Economic Opportunity

Connecting individuals with the benefits they need

An interview with the team behind the latest features in the UK

May 23, 2024 7 min read

Eliza-Eve Leas, Product Manager for Social Responsibility

As cost of living pressures increase, it is more important than ever to connect people with the information and services they need. 

At the end of 2023, we launched new features in the UK that aim to provide individuals searching for dozens of benefits with the authoritative information they need. By highlighting information, such as an overview of the benefit, eligibility, and how to apply, as well as connecting individuals directly to the relevant website, we are making it easier for individuals to take the first step in improving their economic circumstances. The development of these features was informed by our collaboration with the UK Cabinet Office’s Government Digital Service (GDS).

We sat down with Eliza-Eve Leas, a Product Manager on the Social Responsibility team, who was part of the team that launched these new features in the UK.

“Universal credit” is typed into Google Search. The searcher toggles between four buttons at the top of the results page, which provide overview, log in, how to apply, and eligibility information from GOV.UK.

Tell us about the features. Why did Google introduce them?

We know that searches relating to cost of living topics are at record highs, and that there are people in the UK who need help accessing financial support. We also know that technology can play a significant role in helping people understand available benefits and their eligibility and application processes. We want our products to contribute meaningfully to people’s lives and this is particularly important where an individual might be experiencing difficult financial circumstances.

We also know from our own research in the UK that there was an opportunity to better connect people with the services they need. Through this research process, and our collaboration with GDS, we sought to understand the barriers individuals face when searching for benefits and develop features that would be most helpful for those individuals.

These features are available for many of the most common UK benefits. Now, when a user searches for a particular benefit, like Universal Credit, results are structured with specific buttons and content that provide authoritative information about the benefit, such as overview, eligibility, and how to apply.

"This type of collaboration means we can help users at the point of need, working together in this way to share best practices and expertise allows us to improve experiences quickly and at scale."

Sam Dub – Lead Product Manager, GOV.UK

How do these features help individuals searching for benefits?

From our collaboration with GDS, we know that one opportunity to improve the experience is by reducing the number of pages people need to navigate to get to the information they need. The advantage of these features is that we can present authoritative information and specific links, so that when people click through to a site, they land directly on the relevant page and can move forward more quickly.

Say you’ve recently heard about a benefit and want to learn if you’re eligible for it. Like most people, you’d start by searching for the name of the benefit online. Previously, you would see a list of relevant search results, but you might have to scroll to find the right page, or you may have just clicked into a main page (such as the GOV.UK home page) rather than a page specific to the benefit you’re interested in. From there, you’d need to search and navigate to additional pages to find the information you’re looking for.

Now, while you still see all the same results, we also structure specific information about the benefit you’ve searched for, so that it’s easier to get to the right site. You can toggle through new buttons to see things like ‘overview,’ ‘eligibility,’ and ‘how to apply’ right within search. And, when you click on a specific link, you’re taken directly to the page about the benefit you’re exploring.

Our goal with these features is to help people spend less time and energy to find and understand available resources, so that they can more easily access all of the services that they’re eligible for. This is a good example of how Google’s technology can be used to help people access financial support, which can be critical for longer term improvements in their economic security. By making that crucial first step easier with these features, we’re helping millions of people in the UK get the support they need.

“Universal credit” is typed into Google Search. The searcher toggles to the “how to apply” button, clicks the provided link, and starts the application for universal credit on the GOV.UK page.

How did you assess the impact of these features?

When we were developing this feature, we had two central questions: one, is there a need for it; and two, will the features fulfill that need? We spoke earlier about our own research, which helped us understand that people need help navigating and understanding available benefits. To answer the second question, we collaborated with GDS to understand if the specific features we launched improved the experience of people searching for UK benefits.

GDS observed the impact of the launch by examining the anonymised analytics related to how people progress through their journeys on the GOV.UK websites for Universal Credit and Carer’s Allowance. To understand if the features impacted those individuals’ experience, GDS looked at metrics that they could use to determine how easily people can access the right information, specifically in terms of the number of different pages used, and whether people had to jump back and forth between pages repeatedly.

GDS used these metrics because they are signals that an individual might be confused, or might not be getting the information they need. By assessing changes, we can begin to see if these features made a difference to those individuals searching for Universal Credit or Carer’s Allowance.

What impact did the features have for individuals searching for benefits?

Of course, once we develop a feature, the next thing we want to know is not just, ‘does it work,’ but ‘is it making a real-world impact?’ GDS’ analysis of user journeys is promising. First, GDS saw that people had to look through less of the site's content (saving as much as half a page of reading), specifically for Carer’s Allowance searches. We also saw that people searching for the Universal Credit and Carer’s Allowance did not need to travel as broadly across GOV.UK to access the information they needed. GDS thinks this may be because the relevant benefits page was available directly in the feature, meaning people needed to spend less time searching through the website to find relevant information.

Another positive indicator was the reduction of users bouncing back and forth between pages, for those searching Universal Credit. GDS hypothesizes that this is because providing more detailed options within Google results means that users don’t need to bounce between pages to find the information they need. When you put that in context of the fact that 7.1 million of GOV.UK’s visits since November 2023 are from searches relating to Universal Credit alone, it starts to paint a picture of the broad positive impact that this is having for users.

By introducing these features, we wanted to make it easier for individuals searching for benefits and related services. Having one more page to visit, one more site to navigate, and one more back-and-forth to multiple sites are all things that can make an already complex task more difficult. Unfortunately, the cumulative impact of these difficulties can sometimes be the difference between an individual seeking and accessing the help they need. We are proud of these results because they make that first step easier to take.

"We observed an overall increase in users landing on pages specific to their needs, and needing fewer pages to find what they were looking for. We’re really pleased with these results which support our work to make using government services simpler and faster."

Sam Dub – Lead Product Manager, GOV.UK

What’s next for these features?

Improving access to economic opportunities is important for Google, and our introduction of these features in the UK show not just how tech can be useful, but how it can be impactful.

We want to use this experience to continue helping individuals improve their economic circumstances around the world. Our launch of similar benefits features in seven other countries is just one part of our commitment to improving access to economic opportunities holistically. For example, we’ve also launched Job Search, another feature that is helping people find work in over 130 countries. We’re incredibly proud of making it easier for millions of people to access the information they need to improve their economic security.

We would like to thank the whole UK Government Digital Service and specifically Leanne Cummings, Sam Dub and Esmee Brunton who made this collaboration possible.