Join Chris Nodder for an in-depth discussion in this video Adding search to your site, part of User Experience for Web Designers.
- On most Internet sites, visitors are split about half and half between preferring to use the navigation menus and preferring to use a search box. The more content a site has, the more likely visitors are to use search. So, make sure that your search feature is easily accessible to people from every page on your site. Although some sites still format it differently, the standard design for a search feature is to have an empty, unlabeled field with a button to its right called Search. The button's action verb removes the need for a label. Some sites put hint text inside the search field, but even today that text still causes issues for a proportion of visitors who don't understand that the text will disappear once the field has focus.
The standard location for the search field these days is the top right-hand-corner of the page. If for some reason you can't put it there, the next most common location is at the top of the vertical navigation column. Intranets are different from other websites when it comes to search. Intranet users tend to perform less searches and rely more on navigation, mainly because Intranet search engines tend to have trouble extracting meaning from all the messy content on an Intranet site, which means the Intranet search results aren't as useful as they could be. We found from research that the size of the search box determines the type of queries that people will enter.
A small text entry field means that people enter shorter queries. If people will need to enter longer queries in order to find the content they want on your site, make sure you give them a long enough text entry field. If you have any control over your site's search results page, there are a couple of things you should do to help your visitors. The first is to repeat the search term on the results page. Repeating it on the page allows people to see whether they spelled it correctly. Leaving it in the search field allows them to quickly edit it. That's important for refining searches if the site returns either too many or too few results.
Next, list the search results in one list. Each result should take the now-standard format of a line of linked text, a description and then the URL. Thumbnail photos can be extremely helpful to guide people to the right content. It's amazing how much information we can extract from such a tiny image. Again, if you have control over it, the line of linked text should in most instances be the title of the page, and the description text should be the page summary. Search is too important to leave to chance. Formatting your search entry field and search results page is only half of the story.
You also have to make sure that each of your pages is well-described in a way that your search engine can understand. If you have access to defining the page's meta tags, then use the summary text that you write for each page in the description meta tag and be sure to create a unique title for each page, using the format we describe in the next chapter. Even if you don't have access to these HTML elements, it's likely that the search engine will pick up your heading or page title, and hopefully your summary paragraph to use anyway. Now obviously, all of the work that you're putting into optimizing your site's internal search engine applies just as much to web searches that people carry out on Google, Bing or Yahoo! Spending just a little bit of time thinking about your page format before you start creating can save you a whole bunch of hassle later when you want to try and optimize the search.
User experience expert Chris Nodder teaches
- What people want from websites, how they search for information, how they read online, and how to structure your content to take advantage of this research
- How to use graphics to help rather than hinder visitors, how to integrate video, audio, and other media, and when to consider interactive rather than static content
- How to look at your site's homepage, forms, product pages, and content through the eyes of users to build a site that better meets their needs
- How to balance site content with advertising
There are never enough great interfaces in the world. Take this easy introduction to start making wonderful online experiences for your own users.
- Building a site visitors will like
- Using single, consistent, and standard design principles
- Creating good menus
- Working with site maps
- Adding search to a site
- Arranging content in a layout
- Writing for the web
- Creating category pages and landing pages
- Designing product pages and forms
- Using media and interactive content
- Balancing ads and content