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As we come to understand how users search on the Internet, we can improve the way we design on-site search to support their behaviour. Search can be a user's strategy, a last resort, or a point of failure for a Web site. In one site, we found the most frequent "last page visited" was search results.
Google supports a limited set of user behaviours, and gains much of its power from having huge amounts of data on which to carry out statistical analysis. A different approach is needed to design search within a Web site; an approach based on an understanding of what users are looking for and why, and how they develop their search strategy.
Here are 10 tips on helping your users achieve search success on your site.
Scan the terms users type into your search engine, or get them from your web statistics for users arriving at your site from external search engines. Modify your terminology to match your users'. Track what users say to your helpline staff, then make sure that those terms are successful, by ensuring they are on the appropriate target pages, by putting them into the keyword metatags on pages, or by using synonyms in the search engine.
Then walk through that search task as though you were a user. Ensure there is an obvious "target page" for that group of searches. And ensure that that page comes high on the list of results for those searches. Ensure that the search results summary of the target page is well-distinguished from other pages on the search results. Ensure that that page provides navigation to help users continue their journey if they want to.
Allow users to browse the results of a search in more than one way. Use metadata from the results to provide browsing options. For example, provide search results categorised by type of document, by section of the site, by product category or-even better-by the types of user needs, tasks and goals they support. Allow users to browse the results in each category. See Example 1 below (from Futureshop) which uses metadata to create a mini browse hierarchy which users can explore.
Use metadata to provide a 'look-ahead' function (see Example 2). When you provide results, give a count of how many 'hits' there are in each category of results. By clicking on one of those links users are, in effect, carrying out a refined, predefined search. But they know it will be a successful search, and you may even have helped them find better words or phrases.
If there should be 'no results', then this
is not the end of a user task, but actually the beginning of a new phase
of navigation that is trickier to support, because it's suddenly context-free.
You might suggest synonyms for failed search terms that would give positive
results and new ideas to the user. Providing some detailed navigation
links on the results page might help the user kick-start their information-seeking
task again, rather than leave your site.
For example, sites like Symantec, Microsoft, and Adobe allow users to constrain their searches to certain parts of the site. This may not always be a completely task-centric approach, but often allows users to omit large numbers of irrelevant results, and gives them an insight into site structure. Adobe's guided search not only allows users to constrain searches, but provides results in multiple classifications, with 'look-ahead' for each, so that users know how many results are in each category.
Search results are an opportunity for cross-promotion of related products or information and for highlighting popular or important related pages. Don't try to sell hard, but provide useful and related links. Think of Amazon's "People who bought this also bought..." Think connections, relationships, and opportunities.
The deadline for early registration in our Usability challenges of new Web technologies is June 9. Early registrants save $100. There are even more savings for group bookings. Come join us.
You may know of Techsmith as developers of the Morae usability testing product, for which Neo Insight are Canadian distributors. But Techsmith has also been working on a remote usability testing solution, known as The Astoria Project.
The Astoria Project is a Web-based service for facilitated remote usability testing. This means that test participants will not have to download, install or configure any software. So no problems with firewalls or security configuration, no software security concerns for the participants!
If you are interested in this remote usability testing solution, and can provide feedback on its use plus product improvement ideas, Techsmith would like you to join the Astoria Project Beta trials.
If you would like us to give a demonstration of Morae by Techsmith for your team, just give us a call on (613) 271-3001.
Quote of the month
"If the user can't use it, it doesn't work." - Susan Dray
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