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Gathering search terms from analytics is a great way to identify holes or gaps in your UX - in my particular case, there are some things that I have control over, and somethings I don't - for example, I could implement something that automatically redirects the user from search to the content they are looking for, if the search term triggers the redirect - that is, if no direct matches are made, it returns the traditional search page. I can't (unfortunately) change the funnel or any of the content to make the information easier to find.

I love the idea of intelligent omniboxes and have used this exercise in eCommerce to great effect. The only difference in my current situation is that I think there may need to be a flash notification indicating that the user has been redirected, in case they really wanted to just search for that term.

I'll be testing this next week, but I'd like to make sure I'm not missing anything glaring or if there is room for improvement on the concept.

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5 Answers 5

up vote 8 down vote accepted

It's generally accepted that most searches are for navigation purposes, rather than discovering content; here's some recent data by Google on this. One key factor here is whether the user already knows that there is only one relevant endpoint.

For example, if users search for a Ticket ID in a defect tracker like Apache Bloodhound, they likely already know that it exists. Also, because it's in a fairly closed system, there is only one correct answer.

When users already know what they're looking for and this can be determined by the nature of the query itself, it would be acceptable to redirect them directly to the result. The real problem here is how you determine that. If you consider the example of a Ticket ID that I gave earlier, the search may as well be for other items that refer to this ticket, rather than the ticket itself. An automatic redirect wouldn't allow this. Apache Bloodhound attempts to solve this by hinting at the simple syntax (draft) you need to navigate directly in the search box, in this case a # followed by the Ticket ID.

When a search returns no results, you should deal with the problem similarly to when a user navigates to a place that returns a 404 error. Provide a sitemap, some popular links and best guesses.

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Definitely agree with the hinting on formats. Gmail does this as well. If you enter a term that's the name of a label (say, "work"), Gmail will offer you a suggestion "label:Work". Same goes for "from:", "to:", etc. This way you can do both generic and specific searches. –  Kris Harper Feb 28 '12 at 16:35
    
Some very interesting results from testing yesterday. From my users, automatic redirect in a eCommerce site by using a stylecode (similar to your Apache scenario) is completely acceptable - but, with content, many felt like they weren't in control, even with hinting and a ton of ways to perform an actual search. It was interesting. I'm re-evaluating and will post an answer. –  Nic Feb 29 '12 at 15:50

I think automatic redirects can be very useful when you are certain that the term has only one relevant endpoint (regardless of whether the user believes there is only one relevant endpoint). ID-based searches would be a good example.

I have used this in eCommerce for delivery-related searches and it has tested very well in this case.

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Very interesting response from our users based on the answers here - I tested a few variations on a total of five users.

First, I tried the method that I originally specified, which was to automatically redirect on certain keywords, with a flash message saying that they've been redirected with an option to just see the results. It did not test well. One tester remarked that they like to be in control.

Second, I tried a variation of Roger's answer, which was to give some context to the search in the traditional page. I decided to extract what users were commonly looking for along with the business objectives, and reinject them into the search page, not unlike what Google has recently done with their search results.

For someone searching for a certain event, this meant from the search results that they could see the event homepage, but also common actions like RSVPing or booking a hotel room as an addendum to the search results. This was very well-received by all users, who felt that it would leave their options open, while addressing certain actions quickly.

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Actually I've tested couple of times question of redirects from search. On eCommerce sites it always gave us really positive results.

You just need to have create kind of "matrix" of redirects and pages with specific content. E.g. query "sony" redirects to sony.html (requires dedicated producent page), query "iPhone 4s 32GB" redirects to specific product page.

We've also tested limited redirects in which not only perfect match matters, but also number of results (in our case - products). Generally speaking we made redirects only if there was only one product in search results. In our case it was a blast in conversion rate.

I'd recommend multivariate testing of different options.

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I think you have part of the answer in your question, which is that when a search box has the capability to return traditional search results or redirect you to a content page, then the user should be both notified and given the choice.

And in that scenario, one option is, as you say, to be able to give a notification along with the content page that this was a perfect match, but give them the option to see traditional search results instead.

The problem is that with this more powerful search funtionality, you are effectively giving the user one search result, making it seem as if actually there was only this one relevant result and that the search system is not as good as it really is.

I believe the level of confidence in the system actually drops when redirected to a content page: Is this really the only result? Is this the most relevant result. Was this all that could be found?

Another option might be not to redirect, but to separate the search results into two sections.

  • Top section - 'Direct matches for your search terms' followed by links to the content page or pages - there can be more than one direct match.
  • Lower section - The traditional search results

This allows the user to clearly see that there are both traditional results and one or more direct matches. The user then can see that the search system is smart and powerful - that it can differentiate the results by more than just 'containing the term'.

Similar in nature would be an initial list of disambiguation results (eg when you search Wikipedia for 'Orange County Airport') followed by traditional search results like you would find from Google

The further benefit in not redirecting is that the user always experiences a similar process (as opposed to sometimes getting a list of results and sometimes being redirected) even if there is indeed only one exact match. It may require the user to click on the link to go to that content page, but the user can see all the options - it leaves the user in control.

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