How Does Google Set Goals for Their Sites?
I often write about patents or whitepapers from places such as Google or Apple and try to see if they are doing things or using approaches that are worth exploring and understanding better, to help me meet my goals for sites.
If you used Google Maps when it first came out, you may remember that there used to be two different search boxes, a what box and a where box, which was eventually replaced by a single box which you could use to enter a place and a business type (such as NYC Pizza), and eventually just a business type. Google looks at data to decide on changes they might make to features that they offer on their site (data-driven or data-informed design, as they call it.). At some point, they decided to remove the where box, because in most cases, the where was near the place where someone might be searching from (or near the location of their daily commute to and from home and work.) What influenced them to make that change from 2 search boxes to one that might be informed by IP address or GPS or Wifi or other signals?
User Behavior and The Heart Framework
I visited Seer Interactive this week for Seerfest on Monday. Seerfest was an informative one day search conference (fun to see taking place in San Diego) which was held to benefit Think Dignity. While watching a presentation from Eric Wu on the topic, “Using SEO to Build Your Customer Journey Machine Models, I had a discussion with Julie Goodman from Portent, who had once worked with Eric. We talked about user behavior and she pointed me to the Google Heart Framework. which is described in this paper from Google: Measuring the User Experience on a Large Scale: User-Centered Metrics for Web Applications, by Kerry Rodden, Hilary Hutchinson, and Xin Fu. Eric’s presentation about tracking a visitor’s journey through a website made the idea of learning how a search engine might do that interesting. It’s worth sharing the abstract of that paper here because it explains why I was hoping to find something like it that describes how Google makes some of the decisions they make:
More and more products and services are being deployed on the web, and this presents new challenges and opportunities for measurement of user experience on a large scale. There is a strong need for user-centered metrics for web applications, which can be used to measure progress towards key goals and drive product decisions. In this note, we describe the HEART framework for user-centered metrics, as well as a process for mapping product goals to metrics. We include practical examples of how HEART metrics have helped product teams make decisions that are both data-driven and user-centered. The framework and process have generalized to enough of our company’s own products that we are confident that teams in other organizations will be able to reuse or adapt them. We also hope to encourage more research into metrics based on large-scale behavioral data.
The section of the paper that sold me on blogging about the Heart Framework was this one about the decision to switch from two search boxes in Google Maps to one search box:
The team believed that the single-box approach was simplest and most efficient, so, in an A/B test, they tried a version that offered only the single box. They compared error rates in the two versions, finding that users in the single-box condition were able to successfully adapt their search strategies. This assured the team that they could remove the dual box for all users.
When you create content for a site, you may try to set goals for that content and come up with metrics to define how well it achieved those goals. You may see such goals referred to as Key Performance Indicators or KPIs. For instance, if you use videos on your site, you may want to track how much people watch those videos to see if they are stopping at certain points. If you offer podcasts, you may want to track new subscribers to your podcast. If you blog, you may want to track comments made on blog posts to see if people are asking questions or writing about what you have covered. I had wondered about those changes to Google Maps for years, happy to see it described as something that the Google User Experience team decided to change in the write-up of Google’s Heart Framework that I linked to above.
The Heart Framework Categories
The Heart Framework covers suggestions that fall into the following Categories:
- Happiness: measures of user attitudes, often collected via survey. For example: satisfaction, perceived ease of use, and net-promoter score.
- Engagement: level of user involvement, typically measured via behavioral proxies such as frequency, intensity, or depth of interaction over some time period. Examples might include the number of visits per user per week or the number of photos uploaded per user per day.
- Adoption: new users of a product or feature. For example the number of accounts created in the last seven days or the percentage of Gmail users who use labels.
- Retention: the rate at which existing users are returning. For example: how many of the active users from a given time period are still present in some later time period? You may be more interested in failure to retain, commonly known as “churn.”
- Task success: this includes traditional behavioral metrics of user experience, such as efficiency (e.g. time to complete a task), effectiveness (e.g. percent of tasks completed), and error rate. This category is most applicable to areas of your product that are very task-focused, such as search or an upload flow.
Think about some of Google’s projects, such as Google Photos, or Google+, and they are the types of large-scale projects that might be explored using the Heart Framework. Now think about your website, and how you might apply the Heart Framework to identify features that might fit into one of those categories, and the signals that might be looked at, and the metrics that could be used to measure those.
As SEOs, we often create new content for websites that we want to track how many people visit it and view it, how they enjoy it, and define metrics that we can use to track their interaction with and appreciation of that content. Doing that can help us make decisions about similar content in the future, or make changes to features on sites that we offer presently.
This is a paper from one of the inventors behind the Heart Framework:
Google shared information about their HEART framework, and others have been using it to decide upon changes involving experiences on their sites, as in this paper:
The Second Part – Goals, Signals, and Metrics
The first step in this Heart Framework process is to pick an appropriate category for the project you are working upon. It then tells us about an additional part of the process driving their data-driven design decisions:
No matter how user-centered a metric is, it is unlikely to be useful in practice unless it explicitly relates to a goal, and can be used to track progress towards that goal. We developed a simple process that steps teams through articulating the goals of a product or feature, then identifying signals that indicate success, and finally building specific metrics to track on a dashboard.
So, once you set a goal, such as Happiness or Engagement, you should ideally find signals that can indicate that you have had success in achieving those goals and decide upon metrics that you can use to track those with.
Have you set goals for your website? Looked at ways to tell whether or not you are reaching those goals, and decided upon metrics to use that indicate success in achieving those goals? It’s interesting seeing how Google has had success in using a Framework like this. Will something like the Heart Framework work for you?