Search is a type of navigation!

Mark  Ryan

October 11, 2006

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When planning a new site, most site managers will take great care to create and refine a thorough Information Architecture / Site Map. This is definitely a good idea. However, site planners should not spend all of their time on the IA – site search and search results deserve just as much attention. As much as 60% of your users are more likely to use search as a primary form of navigation rather than links (Remember 3 user types – Link dominant, Link/Search users, and Search dominant). Sites with very technical users are more likely to have search dominant users than sites with novice web surfers. Remember, the majority of web users search for content on Google, Yahoo, and MSN – when they get to your site, their behavior doesn’t change. Also note, search users are less patient, they expect to find what they are looking for in one click. Search users typically are not doing general research; they know what they are looking for (i.e. users looking for support or users that have come to your site from a search engine).

How do you know if your users are search dominant?
Look at the search reports and see how many searches are happening daily on the site. Then compare that with the number of daily visitors. With good reporting you will be able to see how many users are using search and how many searches each user is doing on average. Few analytics packages do an adequate job of showing/integrating the site search data.

How do you plan for good search in a new site?
Having a search box in a visible place on every page isn’t enough for any site. Make sure that your search engine is set up to provide relevant search results for all popular searches. Plan for good search reporting. Filters and advanced reporting will make your repeat visitors happy. As new content is added to the site, make sure content owners understand how to make content relevant in search results. Taking 30 minutes a month to review search reports will really help in refining search results and making search useful to your users.

*Search is also an excellent way to learn about your users.
*If your site has multiple domains (due to regions, products, divisions, etc) – DO NOT SEGREGATE YOUR SEARCH RESULTS. You users don’t care what content is where – they just want to find what they are looking for.