Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Producing Great Search Results: Harder than It Looks, Part 2

Part 2 of creating good search pages ...

"Creating an effective search results page takes hard work. In the first installment of this article, I introduced how designers need to understand the users' tasks and ensure every result delivers great scent. In this installment, I'll elaborate on the specific principles of the scent of information that play an important role when designing search results.
Prevent Pogosticking

The search results page is just a flavor of a gallery page -- one produced dynamically from the query. One important property of gallery pages is they need to eliminate the need for the user to pogostick. This is just as true for search result pages.

Pogosticking is what happens when a user jumps from the gallery page to an individual content page and back, like a child on the spring-based toy of the same name -- up and down, up and down. At first glance, letting a user bounce between the search results, to locate the specific content they seek, may seem like a good idea. After all, they can explore the offerings and find the one that best fits their needs.

However, our research has shown otherwise. When we've studied e-commerce sites, we found 66% of purchases on sites happened without any pogosticking at all. This meant that users were deciding what to purchase from the gallery page, and not clicking into the product detail page until after they'd decided what to buy.

In fact, the more they pogosticked, the less likely the session would result in a purchase. Pogosticking doesn't promote exploration of the offers -- it gets in the way of it. We found the same behaviors when we studied non-e-commerce sites: the more pogosticking we observed, the less likely the user found content they were happy with.

The best search results pages will prevent pogosticking by providing the relevant content before the user chooses a specific result.
Most Relevant Links Should Be First

As we watched users interact with search results, we quickly noticed a recurring pattern. Users lose momentum as the apparent relevancy of the results go down.

They scan the results from top to bottom. As they encounter each result, they make an assessment on whether it's close to what they are looking for. As they encounter a result that seems less relevant, they start to slow down.

Then, an interesting thing happens. At some point, they start to look back up at the top of the results, only concentrating on that top area. This is when they've hit their relevancy threshold."    (Continued via UIE, Jared Spool)    [Usability Resources]

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