Monday, February 21, 2011

Metric = Behavior

The old adage "tell me how you measure me and I'll tell you how I'll behave" was proved again recently in the World Wide Web. JC Penney popped up near the top, if not in the first position, of searches for retail items, like dresses, jeans, appliances and whatever else they sell. They took Google's algorithm and, playing by the rules, made sure they "won" the search game.

They're not the first, just the most flagrant. For years, people have tried to game Google's methods. Keyword optimization, metatags, and other strategies have been shared by consultants, workshop presenters, website designers, and anyone else who cares to know. Google occasionally changes the algorithm so that one strategy for SEO (search engine optimization) doesn't keep you locked in for good.

One of the factors in the search algorithm is inbound links. If you have a lot of other websites showing links to your website, then your site must be important, popular or appealing in some way. So Google puts in that the top when you search for the information on the website that everyone is pointing at. Knowing that JC Penney created lots of websites that have links back to their website. Knowing the rules, they created a strategy to win at the game.

Similarly, we see this kind of behavior in every organization, including families. If there's a bonus for reducing rework, then people will fix items on straight time, or fix the product without rejecting it first. If a bank teller is measured on how many people are given service in the drive-through window, subtle behavior changes will occur, like making it slightly more difficult to do transactions inside the bank, paying more attention to the drive-through, discontinuing any friendly chit-chat to get people through and out, etc. We've all heard horror stories about call center operators who don't resolve the issue in hopes of clearing the call queue quickly. Efficiency measures in manufacturing operations lead to poor circumstances that hinder good on-time delivery, low inventory, and higher profitability.

Good metrics lead to good behaviors. Sometimes it's worthwhile thinking about how it might be gamed. JC Penney got good at the SEO thing. They got caught and they got punished. Surprisingly, Google didn't change the algorithm either. As they've changed the importante of metatags and other factors, I'm guessing they'll change just how websites are ranked soon.

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