Search is an evolutionary, iterative process. Like a Grizzly Bear foraging for food in the forest, people jump from one information source to the next as we seek to satisfy our curiosity.
Presented at Apache Lucene EuroCon 2010 in Prague and as an article on Johnny Holland Magazine, “The Scent of Search” seeks to apply the principles of Information Foraging Theory, and in particular, Information Scent, to the usability of search interfaces. Below are the main recommendations we set forth in the talk.
The Search Box
- The searchbox should look like a searchbox. Drastically changing its appearance will result in fewer users discovering it.
- Place the searhbox in the top right corner of the page. Users have come to expect it in this location, so moving it anywhere else will reduce the number of users who actually find it.
- Provide as-you-type query suggestions. Search suggestions reduce spelling errors, save time, and make users more confident of their query.
- Indicate the number of results. This helps users gage the validity of their search. Numerous results can act as a vote of confidence, while few results may raise a red flag.
- Titles should be easily comprehendible. Filenames make for lousy titles. Use natural language titles that accurately describe the contents of the result.
- Matching words should be highlighted. Emphasising queried words when they appear in the search results makes the result list easier to scan.
- Make sure visited links are easily discernible from unvisited links. Visited link colours prevent users from accidentally reviewing the same result twice.
- Differentiate results when real differences exist. Clearly identifying which category a result belongs to can make results easier to scan.
- Avoid having zero results. A search results page with no results is a roadblock to users that could make them give up searching altogether. Consider using automatic spelling suggestions.
- Indicate the number of results that match each filter. Filter result counts give insight into the shape of the data.
- Use breadcrumbs to reflect the user’s query and applied filters. This helps users know where they are, how they got there, and get back if necessary (breadcrumbs should be removable).
- Make field values clickable. Important fields in the search results should be applied as filters when clicked, making it easy for the user to filter the results.
- Find ways to meaningfully visualise facets. Some facets may work best as a list, others as a chart, still others plotted on a map.