Sunday, February 04, 2007

Q&A With Marissa Mayer, Google VP, Search Products & User Experience

How Google treats user interface design and user behavior ...

"Marissa Mayer has been the driving force behind Google's Spartan look and feel from the very earliest days. In this wide-ranging interview, I talked with Marissa about everything from interface design to user behavior to the biggest challenge still to be solved with search as we currently know it.

I had asked for the interview because of some notable findings in our most recent eye tracking study. I won't go into the findings in any great depth here, because Chris Sherman will be doing a deep dive soon. But for the purpose of setting the background for Marissa's interview, here are some very quick highlights:

MSN and Yahoo Users had a better User Experience on Google

In the original study, the vast majority of participants were Google users, and their interactions were restricted to Google. With the second study, we actually recruited participants that indicated their engine of preference was Yahoo! or MSN (now Live Search), as the majority of their interactions would be with those two engines. We did take one task at random, however, and asked them to use Google to complete the task. By almost every metric we looked at, including time to complete the task (choose a link), the success of the link chosen, the percentage of the page scanned before choosing a link and others, these users had a more successful experience on Google than on their engine of choice.

Google Seemed to Have a Higher Degree of Perceived Relevancy

In looking at the results, we didn't believe that it was the actual quality of the results that lead to a more successful user experience as much as it was how those results were presented to the user. Something about Google's presentation made it easier to determine which results were relevant. We referred to it in the study as information scent, using the term common in the information foraging theory.

Google Has an Almost Obsessive Dedication to Relevancy at the Top of the Results Page

The top of the results, especially the top left corner, is the most heavily scanned part of the results page. Google seemed to be the most dedicated of all the three engines in ensuring the results that fall in this real estate are highly relevant to the query. For example, Google served up top sponsored ads in far fewer sessions in the study than did either Yahoo or MSN.

Google Offers the "Cleanest" Search Experience

Google is famous for its Spartan home page. It continues this minimalist approach to search with the cleanest results page. When searching, we all have a concept in mind and that concept can be influenced by what else we see on the page. Because a number of searches on Yahoo! and MSN were launched from their portal page, we wondered how that impacted the search experience."    (Continued via Search Engine Land)    [Usability Resources]

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