// Commented out mbk Feb 2019 // //
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Enterprise Search Blog

The Unspoken User Search Agreement

By: Miles Kehoe

I was born with the ability to use Google; why do I need to learn our internal search?

Quite often, I hear from search managers asking for help with search on public facing as well on intranet sites. Sometimes they’ve just selected the wrong search platform for their environment; not all platforms perform equally well in different use cases.

More often than not, it's not the platform; the real problem is the search user interface.

If you are responsible for an instance of enterprise search running inside a firewall, especially if it's outward facing, you have a problem your predecessors of 15 to 20 years ago* didn't have. Back then, most users didn't have experience with search except the one their organization provided - so they didn't have expectations of what it could be like.

Fast forward to 2017. In addition to your intranet search, virtually everyone in your organization knows, uses, and often loves Amazon, Facebook, Google, Apple and others. They know what really great search looks like. If your search interface is at odds with ‘the norm’, you’ve got a problem. Your users expect you to deliver the same quality search results and the same helpful user interface they know and love on the Internet! Users expect any search today will recognize and correct misspelled words; show searchers what ‘people like you’ find helpful; and deliver great results that make sense.

Your site search experience fails to meet the unspoken and unwritten ‘search user contact’. The good news? It’s easy to fix

We’ll get to those blockbusters topics in coming issues; but most importantly, almost all of these popular public sites follow the same unspoken search UI contract:

  • On the result list, the search box goes at the top, either across a wide swath of the browser window, or in a smaller box on the left hand side, near the top.
  • There is only one search box on the results page.
  • The search box on the result list matches the user’s original query
  • Alternative suggestions for the words and phrases the user typed show up just below the search box (or up in the search box)
  • Each results in the list shows a page title that links to the actual page or document; and a meaningful summary of the document. Sometimes the summary is just a snippet. Words that cause the document to be returned are often bolded in the summary.
  • Facets, when available, go along the left hand side and/or across the top, just under the search box.
  • When facets are displayed on the left side of the screen, the numbers next to each facet indicate how many results show if the user clicks that facet.
  • Best Bets, boosted results, or promoted results show up at the top of the result list and are easily identifiable as suggested results.
  • Recommendations, special announcements or promotions appear on the right side of the result list.
  • Links to the 'next’ or ‘previous' results page appear at the bottom, and optionally also at the top of the results.

Now it's time to look your web site search - public facing as well as behind your firewall. Issues we often see include:

  • Spelling suggestions in small, dark font very close to the site background color, at the left edge of the content, just above facets. Users don't expect to look there for suggestions, and even if they do look, make the color stand out so users see it** [“Don't make me think” is what your users are thinking]
  • An extra search form on the page; one at the top as 'part of our standard header block'; and one right above the result list to enable drill down.
  • The results you see will different depending on which search field the user types in. [The visitor is confused: which search button should be pressed to do a 'drill down' search. Again, don't make your users think]
  • Facets that do not display any results should not show up.[Facets should only display if, by clicking on a facet, the user can see more content]
  • No help on what to do if no results are returned
  • Fuzzy match is ‘too fuzzy’ and search returns nothing but clearly irrelevant results

We’ve found poor search user experience is a major reason employees and site visitors report that ‘search sucks’, or simply stop using your search engine. Search usability is a major difference between search that works and search that sucks. If you want a free one-hour usability consultation, let us know.

*Yes, Virginia, there was enterprise search 20 or more years ago. Virtually none of those companies and products still exist, but their technology is still touching you every day. Fulcrum, Verity, Excalibur and others were solving problems for corporations and government agencies; I just received request for help with Verity K2 this morning!

**True story, with names omitted to protect the guilty. On a site where I was asked to deliver a search quality audit, ‘spelling suggestions’ was a top requested feature. They actually had spell suggestions on their site, in grey letters in a dark black field with a dark green background, far to the left of the browser window. No one noticed them! Moving the suggestions, and making them easier to see solved the problem. You know who you are; you’re welcome!