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Should website search results be numbered, like this?

1. Result One
Lorem ipsum

2. Result Two
Lorem ipsum

I notice that Google's results aren't numbered -- they are just paginated. To me it seems that on sites where the number of results are often less than 10 (assuming that's the pagination threshold), it looks more presentable when the results are numbered. But I don't have any better reason right now.

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I'll simply comment here that there are those who prefer Numbered Search Results and they are not alone, although personally I lean more toward @msanford, you may want to ask your audience. –  Joshua Drake Apr 27 '12 at 20:40
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3 Answers

up vote 12 down vote accepted

Things are given numbers largely for two reasons: so that they can be referred to or so that they can be counted. In short, the reason Google (and all other major search engines) don't number individual entries is that it's largely meaningless extraneous information.

Part of the interest of the first style of numbering system is that the thing the number refers to either doesn't change, or if it does, everyone has the same information. In the case of a search engine, it is possible that two people loading the results from same query a few seconds apart will not receive the same results if the search data is updated very frequently.

As for counting results, I would say that it's best reserved for a single total (as Google does, "xxx million results").

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Exactly! Including a result number implies it should be a meaningful, share-able and lasting attribute of that result –  Roger Attrill Apr 27 '12 at 18:17
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Interesting question. I would posit that, generally speaking, numbering the results assigns more importance to the order than is actually merited and unnecessarily clutters the results.

It's purely a guess (I would love to see research to prove/disprove my theory), but I suspect that numbering the results would increase the user's cognitive load because they now have to think about the numbering and what it might mean for them. E.g. instead of picking what is most relevant to their needs, they're also needing to worry about why the result that seemed most useful to them is ranked below 5 other items. Without the numbers, I would guess that this is less of a factor.

Likewise, the goal of any site search is to drive traffic to the resultant pages (you don't want people just hanging out on the results page; you want them to migrate to your actual content). Every non-functional element added to the page clutters and distracts from the primary objective, which is to move the user forward.

The only case where I would consider using numbering on search results is if the numbers actually having meaning in context. E.g. if I search for a product and fort by 'best reviewed', it might be useful to know that a product is the #1 best reviewed vs. the #5 best reviewed. However, even in that case, I'd rather the user sees the real rating in the summary, not just the relative result rank.

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I don't really think numbering the returned pages would be something that a user would look for. Every online user, when it performs a search, it is used with a view where, he/she gets x search results on a page with a title, link and a short description.

If you want to make your search result more stylish ... sure go ahead, but I would do it in a very non intrusive manner.

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:) it's just an idea ... this is not a website for portfolios :P, but I appreciate your opinion. –  drcyrus3d Apr 27 '12 at 22:45
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