Monday, January 14, 2008

Understanding Search Usability - Part 2

Designing a good search UX ...

"In part 1 of Understanding Search Usability, I looked at search usability and the wide variety of search behaviors it addresses. SEO professionals tend to focus on query-related behavior, and web site usability professionals tend to focus on browsing behaviors. When both groups open their eyes and realize that all of these search behaviors are related, then real progress can be made toward creating and maintaining a search-friendly, user-friendly web site that converts visitors into buyers, subscribers, attendees, students, or [insert desired target user group].

... Understanding the searcher experience

I remember my first usability test as the observer (not the facilitator). In web site usability, as an observer, your job is to listen, above and beyond all else. It is not to think, "Why are you doing it that way? This is what I would do."

The moment you allow the thought, "This is what I would do," to enter your mind, objectivity is lost. The idea is to observe the different types of search behavior exhibited throughout testing and why test participants exhibited those behaviors. Were keywords used inappropriately, or not at all, and is that the source of confusion? Were navigation labels and formatting noticeable enough to clearly communicate "You are here" cues?

"You are here" cues are very important in search usability. When searchers click on a link from Google, Yahoo, Live, or Ask, they are not likely to land on a site's home page. Searchers are going to land on a page in the middle of the site. Searchers immediately form a mental model of a web site, and that mental model should generate user confidence. The commercial web search engines use term highlighting in their cache views to help communicate user confidence.

User confidence is another item that can be measured through usability testing. Think about it: if searchers do not feel confident that a web site is delivering desired information and is credible, then they are less likely to make a purchase, enroll in a class, sign up for a newsletter, and so forth.

Observing actual searcher behavior—objectively—is crucial for understanding search usability. SEO professionals can quote Jakob Nielsen and Jared Spool all they want to support their methodologies. However, until SEO professionals can objectively observe and/or facilitate a series of tests, analyze the behaviors and interfaces, and scientifically tabulate the results, I do not believe that they are search usability experts."    (Continued via search engine)    [Usability Resources]

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