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Time To Adapt?

By Dan Thies

I was in Seattle last week for Jill Whalen’s “High Rankings Seminar,” which was a fantastic experience. I lived in Seattle for seven years back in the ’90s, and got to experience the early days of the Internet from a vantage point very close to the University of Washington.

One of the cool things that the UW does is broadcast lectures and presentations on their own “UWTV” cable channel, which I hadn’t seen since 1997 but was the first thing I looked for on TV when I got into my hotel room. Yep, it’s still going, and as luck would have it I was able to catch most of a presentation by the UW’s Daniel Weld on adaptive user interfaces.

Okay, that’s a bit geeky, I admit, and you may be having a hard time seeing the connection to search engine marketing.

Well, one of the really interesting things Weld talked about was others’ work on using relational Markov models to predict user behavior on web sites. This isn’t really brand new (citations go back to 1999, I believe) but it was the first time I’d seen anyone connect the dots.

What’s interesting to me about this work is that I’ve spent a lot of time over the past year analyzing the performance of three different types of landing pages for PPC campaigns:
[list=1]
[*]The site’s home page or a category page.
[*]A dedicated landing page for specific search terms.
[*]An “ask” page, which offers the user multiple choices in an attempt to segment the audience better. If you want x, click here, if you want y, go there, etc.
[/list]

Weld showed a very interesting graph, showing a similar problem, where designers of ‘smart’ user interfaces have to anticipate whether it’s best to deliver the application’s default behavior, take some automated action, or prompt the user for a choice.

The effectiveness of each possible decision, as with PPC campaign landing pages, depends on the degree of certainty we have about the user’s intent. When we have a high level of confidence about what the user wants, an application can take actions automatically, or a website can serve up a dedicated landing page. When there is very little certainty, the best choice is to deliver the default behavior, or perhaps the site’s home page.

In between, where we have a bit of an idea about what the user wants, the best choice in application design is to prompt the user for a decision. Similarly, I have found that our best results for many search terms will come from using an “ask” page to let the visitor identify themselves.

What I got from Weld’s presentation was a possible method to help us better anticipate what visitors to a specific page will want, based on where they’ve been.

A bit of a side trip, but I hope that some of you will find it interesting.

  • Mark

    Great post! I used to surf the web way back when the Internet was still quite new to these parts of Europe.

    I remember always bringing with me a tiny notebook and a ballpoint. In it i noted my favourite websites and comments on wether a site was or wasn’t well crafted.

    Now I’m working at an ICT-company myself and have the chance to teach them a few tricks to improve their webstrategy.

    Keep up the good work Dan. Maybe some day soon I’ll be able to post some amazing hints or discoveries here i found myself.

  • http://www.realityedge.com.au mrsmiley

    Adaptive navigation is something I was researching a while back, but there is always the hurdle of user intent, and user expectation. They usually expect to see the same things in the same place everytime they visit, but you are never really sure why they are using the options they do unless you ask.

  • Earworm

    FYI, the presentation can be found on the UWTV web site at http://www.uwtv.org/programs/displayevent.asp?rid=2486

    Interesting stuff!

  • http://www.seoresearchlabs.com DanThies

    That expectation of consistency was actually called out in the presentation – that some things must remain the same. He had examples of bad and good partitioning – one of my favorite bad examples is the “compressed menus” in later versions of MS Office. It occurs to me that we’d be a little more free to play around with a PPC landing page than we would be with the “real” site.

  • http://www.realityedge.com.au mrsmiley

    I guess that’s why designers put “Most recently viewed” or “Most Popular” link sections. That areas you would expect to change based on popularity. Dont know that it would help PPC any, but it definitely makes it more usable in most cases. Particularly when examining user trends.

    Now if the PPC landing page were tailored based on search term results from referring engines, then that would be useful. I guess the whole concept of intent for a PPC landing page really comes down to your choice of PPC words.

    For example, a PPC landing page cant really be tailored accurately for the term “web hosting”, but if the PPC phrase was “cost effective web hosting”, now you have some ammunition to play with.

  • http://www.seoresearchlabs.com DanThies

    [QUOTE=mrsmiley]Now if the PPC landing page were tailored based on search term results from referring engines, then that would be useful. I guess the whole concept of intent for a PPC landing page really comes down to your choice of PPC words.

    For example, a PPC landing page cant really be tailored accurately for the term “web hosting”, but if the PPC phrase was “cost effective web hosting”, now you have some ammunition to play with.[/QUOTE]
    That’s the basic idea, yes… when a visitor comes with a search term in hand, you have some context already, which is very different from someone who just lands on your home page with no other information.

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