Easy navigation is one of the most critical aspects of every website design.
After all, the vast majority of Internet users have only basic computer skills, so you need to ensure that they can find what they’re looking for. A navigation bar with descriptive page names is the first step toward keeping visitors engaged, but if you have a lot of details on your site, it’s vital to include an on-site search feature as well.
Keep in mind that you cannot rely on Google and other search engines to send visitors to the ideal page on your site. Instead, you need to operate as if they will always be directed to the home page and take steps to simplify the process of finding everything that’s kept on internal pages. Depending on the type of site you run, your on-site search could be very basic or advanced. Either way, the key is to make sure the average Internet user can get solid results with every search string.
The Benefits of a Constrained Search
People are used to being able to type in as little or as much as they want into Google’s search engine. This freedom often leads to less than stellar results, though, and that’s exactly what you want to avoid on your site. Instead, consider providing a search box that can only accept relevant data.
For example, the on-site search used by Addiction Helper is designed to help people in need quickly find access to treatment options. To make this process as smooth as possible, users can only enter their postcode or city name. This leads to accurate results based in or near the target area, which allows visitors to skip over any inapplicable information.
Of course, there are situations where constrained search needs to expand beyond a mere one or two options. Real estate sites such as Nick Marr, the House Shop provide a great example of when and how to expand a constrained search. The House Shop on-site search can be used with nothing more than a postcode or city name, but it can also be expanded to provide higher quality results. In other words, if someone specifically wants a two bedroom house within a certain price range, they can add those details to refine their search.
In either case, site visitors are able to access the details they need without looking through a virtually countless list of pages and choices. This is the main perk of using a constrained search. It ensures that everyone can find what they’re looking for quickly and with minimal computer skills. The simplicity of the process is actually what makes it the most powerful option for location based searching.
Improving Open-Ended Searches
Web Design Ledger offers an example of the open-ended search feature that is more commonly used by most sites. In this particular instance, it makes the most sense not to constrain people to only one or two search options. However, open-ended on-site search can easily become an unwieldly beast that makes the process way too cumbersome for users. Therefore, it’s necessary to be careful with the parameters of the search feature.
What people want is to find the most relevant results for their search. If you were to search for “Adobe Illustrator” and receive a long list of results that don’t actually feature information on this software, you would quickly become frustrated and leave the website. Many sites have their search parameters set so widely that this is exactly what happens. Instead of learning from useful tutorials or quickly finding tips for beginners, a poorly defined on-site search could bring up dozens of instances of the word Adobe or illustrator without them having anything to do with each other.
To avoid this, your on-site search must be set up to look for the exact phrase first. Although the articles that aren’t related could still show up, they should be filtered to land underneath the most relevant results. The same process is important for eCommerce sites.
In the Adobe Illustrator example, the newest version of the software should come up first, followed by any recent books on this topic. Amazon typically does a good job of sorting by the latest releases, and they also often indicate which item in the search results is most popular. This method of sorting makes things much easier for consumers.
Consider Directing Searches to a Specific Page
After deciding if a constrained or open-search is best and tweaking the results to be as relevant as possible, you’ll need to decide if you want to skip the search results page altogether. Some sites direct each search to a specific URL instead of offering a long list of articles or products. This could mean making a landing page for each popular search term that has all of the details about the term in question. To clarify, if WebDesignLedger took this approach, they would have an internal link for /adobeillustrator that would be almost like a homepage for all of the articles about this software.
Another option, which is most applicable to eCommerce sites, would be to have the term direct people to the URL that the system deems most appropriate for their search. If you were to enter Adobe Illustrator in this scenario, you’d be taken directly to the sales page for this item. This can reduce the amount of time consumers spend looking, but it might also backfire because some people want to see multiple options and make their own decision.
Bottom Line for On-Site Searches
No matter what you decide to do with your on-site search feature, the most important factor is that it needs to actually work properly. If you put in a search term and get way too many unrelated results, be sure to tweak the engine. This isn’t the late 1990s anymore, and no one wants to see every instance of simple words such as “and” or “the” when they put in a long-term search string. Unfortunately, many on-site search engines still make this mistake, and it’s a big turn off for visitors. Avoiding this problem will provide the specific and more powerful results people want with every search engine experience.