Whitepages is a global leader in digital identity verification. The Whitepages Premium product provides subscribers access to U.S. public records to verify contact details, financial history, and criminal records to facilitate trust and connections. From July 2016 to December 2017, I had the privilege of working on the Whitepages Premium team in order to continuously improve the website's experience for our subscribers.
Examining the Problem Space
The premium product is the paid subscription version of the Whitepages free site. On the Whitepages free site, users can find a person’s basic information like birthdate, address, and phone number. With the Whitepages Premium product, users can essentially obtain a background check on that person which includes more detailed information like email addresses, family members, traffic and financial records, and criminal history. Some common personas of our user base were:
A person in the online dating community wanting to make sure their date was safe
Real estate agents or landlords running quick checks on potential buyers or renters
Parents wanting to check to make sure it was safe to hire a babysitter or nanny
People on reunion committees wanting to send out invitations to past classmates
Lawyers running an investigations for their clients
Whitepages Premium had undergone little iteration since its 2015 release. This is how the search feature looked when I joined. The dashboard housed the four main search features of the product at the time, 'search by name', 'search by phone', 'search by address' and 'search for a person's court records'.
Here's a more in-depth look at what we started with (click to enlarge)
Two main issues stuck out to me right away. Firstly, it was odd that a search engine's main focus was not a search bar. We were forcing people to dig around the site to accomplish a simple task that they probably already in mind. Secondly, the SERP's (Search Engine Results Page) was organized in a way that made result finding somewhat slow. In order to tackle these issues, our team began to further our research on user objectives and established a new visual hierarchy to support fast access to information.
In order to determine what our new dashboard would benefit from, our team developed a chart categorizing the different types of users that this dashboard would be serving. There were 5 types in total, with 3 variables (transactional usage, habitual usage, and information type) that define the kind of user.
Additionally, user interviews were conducted. There were 20 interviews total and they were conducted by one of our customer service representatives. Each interview was documented. We asked each person the about the nature of their usage of the service.
By combining our research, we made a list of goals for our new dashboard that would also improve the overall experience of the site.
- Single search bar
- A method to see if changes to person details or reports were recently made
- Ability to quickly access past searches
- Ability to see collection of purchased reports
Here’s just a quick look at some of the early versions of the dashboard and SERP that I worked on. The early search bar had ‘tabs’. One of the findings about these tabs was that people were more reluctant to click on them since people thought they were disabled. In the wireframe below that, we had a small box explaining what each search type did. But we noticed people didn’t really take the time to read any of the descriptions since they could accomplish their goal using people search most of the time.
In order to further support the final product, I also worked on standardizing the Whitepages Premium style guide so that we could be more consistent across the website.
Prior to my arrival Whitepages was using styles decided by a third party agency that our team agreed were very outdated. Over the course of the year, the design team spent a lot of time iterating on a new style guide that could be flexible enough to be used across products. We wanted to be sure to convey:
2 . Transparency
An Improved Search Experience
Single Search Bar
About 90% of searches users performed were for a person by their name. By slapping the search bar right on the dashboard, and making the 'person search' the default state, we were able to save these users a click. Additionally, switching between the search types was much less convoluted compared to before.
Having a way to check which reports had been updated without having to scan through the actual person detail's page hugely benefitted habitual users. For example, the woman on the yearbook committee in our research would be able to see who's information to update straight from the dashboard.
SERP Improved Organization
One of the biggest changes to the overall experience was within the SERP. In order to produce faster result-finding times, we moved the 'age' to the leftmost column. From our research we established that people distinguished the correct result by cross checking the age first. For example, if someone searched for a common name, such as 'Calvin Smith', without knowing their middle name, it would be easiest to find the correct Calvin Smith by comparing the ages of the results. Secondly, we limited the number of entries shown in each category to five to prevent information overload on a card.
While significant changes were made, our team still is working to implement improvements to the dashboard and SERP. Some changes that we plan to make in the near future include:
- Auto-detect search type, no more having to select what search type you need
- Allowance for more than 5 slots for report monitor (currently a technical limitation)
- Implementation of social media photos for person details throughout the site