Your customers read the web in Google’s language – be ready

Google Customer Experience

We’re used to thinking of Amazon as a best-practice-setting e-Commerce giant, but customers are learning and re-learning the language of the web on every site they visit – and one juggernaut is teaching them how to engage with the web in a big way.

Google doesn’t just rule search, we use Google products to manage our email, help us find where we’re going and store our documents.

Because customers are so exposed to Google products, Google has built users’ expectations for how the web works – so when they arrive on your site, potential customers expect to be spoken to in a language crafted by Google.

By speaking to customers in the language they expect, marketers can optimize customer experience to increase revenue and create happier customers.


Example 1: “I need to find something… where’s the search box?”

What Google did:

More than a decade ago, before Google reigned supreme over all other search engines, there was another option: Yahoo! Comparing the two site’s home pages from the year 2000 gives you a pretty clear understanding of their different strategies:

Google Vs Yahoo

Where Yahoo! prioritized categories – attempting to guess how users would group topics – Google allowed the user to drive their own experience by prioritizing search.

Building on that all-important search supremacy, Google changed the way we use email by prioritizing search and providing unlimited storage in Gmail. It followed a similar strategy with Google Drive, prioritizing search as a way to find documents rather than depending on remembering the path of folders. 

What users want as a result:

Users expect to navigate sites using search and filtering, not categories.

How to give the people what they want:

This means you can’t neglect your internal search. Make sure your site search looks at titles, tags and descriptions of products.

Additionally, track your search box (which you can do with Google Analytics!) and regularly look at what customers are searching for – these can serve as keywords to optimize your product descriptions.

 BONUS: Google now includes a search box in Google search results – meaning when customers search on Google and find your site, they have the option to search your site directly from the search engine results page. By adding a bit of code, you can redirect customers who use this sitelinks search to results on your own site.


Example 2: “I’ve been to this site before – where’s that product I considered?” 

What Google did:

Five years ago, Google rolled out personalized search – meaning your search results page is customized based on your previous searches.

Google later expanded personalized search to include results from Gmail and Google Drive, to make search results even more useful.

Then, last year, Google shifted to not providing what keywords were driving traffic to your site and increased emphasis on ‘semantic search,’ which considers searcher intent and context to create relevant, personal results.

What users want as a result:

Users expect sites to serve personalized, customized content that is uniquely relevant to their particular circumstances.

How to give the people what they want:

Take what you know about user behavior and serve different web experiences based on that data:

  1. Calculate shipping based on user location before they get to the shipping page
    A lack of transparency around shipping costs or confusing terms can lose sales – the earlier you can get this information to customers, the less likely they are to be dissuaded by a price hike at the end. Since the users’ location is available in Google Analytics, you can add estimates to their shopping cart before they enter their address.
  2. Change the homepage based on the number of times they’ve visited your site
    The first time a user comes to the site, they may just be browsing. They’ll land on a few product pages but won’t make a decision. The second or third time, they likely already know what they want.
    To building on this idea, prioritize featured products or seasonal offerings on first visit and then switch to search for their later visits, when they already have something in mind.
  3. Feature products they’ve considered on previous visits
    If a customer visits your site a few days after their first visit but has still not made a purchase, they might be looking for the product they left behind a few days ago. By featuring that product on the homepage, you’ll reduce friction and make it more likely that they buy.

 Customized experiences are not limited to the web – you can also create a personalized, relevant experience by including the user’s name in an email, sending an email to customers who have left items in their cart or emailing recommendations based on previous purchases.


While e-commerce sites shape users expectations of other e-commerce sites, it’s important to keep in mind that most of a user’s time online is spent talking to friends and family or looking for interesting content. The conventions of those platforms shape the way potential customers view the web and what they expect from your site – so speak to them in their own language.

What do you do when you don’t want to ask for money?

Data visualization: Amplify ATX infographic

In March 2013, Austinites participated in the first-ever Amplify Austin – a citywide day of giving where individuals could participate via a giving portal. For UWATX, the challenge was how to get involved in the conversation without overwhelming our donors, who already gave to us in other ways.


Take part in the community-wide event without overwhelming donors with yet another ask for donations.


Research interesting information on philanthropy & volunteerism in Austin and combine it with UWATX data to create useful, snackable content for social sharing. Use these insights to create a data visualization summary (infographic):

Data visualization: Amplify ATX infographic

Key Insights:

  • Austinites love their city: As always, Austin’s strong brand as a city meant that creating Austin-centric content was an easy route. Austinites love sharing and reading information about the city. This was one of the first examples of this type of content for the organization and started a trend of success with Austin-centric content.
  • Data on philanthropy are not readily available: To find the right data for this project, I drew from seven different data sources, alongside researching many that did not yield useful results. I also relied on internal UWATX sources and historical data that are not typically publicly available. Still, the latest available localized data were from 2008. This research showed that there is a gap in the market for data visualizations on philanthropy in our local community, a space we were well-suited to fill.
  • United Way is uniquely positioned within the philanthropic space because building philanthropy is core to our mission: For most nonprofits, raising money is the means to an end goal of social services. For UWATX, increasing philanthropy overall is a core part of the mission. This unique positioning meant that the organization had a different story to tell, so we could connect our audience to a history and expertise in this arena that other organization did not have.
  • Data are highly snackable and can be highly visual, making them excellent social media content: For the first year, much of the conversation around Amplify was heavily focused on Twitter, using a branded hashtag, so whatever content we chose had to be well-suited for this specific platform. Moreover, any engagement on social channels depends on visual content as platforms evolve to include larger images and we see consistent studies that show photos drive higher engagement than other content types. Data fit both needs: (1) data are essentially bites of information, perfect for a tweet and (2) the infographic formate is a digestible framework for turning data into visual content.


Overall, the campaign was successful in generating retweets and mentions on Twitter well above the averages for the account at that time and the blog post was one of the TOP 10 posts for UWATX in 2013. While it did not generate many likes on Facebook, the number of shares was well above the typical rate for the account, suggesting that infographics are more shareable than they are likeable.

Unexpectedly, the post also generated interest from the local newspaper nonprofit columnist.

Lessons Learned:

The campaign succeeded in engaging in the existing conversation at the time, but because the blog post is primarily a large image, it presents a missed opportunity for search optimization. If I were to do this over, I would split up the one large graphic into several smaller ones (per Rand Fishkin’s recommendation) and have more text on the page, where keywords could be used.

There’s also a missed opportunity here for engaging influencers. At the time, the effort focused on hashtags as a way to extend the lifetime of a tweet, but later experiments have shown that tagging individuals is more effective in gaining reach. Additionally, because the post is foundational, useful and unique content, there is also an opportunity for link building here by reaching out to influencers who may be interested in this content.