Enjoying the journey: Optimise search functionality, enhance your user journey

Hashim Khan BL

Successful search is giving users exactly what they are looking for, quickly, and in the right context. Yet so many organisations seem to get it wrong. So why is that? In a workshop held in the Adelphi Digital Melbourne office, we broke down the elements of a successful search, why it’s so hard to get right and shared four areas for you to focus on to improve your search, and quickly.


What is a successful search?

From a user’s perspective, it doesn’t take much to please them when it comes to a search function. They just want it to get them to the content they are looking for, and quickly! Easy enough, right? Well…

In order to give the users that simple solution, it takes a little more work from the back end. There are three key features to doing that.

It should be functional.

Search should use common standards, and not confuse the user. Search should be just as seamless as any other part of the website and the functionality should reflect the needs of the users.

It should be fast.

Your users won’t sit there looking at a load screen for a long period of time! The best way to avoid them clicking off site and looking elsewhere, is to ensure that the architecture scales well and produces results quickly.

It should be accurate.

No matter how functional or fast your search might be, your users will not be happy until they have found the content they are looking for. This means it needs to be accurate, it needs to be able to get your users to where it is on your website that they want to go.

So, if it only takes three key features, that seem easy enough, to get right – why is it that search is SO hard to get right?

We often find that organisations overlook and underestimate the value of their search functionality and it is simply not given enough attention. It is true that it can seem expensive and time consuming to get it right the first time, but it’s far less expensive and time consuming than getting it wrong. And the primary reason as to why so many search functionalities are not up to scratch is, quite frankly, your search functionality involves EVERY aspect of digital. I know, that seems like a lot, but don’t worry – we’ve gone and summarised exactly what we mean by this:

  • Data — where your data is coming from, how well your data is indexed, how much metadata you have to work with and how well that metadata is structured.
  • Architecture – how many requests you can handle and how quickly you can process a request and return results.
  • Development – how smart your search algorithm is, can complex requests be supported, is efficiency built-it, has your search been developed to be accessible, understanding the users content and tracking the usage in analytics.
  • UX – if the interface supports all device formats well, the design of the results page, will the user recognise and correct their mistakes and the amount of time your users wait for their results.
  • Analysis and governance – using data to drive decisions, looking at opportunities to improve, using search queries to drive content creation and identifying issues in your IA from search queries.

We know that by now, it might seem like getting search functionality right is an almost impossible feat. We’re not going to lie, it does take an investment of time and money but with careful consideration and the right amount attention it can enhance your users journey on your website.

By improving four key areas for search, you can enhance your search functionality and ultimately your users’ journey.

Good search is good UX. Search is a fundamental activity and a critical element of building a content-heavy app of website. Even minor changes, such as the size of the input field, can significantly increase search usability together with overall UX. Here are a few things you should consider:

  • Search box design
  • Search field prominence
  • Accompanying the search box with a magnifying glass icon
  • Location of the search box
  • Put a search box on every page
  • Don’t erase users’ queries after they hit Search

Logic: generating great results

Even though your users might know what they are searching for, they might not be sure what it’s called or how to spell it. Gone are the days of conventional search, where you would just manually tag your content and provide results based on a full keyword search. These days, your users expect more, and quite frankly they should!

  • Partial keyword search – displays elements related to your search with directly linked terms
  • Fuzzy sear – displays elements and searches for synonyms, relevant clusters etc.

Results: presenting results and enabling filtering

So now that your users are able to complete their search, it’s up to use to make sure that we the results are presented in a way that continues to make their journey seamless. And here’s how:

  • Wayfinding: confirm with the user what they have searched (which can be as simple as keeping the search field completed), and suggest fixes for errors (e.g. did you mean?).
  • Chunking: differentiate the different types of results and provide logical section headers to break up the results.
  • Individual result formatting: by highlighting words and what is removed, you can show the user why a result is shown. Also, be sure your results are accessible and visually appealing.
  • Control: provide your user with easy-to-use filtering options.

Architecture: time to get results

  • Microservices – on-demand
  • Database integration
  • Dedicated servers

We know that getting search right is not always easy, but it is definitely worth it. If you want to find out more about how you can enhance your users journey, get in touch.

Ask yourself

Are you ready to spend the next six weeks enhancing your search?

Want to come and meet the team?