SMALL BUSINESS GROWTH   |   5 minute read

5 Important Tips from Google’s ‘Secret’ Retail Playbook (and Summary)

Google’s mistake is your gain. Google accidentally published a 108-page Playbook filled with best practices for retail and eCommerce UX design, and subtitled “Ecommerce playbook. Creating frictionless experience across the funnel.”

While it is marked “proprietary + confidential,” the PDF is indexed by the search engine giant and is freely available to access online. Since there’s no claim or clarity about its provenance, we describe it as a Secret document in this blog.

But first…

What is a Playbook?

A playbook is a book containing strategies typically used by sports teams or a play-by-play guide to help companies define their workflows, standard operating procedures and cultural values. This secret eBook certainly fits the bill as it’s filled with real-life examples and pointed advice on how to improve conversions and sales.

We combed through advice pulled directly from Google’s highest-profile retail clients and narrowed it down to 6 areas for improvement, which are most helpful for eCommerce merchants:

1. Home/Landing Page
2. Menu & Navigation
3. Search 
4. Category/Product
5. Conversion
6. Form Optimization

These 6 areas were further broken down into 43 key activities. At a glance, these seem overwhelming.

So we plucked the top 5 things you can implement in your website today.

Google UX Playbook at a Glance1.          Home / Landing Pages: Don’t use automatic carousels
Easy to implement
High Impact
Key metric: Low Bounce Rate

Carousels are often ignored. Why?

  • Reason #1: Human eye reacts to movement (and will miss the important stuff)
  • Reason #2: Too many messages equals no messages
  • Reason #3: Banner blindness - they look like offer banners and ads. People just skip over them.

Usability guru, Jakob Nielsen, confirmed this in tests. They ran a usability study where they gave users the following task: “Does Siemens have any special deals on washing machines?”  The information was on the most prominent slide. The users could not see it – totally hit by banner blindness. Nielsen concludes the sliders are ignored.

Forever21 would have carousels that had 3 rotating offers, changing every 4 seconds.


If possible, don’t use carousels on your homepage. Stick to static images.

Think of it as giving control to the site user. Humans are most comfortable when they feel in control of themselves and their environment.

Here’s how: Show system status updates by describing causation (i.e. if you do X, then Y will happen) and by giving insight into what to expect at every turn. It’s not a problem to state the obvious.

2.          Home / Landing Pages: Display a clear CTA above the fold
Easy to implement
High Impact
Key metric: Clear CTA and Low Bounce Rate

Above-the-fold placement originated from the world of print. Basically, it’s the upper half of the front page of a newspaper where the top story is usually placed.

On a website, placement above the fold is the content that’s displayed without scrolling down. Above-the-fold placement calls attention to what’s most important, which immediately draws your visitors’ attention to your CTA. This is always good for conversions.

Screen Shot 2019-01-30 at 1.29.06 PM

In 2014, Google released a study, The Importance of Being Seen: Viewability Insights for Digital Marketers and Publishers, that demonstrates the impact of the fold.

The study found that ads just above the fold had 73% viewability, whereas ads just below the fold only had 44% viewability. It matters because it sets the stage for future content and provides quality expectations, not because of some arbitrary, absolute rule.

3.          Make your search bar prominent & adjust search algorithms
Hard  to implement
Medium to High Impact
Key metric: % traffic with searches, search depth

According to Google, users that search are 200% more likely to convert on average. When Lyst replaced the search icon with a search box, it enabled users to locate the search function more easily. Changing the search placement increased usage by 43% on desktop and 13% on mobile.

Lyst Case Study

But if used incorrectly, site search can lead to a bad user experience.

  • 22% of searches give zero results
  • 85% of searches don’t return what the user is looking for
  • 80% will abandon the site

You can avoid these situations by providing auto-suggestions and implementing spelling corrections within search.

Screen Shot 2019-01-30 at 1.47.46 PM

4.          Add urgency elements
Hard to implement
High Impact
Key metric: Conversion Rate (or CVR)

Urgency is a powerful motivator if done well. There are 3 ways to create urgency on your website:

1. Quantity limitations (Only 3 tickets left at this price)
2. Time limitations (Discounted tickets until February 1st)
3. Contextual limitations (Valentine’s Day is around the corner, get her a gift now)

Screen Shot 2019-01-30 at 1.51.19 PM

5.          Add urgency elements
Medium to implement
High Impact
Key metric: Conversion Rate (or CVR) and Exit Rate

To get customers to convert, remember:

  • Add a “Continue to Checkout” CTA in cart at the bottom of checkout
  • Auto-determine credit card type vs having customers pick from a dropdown
  • If delivery date is important, move it to the start of the checkout process
  • Not to redirect after adding to cart. Instead, use a modal with options

no redirects


  • 5% of users will abandon checkout if the retailer does not offer guest checkout (according to Google’s Playbook)
  • Upsell in the cart


But importantly, limit exit points during conversion flow. Only allow users to go to the homepage, back to the cart, or to contact support when they’re checking out. Do not provide a menu.

exitflowFor a visual summary of all 43 key activities, check this graph by Dan Barker.


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