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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.


  • Regular folks searching

Henrik Olsen - October 14, 2005

See also: Search (21)  Research (88) 



As a server side programmer (TRYING to do the right things) I find the observations on Donna's page very enlightning.

Especially the observations about peoples expectations towards boolean searches (AND / OR) gives pause for thought.

Every so often I have to implement search functionality on a website. Usually some users of the site will have trouble finding what the want, or give up the search as it returns too many results. Asking these people how they search have never really helped (Hey - I SAID I am a programmer - thus poor people skills ;o)) This will probably help me construct more user friendly searches in the future.

I learn a little from every article on :oP

Tom Vonsild Jensen | October 17, 2005


It is very enlightning to have a "server side programmer" talk about user experience in such way ;-) The credit is therefor yours.

Also be aware that there is nothing wrong with your people skills in the context of asking people about how they search: People do not know what they do, meaning they cannot reproduce their behavior by explaining it. Observation (and experience in the field) is the only key to establish these kind of findings.

Pieter-Jan Pruuost | October 17, 2005


It's interesting to note that several of these expectations stem from searches being based on loaded results from another server and the necessity of typing in a full query before seeing any results. "Live" searches such as the one in Apple spotlight and some being implemented via AJAX on the web change this. Here's one example. On my blog, I've made the argument several times that search engines should also be capable of chatbot behavior. It should engage this behavior when an intelligible phrase would allow it to walk users through to more accurate information. Google's "Did you mean?" functionality is a good start but lots more could be done with it. Combine that functionality with live search and I think the result would be very powerful.

Russell Warner | October 17, 2005

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