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Is the search tool on your website usable enough?

By: Deepak Sharma

Searching is one of the most frequent activities people do on the web, yet a great many web sites deal with their search engines in a haphazard way. This is a sorry state of affairs that a great deal of people has been traumatized with poorly organized websites, and a lot others has begun to perceive browsing as a nerve-racking experience.

Your website may be a paragon of elegance, and design but whether it facilitates the browsing of its visitors is a crucial dimension of your success on the web. Nothing else counts more to your website than the incorporation of a good search tool, and quality search results users so earnestly look for.

With today's basic search engines, the onus of searching the relevant information is placed on users. Users are fundamentally task-focused and wish to find specific information quickly and easily. More often than not users end up being uneasy and a little disappointed with the search results.

Programmers work diligently to ward off the failings of the simple search to make search engines "smarter. But they are, most of the time, in vain for lack of a consistent and well-directed approach. The complexities of the use of best algorithms, multiple sources of additional input, context, dictionaries, thesauri, grammar, search history, personal preferences, etc. stand tall between what information users are seeking and what information they get in turn.

Expecting too much of users may be counterproductive

When a reader comes browsing your site looking for a particular set of information, he or she clicks through a slew of links or uses a search process. The search process on the web often becomes misleading, and does not provide the users relevant and crisp answer to their search criteria.

The fault lies in the search capabilities of the website, and the search tools it employs.

Instead of making users more likely to get filtered and content based results, users are supposed to know what they're looking for, including spellings, meanings, and languages and higher-level search syntax, if available. To add to it, they are overtly or covertly expected to be prepared to sort through innumerable results with no clear guide to why certain results are valuable. This will tantamount to asking for the moon from the users in this era of consumer convenience.

Be user-focused: It is amazingly easy to build on your search capabilities

Let's have a look at how to prepare your site for search and what features you might need.

  • Assess human psychology to the extent you can anticipate the specialty of their queries and include every possibility in your engine.

  • Enable users to qualify or restrain their searches with additional check boxes or drop-downs.

  • Establish an internal glossary of terms and a thesaurus that maps equivalents on your site .

  • Search is a highly common activity, and it is preferable that the search box should appear on every page of your web site. Don't hide it anyway.

  • The search box, where the reader enters his or her search query, should be spacious enough to accommodate a minimum of 20 characters to be entered.

    • Arial is considered to be the ideal font for the search box because it is a narrow font and allows the reader to enter more characters. The font size in the box should preferably be 10 points and no smaller than 8 points.
  • To the right of the search box should be a caption that read as 'Search."

  • The search should start with either the press of the return key or the click of the "Search" button.

  • If you provide an advanced search option, a text link labeled "Advanced Search" should appear beneath the search box.

  • The prime target of the basic search should be the contents of the entire web site.

  • The fundamental search should backed by Boolean commands ("and," "or"), although this does not need to be explained.

  • Structure the searching function as per specific needs. Don't use generic applications. It is worth the time and trouble to tailor-make your engine.

  • The advanced search box should be larger than that for basic search (approximately 30 characters) as people will want to do more elaborate search requests.

  • Besides providing the reader with the possibility of entering Boolean and/or options in the advanced search query, the reader should be given radio button options which allow matches on 'Any word', 'All words', and 'Precise phrase'. This is due to the fact that many readers often don't make it out how to use and/or syntax correctly

  • Advanced search should enable people to fully exploit the metadata collected on the content. For instance, if date, country, product type, author, metadata was collected, then people should be able to refine their search based on this metadata

The bottom line: Make your site easily searchable

It makes quite sense to rank search results by relevancy, putting the best matches first. You can signify the relevancy level by listing a percentage or showing a shaded graphic or partially filled bar. Moreover, another good feature will be to let the users filter the results subsequent upon their sorting out the information first.

To help users get the information quickly and effectively, you can show the original query in a search textbox on the search-results page. This will encourage the users to adjust the query and try again, thus catering to their needs in the best possible manner.

While searching if users do not get matching results, the provision of a search summary that includes additional information to help users decide where to look next talks of your commitment to usability and friendliness galore on your site.

Always remember that users browse your site with a question in mind that needs an answer. Build your search capability in a way that anticipates the questions and simplifies the answers.

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About The Author, Deepak Sharma


Deepak Sharma is a Web Designer at BlueApple, a Web Design and Development Company with a well connected development infrastructure in India having a strong portfolio with global clientele and offering superior web services and solutions at competitive costs.

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