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1

Users' expectations of search

Based on a usability test of a system that allows people to search a large set of content Donna Maurer interpreted the users' expectations of search:

- It is better to put more than one word in as one word gives too much stuff
- Adding an extra word gives fewer results
- The first word in the search box is more important than the other words
- If the words make a sensible phrase the search engine should return results for the phrase
- If the words do not make a sensible phrase, the search engine shouldn't look for the phrase.

Links:

  • Regular folks searching

Henrik Olsen - October 14, 2005

Permanent link Comments (3)

See also: Research (83) 


 

2

Top Ten Web Design Mistakes 2005

It's time for Jakob Nielsen's Top Ten Web Design Mistakes. In 2005 Jakob has asked his readers about their opinion. Here's the result:

#1 Legibility problems due to small fonts and low contrast
#2 Non-standard links that violate common expectations
#3 Flash with no purpose beyond annoying people
#4 Content that is not written for the web
#5 Bad search
#6 Browser incompatibility
#7 Cumbersome forms
#8 No contact information or other company information
#9 Layouts with fixed width
#10 Photo enlargements that doesn't show the users the details they expect

Links:

  • The article Top Ten Web Design Mistakes of 2005

Henrik Olsen - October 03, 2005

Permanent link Comments (3)

See also: Forms (11)  Text (12)  Links (10)  Flash (6)  Browsers (2) 


 

3

Free e-commerce search report

37signals have made their e-commerce search report from 2003 available for free. The report looks at the usability of search results from 25 of the internet's leading online retailers, and concludes with a comprehensive set of best practices.

For each retailer 37signal have tested:
- Are the search results accurate and relevant?
- How does the site handle misspellings?
- Can I sort the search results by useful criteria?
- Will the site understand related words and common synonyms?
- Can I search using mixed specifications such as gender, color, and price?
- Does the site provide helpful tips when it returns no results?

Links:

  • The report Evaluating 25 E-Commerce Search Engines

Henrik Olsen - August 15, 2005

Permanent link Comments (0)

See also: Tips and guidelines (61)  E-commerce (21) 


 

4

Users' expectations of the design of search

According to Jakob Nielsen search is such a prominent part of the web experience that users have developed a precise idea of how it's supposed to work. Deviating from users' expectations almost always causes usability problems.

Users expect search to have three components:

- A box where they can type words
- A button labeled "search" that they click to run the search
- A list of top results that's linear, prioritized, and appears on a new page

Given how ingrained it is, it's crucial to avoid invoking user's expectations for other interactions. Users' expectations are so strong that the label "Search" equals keyword searching, not other types of search.

Links:

  • The article Mental Models For Search Are Getting Firmer

Henrik Olsen - May 09, 2005

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See also: Tips and guidelines (61) 


 

5

Browse vs. search

This paper describes an interesting study of e-commerce sites that was set up to determine factors involved in the decision to use search or browse menus to find products.

According to the authors Michael A. Katz and Michael D. Byrne, the decision of a user to search or browse a site is affected by multiple factors including:
- The site information architecture in terms of labeling and menu structure
- The user's inclination to search
- The prominence of search and browse areas

They found that:
- Given broad, high-scent menus, participants searched less than 10% of the time, but they searched almost 40% of the time when faced with narrow, low-scent menus
- Participants showed a higher success rate when using the menus to find products as opposed to search
- Searching for products wasn't faster or more accurate than browsing

Links:

Henrik Olsen - February 24, 2005

Permanent link Comments (1)

See also: Navigation (40)  E-commerce (21)  Research (83) 


 

6

Search interfaces should be guided by knowledge about how people search

According to Daniel E. Rose, current search interfaces reflect the inner workings of search technology rather than what we know about how people look for information. In his opinion, we should use our understanding of search behaviour to rethink how we interact with search engines.

Search interfaces should be guided by three principles:
- Provide different forms of interaction to match different search goals
- Facilitate selection of context for the search
- Support the iterative nature of the search task

Most of the time, search is an iterative process like the interaction between a reference librarian and a library patron. Users don't know the right questions to ask until they begin to see some of the results and learn about the subject. Rose mentions the AltaVista Prisma feature, which suggests search refinements, as an example of how search engines can support this iterative process.

Links:

Henrik Olsen - November 08, 2004

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See also: Tips and guidelines (61) 


 

7

The optimal layout of search result pages

The authors of this article have studied the optimal layout of search result pages. Their findings suggest that categorizing search results improve users' performance significantly.

The authors tested seven different search result layouts, and found that:
- In all cases, categorized search results were faster than non-categorized results
- Despite the cost of additional scrolling, the layout with categorized search results, page titles and text summaries was the most effective
- Participants generally preferred the categorized results to the non-categorized
- Adding category information to non-categorized results didn't improve performance
- Removing category names from categorized results didn't hurt performance, but the participants disliked the absence of a category name

Apparently, categorized search results help users weed out irrelevant results and focus in on the area of interest more quickly.

Links:

Henrik Olsen - October 10, 2004 - via Semantic Studio

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See also: Research (83) 


 

8

Paging vs. scrolling search results

In a study from 2002, SURL examined how much information should be presented at one time on a search result page.

In the study, users were asked to locate specific links on three different search result pages:
- One layout with 10 links per page
- One with 50 links per page
- One with 100 links on one page

The study showed that participants favoured and performed best on layouts with both reduced paging and scrolling.

Overall, the fifty-link condition had the fastest search time and was most preferred, possible because this layout required only a limited amount of paging.

The layout with hundred links page was by far least preferred, while the ten link layout performed the worst.

Links:

  • The article Paging vs. Scrolling

Henrik Olsen - September 18, 2004

Permanent link Comments (0)

See also: Navigation (40)  Research (83) 


 

9

Eight quick ways to fix your search engine

Almost every site's search engine could use improvement. Unfortunately, development teams are often stuck tweaking the search technologies that has been purchased and installed.

Jeffery Veen has eight quick ways to improve existing search engines:
1. Take away as much features as you can to simplify your results page
2. Make sure the default ranking you select matches your user needs
3. Make sure the search field has something in it before allowing the form to be submitted
4. Make best bets by taking the top 50 search queries on your site and find three to five pages that satisfy each query.
5. Simplify the layout of your search result page
6. Offer help for zero results
7. If your content is categorized, include links at the top of the result page that show how many results match each category
8. If you link to a page that offers usage instructions, include interfaces for those features so they can be used without switching back and forth.

Links:

  • The article 8 Quick Ways to Fix Your Search Engine

Henrik Olsen - September 05, 2004

Permanent link Comments (0)

See also: Tips and guidelines (61) 


 

10

Web-usability is improving

According to a survey conducted in late 2003 by the Nielsen Norman Group, usability on the web is on the upswing.

Some results from the survey:
- The overall success rate of completing a site-specific task was 66 percent and 60 percent for web-wide tasks. This compares to an overall success rate of 40 percent in a similar survey conducted in 1997.
- For site-specific tasks, the success rates of the less- and more-experienced groups were 59 percent and 72 percent, respectively, while web-wide tasks were completed at a rate of 52 percent and 67 percent, respectively.
- Web users are being more precise in their choice of search terms. In 1994 the mean length of a search query was 1.3 word, in 1997 1.9 word, and in 2003 2.2 words.
- One area in need of improvement is site search. While 56 percent of the searches done using a popular search engine were successful, only 33 percent of searches using a specific site's search tool succeeded.

Links:

  • The article Web-User Satisfaction on the Upswing

Henrik Olsen - May 13, 2004

Permanent link Comments (0)

See also: Research (83)  Site design (8)  Navigation (40) 


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