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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 were 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.


Henrik Olsen - October 10, 2004 - via Semantic Studio

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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 was by far least preferred, while the ten link layout performed the worst.


  • The article Paging vs. Scrolling Open link in new window

Henrik Olsen - September 18, 2004

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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.


  • The article 8 Quick Ways to Fix Your Search Engine Open link in new window

Henrik Olsen - September 05, 2004

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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.


  • The article Web-User Satisfaction on the Upswing Open link in new window

Henrik Olsen - May 13, 2004

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See also: Research (103)  Site design (10)  Navigation (56) 



Users are impatient with search

In a study, UIE observed that users only found what they where looking for 34% of the time using a search engine compared to 54% of the time by browsing categories.

Studying search data patterns, UIE found that the reason for the low success rate was that many users gave up if their first try was a failure. 47% of the users who failed only tried the search a single time. 30% tried twice and less than 25% tried more than twice.

The results indicate that users expect search to be perfect the first time and that we only have one, possible two chances to help users find what they are looking for with search.


  • The article People Search Once, Maybe Twice Open link in new window

Henrik Olsen - December 10, 2003

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Common web design practices

At the site Web Design Practices by Heidi P. Adkisson you'll find statically research on common design practices currently in use on the Web, covering items such as global and local navigation, breadcrumbs, search and links.

The site can be useful as a guide for making design decisions, but as Adkisson says:

"The data presented are intended to inform design decisions, not dictate them. Common practice does not necessarily equate with best practice - and the relationship between consistency and usability on the Web is remains a lightly researched area."

The site is an outgrowth of Adkisson's Master's thesis.


  • The site Common Design Practices Open link in new window

Henrik Olsen - October 13, 2003

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See also: Links (15)  Web page design (31)  Navigation (56)  Research (103) 



On-site search engines are worse that nothing

According to usability consultancy UIE on-site search engines often reduce the chances of finding information on web sites. In a study they discovered that when users searched for information using links the success rate was 53%, while the success rate of using on-site search engines was only 30%.

Some of the problems that UIE found were:
- Users didn't understand that some search engines distinguish between partial and entire words.
- Users didn't understand when typos and misspellings returned no search results.
- Users had trouble determining why a search returned a particular item and how it was relevant to their search.
- Users got irrelevant and often amusing results from full-text searches.

UIE concludes that on-site search engines are "significantly worse" than nothing, and suggest that "designers seriously consider not including a search engine on their sites until the technology is equal to the challenge."


Henrik Olsen - September 10, 2003

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Jakob Nielsen on information foraging

"…information foraging uses the analogy of wild animals gathering food to analyze how humans collect information online."

"The two main strategies are to make your content look like a nutritious meal and signal that it's an easy catch. These strategies must be used in combination: users will leave if the content is good but hard to find, or if it's easy to find but offers only empty calories."


  • Information Foraging: Why Google Makes People Leave Your Site Faster Open link in new window

Henrik Olsen - July 02, 2003

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How search query analysis can help us understand users

At Martin Belam's personal web-site, you'll find some very interesting articles on his search query analysis of the BBCi website. His findings shows us how such analysis can help us shape better interactions with websites.

Some of his major findings:
- Over 80% of the users make unique searches that never make the top 500 searches
- 1 in 12 searches are misspelled
- 1 in 5 attempts to use advanced search fail
- URLs make up around 3% of searches
- 36% of searches consisted of just one word, 35% two words, 16% contained 3 words

According to Belam, we can use such findings to:
- Discover misspellings, synonyms, non-conventional naming, URLs, and searches with few descriptive words and leverage this knowledge to provide the best possible content available within search results
- Spot popular content to be promoted more prominently and what non-existent content to provide
- Verify navigational labels against terms used by the visitors


  • The article How Search Can Help You Understand Your Audience Open link in new window
  • The article A Day In The Life Of BBCi Search Open link in new window

Henrik Olsen - May 23, 2003

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See also: Web traffic analysis (11) 



Searching vs. linking on the web

Sanjay J. Koyani and Robert W Bailey have surveyed the available literature on linking and searching. They have organized their findings into a series of observations and guidelines.

Some highlights:
- Users have no predisposition to searching or linking, and designers need to accommodate both strategies.
- Users are generally more effective when using links than search
- Advanced search features don't help users
- Users are progressively less and less likely to succeed with additional searches, and designers should make every effort to ensure that users get relevant results on their first attempt
- Designers need to be aware of, and make provision for, the terms that users typically will use for searching
- Search should accommodate misspellings, inappropriate case, spaces and punctuation, misused plurals, and typing errors


Henrik Olsen - May 17, 2003

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