Tips for site search


Lately, I’ve noticed that more and more websites are offering a search feature. This should come as no surprise: the tools for site search are widely available and fairly inexpensive. Google and other search engines even offer a free search box you can customize and place on your site. It’s easy to see how search adds value for your visitors. It doesn’t take up much space, and provides a familiar way to find things. Plus, some people prefer to head straight to the search box, rather than using the standard navigation links and categories. For the latter group, site search is a must-have feature.

With that said, many of the websites that implement site search are ignoring an obvious rule. When people use the search box on a website, they want to see results that come from that same site — not pages from all across the Internet. Sure, there are exceptions, like when no pages on your site match what the user searched for. In this case, it’s reasonable to offer some off-site results, as long as they’re labeled clearly.

What I’m really referring to are those misconfigured site search engines that show you results from the whole Internet first. Then, after you’re suitably confused, you have to hunt down the button that lets you restrict the search to the original site itself. Some users probably don’t even realize what happened. I’ll bet they just click an off-site search result and leave the site forever. Clearly, this isn’t an optimal way to treat your hard-earned traffic.

So, if you decide to add a search function to your site, or it comes time to upgrade an existing one, pay special attention to where the results come from. Along the same lines, it’s nice to make the search results pages match the look-and-feel of your site, though in my experience that’s easier said than done. And if possible, make sure your search pages don’t have banners or other ads that clutter them up and advertise your competition. Search is a highly task-driven activity, and you want to help visitors complete that task on your site. Luckily, if they’re using your search box, that’s probably their goal as well.