Web user patience is an increasingly scarce resource
There's a time bomb on the web: user patience. It starts ticking every time an user opens your pages. You only have a few minutes (or seconds!) to get compelling content onto the screen relevant for the user; if you fail you can kiss your customers (and revenue) goodbye.
And, which is the fastest way to give users what they need? Offer them a search engine. Search is the user's lifeline to deal with complex websites. The best designs will offer a search box at least on the home and often on every page.
According to Jakob Nielsen (http://www.useit.com/), users need search functionality for two reasons:
- Search engines let users control their own destiny and assert independence from websites' attempt to direct how they use the Web. Testing situations routinely validate this. A typical comment is: "I don't want to have to navigate this site the way they want me to. I just want to find the thing I'm looking for." This is why many users go straight to the home page search function.
- Search is also users' escape hatch when they are stuck in navigation. When they can't find a reasonable place to go next, they often turn to the site's search function. This is why you should make search available from every page on the site; you cannot predict where users will be when they decide they are lost.
Search Should be a Box
Users often move fast and furiously when they're looking for search. As we've seen in recent studies, they typically scan the home page looking for "the little box where I can type”
Very often, the search box is on the top right side of every page, so don't put your “user name/password” box there!
First Results Page is Golden
Users almost never look beyond the second page of search results. It is thus essential that your search prioritize results in a useful way and that all the most important hits appear on the first page.
Use natural-language search, don't use keyword-based search!
You can't afford the cost of having your users not find what they are looking for at the very first try.
One of our customer's customer recently typed in this their site's search box: “travel with my pet”. Only one answer was made available: a document called “Passports for dogs, cats and ferrets” which details a special document that is required when dogs, cats and ferrets travel to other member states of the European Union. That's what we call a relevant answer.
When we tried the very same search string with a honorable keyword-based search engine, we found several results, the first (supposedly most relevant) one was: “PAU exams”, a PDF document that contains the following paragraph:
“...and my friends love me. I enjoy my job and I earn a lot of money. ... C. communicative abilities are a quality pet owners show. ... During her stay there, Melissa had a chance to travel around the area ...”
Clearly, that's what we call an irrelevant result, and therefore, an unhappy web user.