December 5th, 2005
Way back in 1997, we wrote an article talking about how when users used on-site Search to find their content, they succeeded significantly less than when they used the category links on the same site. The Internet has changed dramatically since 1997. Has our thinking changed?
First, it’s pretty clear that users choose to use on-site Search when the page they’re on fails them. They scan the page for trigger words. Only when they can’t find them, do they turn to Search. It’s their trigger words they type into the search box. (In essence, they are creating their own links to the content, primarily due to absence of the necessary links on the page.)
Second, the need for Search is primarily dictated by the nature of the content. Some content, such as books and CDs, (which we call Uniquely-Identifiable Content,) lends itself to search nicely. Most content is not like that (in that it can’t be uniquely identified) and therefore Search fails more frequently for that type of content.
Usage of Search is a predictor that the scent on your pages isn’t working. Fix the scent and the demand for Search goes way down. We’ve found this to be true far more often than not.
Our current thinking hasn’t changed much since 1997. Local Search is only necessary if you can’t make the investment in ensuring the right links are on the right pages. Some local search can be very inexpensive (such as tying google.com search into your site as we’ve done on uie.com), so it may be the more cost-effective investment. (Warning: Google works because of some parlor tricks that only succeed because the Internet has billion of links. Networks removed from the Internet, such as an intranet, don’t work so well with Google.)
We still recommend our clients solve findability issues with better links, not better Search. Better Search will always be fixing the symptoms, not the problem, and is unlikely to ever reach desired goals of success.
[Want to know more about how to improve the scent on your site? Check out the upcoming UIE Roadshow, where Christine & I will be sharing our latest research on the topic.]Tweet