Google is better at making your content usable than you are

18 Nov 2017

Google Weather page. Image: dennizn/Shutterstock

UX expert Gareth Dunlop discusses why Google is one of the most usable sources of information on this planet.

Google’s relentless pursuit of injecting speed into the lives of its users continues unabated.

10 years ago, a search about the weather would result in a list of websites with the word ‘weather’ prominent in their homepage text and meta data so, with a simple click, a user could select one and find out about the weather.

Google had some influence over the quality of the user experience because it ranked those sites depending on their keywords. It also ranked them on their authority by assessing how effective it believed those sites to be based on user satisfaction, typically measured by the number and quality of inbound links from other sites.

‘I am reminded of the founding principle of the unwritten emotional contract between the user and the website: “I will give you my attention if you don’t waste my time”’

Over the coming years, it evolved this process so that the sites it listed were less to do with the word ‘weather’ and more to do with the authority of the site, based on inbound links, popularity and various other measures of authority. In practical terms, this means that, regardless of how much keyword wizardry a weather website might carry out, it will be very difficult for it to usurp Met Éireann, AccuWeather, The Irish Times and RTÉ as the key sites in that sphere, because Google has identified them as the authorities.

This was developed further as Google brought content from those authoritative sources into its search results, meaning that users looking for the most common weather information didn’t need to click beyond Google’s search results page. A search for ‘weather in Ireland’ or ‘weather in Dublin’ will provide information on temperature, precipitation, humidity and wind, as well as a five-day summary forecast on the search results page. In other words, Google provides the vast majority of users with what they need without needing to go any further.


Storm Ophelia battering the coast of Tramore, Co Waterford. Image: Andrzej Golik/Shutterstock

The latest iteration of this technology now means that Google will auto-fill weather information as the user types the search term, meaning that the information the user desires is presented in real time.

To most publishers, real-time speed would represent the ultimate performance, but not Google. Not content with providing us with information in the nanosecond that we have requested with it, for the past number of years, it has focused on providing us with information we might require before we know or think we need it. This manifests itself in alerts and notifications, reminding us of upcoming meetings, or letting us know proactively how many minutes it will take us to drive to the office and if there are any traffic problems or roadworks to be aware of en route.

This evangelical zeal for speed has resulted in Google being one of the most usable and used sources of information on the planet.

Crucially, it has also contributed to search engines being the most trusted source of news globally (72pc), according to the Edelman Trust Barometer, beating traditional media (64pc), hybrid media  (63pc), social media (59pc) and owned media (57pc).

This landscape compels us to draw the following conclusions:

  • Firstly, as the weather example illustrates, Google is increasingly showing users information about your product, service and brand as part of their search results, before they get to your site. The experience you offer your user will almost definitely commence before they arrive on your site, so it must be relevant and enhance trust and sentiment before that point.
  • Secondly, the relationship between speed, usability and trust has never been stronger or closer. Want to win over the trust of new customers? Give them a usable experience and get them to the content they are looking for as quickly as you possibly can.

I am reminded of the founding principle of the unwritten emotional contract between the user and the website: ‘I will give you my attention if you don’t waste my time.’

By Gareth Dunlop

Gareth Dunlop owns and runs Fathom, a user-experience consultancy which helps ambitious organisations get the most from their website and internet marketing by viewing the world from the perspective of their customers. Specialist areas include UX strategy, usability testing and customer journey planning, web accessibility and integrated online marketing.  Clients include Three, Tourism NI, PSNI, Permanent TSB and Tesco Mobile.

Google Weather page. Image: dennizn/Shutterstock

Gareth Dunlop runs Fathom, a UX consultancy that helps organisations get the most from their digital products.