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Over 30 billion web searches were conducted this summer, according to data collected by Comstor. Most of them took place on Google - averaging out to about 2 hours per month per person. So odds are, when people visit your website, they're bringing expectations and behaviours with them that are influenced by their experience with Google. In this article, we'll explore some top search-related expectations that have implications for your site and search operations.
Based on the hundreds of hours of usability tests we conduct each year we've seen a trend in search expectations. More and more people expect search to work like Google. Taking these expectations into account in the design of your site or search engine selection will increase the likelihood that your visitors can complete their top tasks.
Recommendation: Don't use broad labels like 'Keyword' or 'Search' if the field will only perform a scoped search within specific parameters. Instead, label the field very precisely, so that the user is clear about the scope.
In the example below, the participant entered 'date of birth' in the Keyword field because she wanted to see the date of birth and other data in an historical document. Like many others, she failed to notice the small instructions below the label. After repeated failures, she ultimately gave up on the search form.
When searching and browsing don't succeed, web visitors often try another more expensive channel, like a telephone call. In an example just last week, a usability participant searching a store site said that although he had typed in "mobility", he fully expected the search to show results for "mobile", and "portable". He added that" if it makes distinctions as subtle as mobility versus mobile, then I won't try every variation, I'll give up and just call them".
Recommendation: Ensure that your site search engine supports these features. Even better, look for search engines that provide the capabilities we discussed in Top 4 Trends in Search Usability.
The Google experience has led people to expect search results FAST! A study conducted by Google in 2009 found that delays as short as 400 milliseconds caused a significant reduction in the number of subsequent searches people made. We've seen examples of this effect, when users give up on site search if they perceive it as too slow. Google Instant is another way Google hopes to speed up the search process, by offering search results in real-time as users type. Marissa Mayer of Google expects it to save 350 million hours of user time per year (that would be equivalent to 182,000 person-years).
Recommendation: Groom your search results to use the familiar Google conventions if at all possible, and work hard to make the results appear as quickly as possible. On the search results page, echo the search field, so they can refine their search. Make sure page titles are meaningful when they appear as links in the results.
In this example, a participant was trying to find the particular code required for a government application. While the site provided a menu wizard approach to find the code, eventually, the participant gave up, went to Google, and found the code within 20 seconds. Unfortunately, when he returned, he wasn't able to paste the Googled code into the wizard because no text field was provided.
Recommendation: Make sure your site can accommodate alternative solutions to your particular search mechanism (like the text field needed in the example above). For extensive or deeply-layered sites, improving your navigation for top tasks should be a priority, but also make sure the page contents are available to search engines, so that people can use Google to arrive directly at the desired content.
If you are interested in usability testing or need help implementing these recommendations in your particular environment, call us at 613-271-3001 or email us.
Gerry McGovern returns to Canada in November for Masterclass sessions in Ottawa and Halifax.
This year's Masterclass is totally revised, with brand new content from Gerry's latest book "The Stranger's Long Neck:How to Deliver What Your Customers Really Want Online", and explains the methods that have proved successful for customers like IKEA, Cisco, the National Health Service, and Microsoft.
Masterclasses will be held in Halifax on Monday, November 1, 2010 and in Ottawa on Wednesday, November 3, 2010. Mark your calendars. All attendees will receive a free copy of Gerry's new book.
Gerry McGovern's new book, "The Stranger's Long Neck" shows how
Furthermore, users are not like you - they are more like strangers-
Quote of the month
“In June 2010, the average amount of time spent per person on Google was two hours and 14 seconds per month."
If you have any comments on The Insighter, or ideas on usability topics you'd like to send us an email.
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