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Intuitively and simply designed products and interfaces are the “end all, be all” in business. Businesses live and die based on this functionality.

In this regard, Yahoo! has seemingly missed the boat on their sponsored search advertising interface. The interface that Yahoo! employs isn’t “awful” by any means, but it does seem to lack intuitive design. The consistently top performing products and companies are always those that look at their customers and try to imagine their quintessential needs and wants. They are able to synthesize this with powerful features, yielding a stellar good. Perfect examples of this would be Google AdWords and Apple’s iPod. Both products perform exceptionally with customers because they offer so much flexibility and such ease of use, while mitigating much of the technical jargon and difficult procedures that their competitors sometimes incorporate.

Regarding Yahoo!’s oversights, we must first turn to their bidding system. In Yahoo!, when you reach the portion of the sponsored advertising campaign creation process that has to do with setting keyword bids, you are prompted with a graph that attempts to detail an estimated amount of clicks, impressions and so on. Yahoo! also suggests a generally too-high starting bid amount. In order to correct the bid, it requires that you change the bid amount and hit an “update” button, otherwise your new price settings are not applied.

Perhaps Yahoo! was trying to take the guesswork out of bidding and trying to help novice advertisers achieve better visibility. If so, I disagree with the approach. Where monetary aspects are being introduced, it is best to err on the side of saving money rather than improving visibility. Google, for example, doesn’t suggest an initial price; it lets you put in an amount you think would be reasonable for keyword bids and then gives you the option of seeing if those prices are “high enough” to get activity. Bid first, then show the graph; it’s simple, accurate and effective, without seemingly trying to extract additional money from the user.

Another function of Yahoo!’s interface that lacks intuition is their system of labeling disapproved ads and/or keywords. Whereas if you were to ever enter a Google adgroup, and see that your ad was disapproved for some reason, you would get this nifty little link right under the ad saying, “Disapproval Reason” which, when clicked on, drops down another small window explaining the reason. Easy to find, easy to use, easy to understand. Turning to Yahoo!, we see a completely different take on trying to “help” customers fix problems with their advertising. Upon entering a problematic adgroup in Yahoo!, you might be able to find problem warranting icons that are easy enough to spot, but not very easy to figure out. In a very round-about manner, a user is forced to access an editorial review portion of the interface, and then forced to run a mini report in order to finally find an explanation for why Yahoo! disapproved of something. Once again, in trying to assist the user, Yahoo! ends up making a seemingly simple function more difficult to execute.

Despite the full blown Internet Age that we are in, there is still a need to design and implement products that don’t take a lot of brain power to understand and use. Intuitive design is not only a pleasure to work with, it also saves time for the user, which makes the user more likely to continue to work with and even invest more heavily in the system. Yahoo!’s efforts at improving design should be commended, however, greater emphasis should be placed on the real-world interaction with the system so that simple kinks and pratfalls are avoided before the final version is foisted upon the clients.

Yahoo’s January redesign was certainly an improvement over the old system, however, there are still many improvements that could be made to improve the user experience. Yahoo! has shown the desire to improve their interface; I just hope that they can match their desire with results that will help them close the “intuition gap” with Google.

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