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11

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 Open link in new window

Henrik Olsen - May 09, 2005

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See also: Tips and guidelines (95) 


 

12

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

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See also: Navigation (63)  E-commerce (27)  Research (129) 


 

13

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 (95) 


 

14

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.

Links:

Henrik Olsen - October 10, 2004 - via Semantic Studio

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See also: Research (129) 


 

15

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.

Links:

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

Henrik Olsen - September 18, 2004

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See also: Research (129)  Navigation (63) 


 

16

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 Open link in new window

Henrik Olsen - September 05, 2004

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See also: Tips and guidelines (95) 


 

17

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 Open link in new window

Henrik Olsen - May 13, 2004

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See also: Research (129)  Site design (14)  Navigation (63) 


 

18

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.

Links:

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

Henrik Olsen - December 10, 2003

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See also: Research (129) 


 

19

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.

Links:

  • The site Common Design Practices Open link in new window

Henrik Olsen - October 13, 2003

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See also: Links (19)  Web page design (40)  Navigation (63)  Research (129) 


 

20

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."

Links:

Henrik Olsen - September 10, 2003

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See also: Research (129) 


 

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