Taking the Yahoo Approach To Happier Users

May 20, 2009
By Lisa Barone in Usability

I’m slammed today so I’ll make this quick.

If you want happier users, take the new Yahoo approach* and focus your Web site on three things.

  1. Intent
  2. Objects
  3. Openness

Intent

At yesterday’s “The End of the 10 Blue Links” event (happily liveblogged by TechCrunch), Prabhakar Raghavan, head of Yahoo! Labs and Yahoo! Search Strategy, declared that it’s time to kill “10 blue links”. And it was actually really cute because he said it like former Ask CEO Jim Lanzone didn’t say the same thing nearly two years ago (please come back, Jim.). But that’s beside the point. Yahoo is moving beyond the “10 blue links” phase and using tools like Search Assist to focus in on user intent. They know that users have goals (in search and maybe life) and that they’re trying to do something as they move from Web page to Web page (other than finding Google). Yahoo wants to help them to do that.

And guess what? You should be doing the same thing! Searchers are on your site for a reason. They had a need and Google Yahoo told them you were relevant. You need to now prove that you are and give them what they’re looking for.

You do that by matching their intent. Shouldn’t be too hard since you already know their intent, right? You know because they told you when they searched for it, when they used your site search or when they called or emailed you to ask you those ten customer service questions. Your job is to cluster these needs into silos or topic areas and create optimized landing pages so they land on a page specific to that intent. When you make a user enter your site through your home page, you’ve very often confused them because that wasn’t what they were asking for. And if you didn’t confuse them, you’ve at least increased their burden as now they have to find the answer to their question on their own. No one likes a burden. Except emotionally unstable girls attracted to baggage. Don’t be baggage.

Objects

Prabhakar also noted the need to build a “Web of objects from a Web of pages”. Users’ needs are changing as they become more sophisticated searchers and as the Web makes different types of mediums more readily available to them. This is something Yahoo has recognized and is working into its core strategy with things like BOSS and Search Monkey.

Be like Yahoo! Realize that sometimes “giving them what they want” means giving them an object. Just as “10 blue links” is dying, so are the days where a page of text can meet all their needs. Users are looking for shortcuts, engagement objects and things they can “touch” on the Web and take with them. Give them videos. Images. Widgets. Who doesn’t love sexy objects? :) Give them the objects that will keep them coming back.

Openness

You can’t sit on your little island anymore and wait for people to come to you. Yahoo’s been doing a great job of that with Search Monkey, opening up their listings to business owners to provide additional information. They also offer cool stuff to the 15k developers who have signed on.

Openness is the new black.

Get fashionable and open up your Web site to users, too. Bring the community in and encourage them to talk to you, and more importantly, to talk to one another. That means allowing open conversation on blogs, but maybe it also means using applications like Google Friend Connect to turn your site into a mini social network where your visitors can “see” one another and interact. It also means getting off your site and opening your brand up to the other social communities they’re already engaging in. Create a Facebook Fan page, get on Twitter, find them on your industry social sites. Just get out of your bubble and be social elsewhere. Your users are begging you for it. Bring it to them.

Yahoo used its search event yesterday to tell the world about their new goal: Building services that turn Web pages into real-world objects and concepts. You do the same.

[*Yes, I know this isn’t really a “new” idea and Yahoo certainly didn’t invent it…but they had their event yesterday and the others didn’t. Even the runner-up deserves some love every once and awhile, right?]

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