime real estate, and they’re very conservative about anything introduced upon it).

The Instant Previews are a sort of generated screengrab image of webpages. Their systems likely leverage HTML interpretation software to compose how a webpage will look, perhaps based upon the Document Object Model, sized to the maximum width of the image size, along with some pagebreaks they’ve built in to abbreviate lengths of pages and highlight text from certain sections of it.

This isn’t actually anything new — search engines, directories, and internet yellow pages have incorporated preview images of webpages in their results for quite a number of years at this point going back to perhaps around the year 2000, but it was earlier done at a slightly smaller size. One of the best-known services to produce these preview thumbnail images is Girafa. Even more relevant to Google, perhaps, the underlying technology likely dates back to work by Jakob Nielsen and others at Sun Microsystems in 1999 (see Method, apparatus and program product for updating visual bookmarks). As you may recall, Nielsen is the usability expert whose philosophies were apparently very influential in the earlier days of Google when he was on their Technical Advisory Board. This may explain why Google has trotted out a fairly common feature that’s been around for at least a decade, and presented it as though it’s some completely new innovation.

Google engineers were quoted mentioning how Instant Previews was also intended to help speed up the internet, and Google’s been making strides in pushing their philosophy that the internet should speed up. (Recall that they formally introduced Page Speed as a ranking factor last year.) This unfortunately reminds me of how AOL used to cache webpages across the internet and compress everyone’s images so that their users would have faster browsing speeds — and, AOL also inflicted bad user experiences onto webmasters’ creations, since their image compression algorithm had a bug which caused certain types of JPEGs to have chunks of image screwed-up!

The main innovations involved with the Instant Previews seem to be the slightly larger size than what was often used in the past, the “call-outs” of text snippets which highlight portions of text matching the user’s search, and the jagged pagebreaks to visually abbreviate the length of pages.

So, considering that this is really something of a rehashed idea from nearly ten years ago, it’s surprising that Google appears to’ve rolled it out prematurely. Read on for some observations and solutions… (more…)

New Years Wish: That Google Would Publish Usability Research

Monday, December 27th, 2010

Google sits upon a simply huge amount of usability data, and I think it could benefit a lot of webmasters if they were to publish it. My New Years Wish is that they might begin to periodically release some of the tantalizing tidbits they may have.

Google frequently will recommend best practices to webmasters, based upon their internal research, particularly in cases where that information might be mutually helpful to websites and endusers. For instance, Google’s Browser Size is a very handy tool which shows you graphically what percentages of online users are likely to be able to see areas on your webpage when they initially land upon it, without scrolling.

Computer Mouse, Mousepad & Hand

Here’s a small handful of usability-related stats I’d like to see them publish:

  • Does Google Suggest help improve spelling of searchers?
  • Did introduction of Google Suggest increase or decrease the numbers of searches?
  • Does addition of the date to the listing snippet improve CTR evenly, or do entries with older dates get clicked upon less? (more…)