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Early last year, Jakob Nielsen complained that:

In general, we almost never see people use advanced search. And when they do, they typically use it incorrectly — partly because they use it so rarely that they never really learn how it works.

Since then, I've noticed the BBC using a nifty technique. They display all the advanced search options on page load, and hide them again a second or two later.

It's a little like advertising your advanced search. You can see it best on their Food site.

Has anyone tried this technique, or better yet, have any evidence that it has an impact on search behaviours?

Screenshots:

(I had to be quick to catch the options open. So quick that the RHC hadn't loaded yet.)

During page load of the BBC Food Recipes page, advanced search options are revealed A second or two later, the options are closed

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New one on me but I quite like it... kind of teaser... might be useful if you added two screenshots to the question (one in each mode... if you can catch them) ... to save them for posterity... BBC are bound to change their design next week! –  Lisa Tweedie Jun 24 '12 at 21:43
    
Considering they showed it for like less than a second and the color of the advanced search doesnt even stand out,i'll be curious to see the conversion rate –  Mervin Johnsingh Jun 24 '12 at 23:00
    
Love the concept; discoverability is a real issue with advanced search features. No idea how effective the pattern is, though. –  Jimmy Breck-McKye Jun 24 '12 at 23:58
    
Thanks for the edit @JonW. –  Justin Jun 25 '12 at 1:24
2  
Screenshots added, at @Lisa's request. –  Justin Jun 25 '12 at 1:26
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3 Answers

I think advanced search options are generally the wrong approach all together.

In the example displayed all the search options are really filters. I strongly advocate for the following: SIMPLE search, then expose filters. Something like is done on Newegg:

enter image description here

Simple search on top, filters on the left. The resulting UX flow is something like this:

SIMPLE SEARCH THEN FILTERS:

  1. Ok I want X
  2. Oh good a search (SEARCH)
  3. There it is! X!

--

  1. Ok I want X
  2. Oh good a search (SEARCH)
  3. That's not it lets try again (SEARCH) :(
  4. There it is! X!

Or

  1. Ok I want X
  2. Oh good a search (SEARCH)
  3. Wow there is more things like X than I expected. Oh look I can filter it down. :(
  4. Ok X is a Y (FILTER)
  5. There it is! X!

--

  1. Ok I want X
  2. Oh good a search (SEARCH)
  3. Wow there is more things like X than I expected. Oh look I can filter it down. :(
  4. Ok X is a Y (FILTER)
  5. Still no X, lets try a different filter (FILTER) :(
  6. There it is! X!

Min thoughts 3, Max thoughts 6, Max goodwill lost 2, min uncertainty 0, Max uncertainty 0

VS ADVANCED SEARCH WITH SIMPLE SEARCH

  1. Ok I want X
  2. What is this? Search options? Can't I just search? (?) :(
  3. Lets just search and see if it works (SEARCH)
  4. There it is! X!

--

  1. Ok I want X
  2. What is this? Search options? Can't I just search? (?) :(
  3. Lets just search and see if it works (SEARCH)
  4. Nope no X, lets try again, should I use options this time? (?) :(
  5. No lets just search again (SEARCH)
  6. There it is! X!

Or

  1. Ok I want X
  2. What is this? Search options? Oh good, these look useful! (?)
  3. Ok so X is a Y (FILTER)
  4. OK so now I also need to search with a keyword? (?) (SEARCH)
  5. There it is X!

--

  1. Ok I want X
  2. What is this? Search options? Oh good, these look useful! (?)
  3. Ok so X is a Y (FILTER)
  4. OK so now I also need to search with a keyword? (SEARCH) (?) :(
  5. Nope no X. Lets try again, should I adjust my keyword or my filters? (?) :(
  6. Lets update filters (FILTER) :(
  7. Still nope. Lets try the keyword again (SEARCH):(
  8. There it is X!

min thoughts 4, max thoughts 8, max goodwill lost 4, min uncertainty 1, max uncertainty 3


   ____________________________________________
   |             | BBC Method | e-comm Method |
   | Thoughts    | 4-8        | 3-6           |
   | goodwill    | -4         | 2             |
   | uncertainty | 1-3        | 0             |

Whether it promotes use or not, I have no data. But I do strongly feel its the wrong option. An advanced search does allow certain users to perform a filtered search in 1 step instead of 2. However, we should not be counting steps. We should be counting, THOUGHTS! the uncertainty, then goodwill and LAST number of actions on the user's part. People are happy to take ONE additional action if it means they are thinking less.

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Agreed that filters are great, but searching text and searching computer parts with multiple defined specs are very different; BBC's search is an example that could be filtered, but still not quite as easily as Newegg (you can't really pick "ranges" of cuisine, diets ect) –  Ben Brocka Jun 25 '12 at 11:46
    
+1 for reading my mind. Unfortunately, the context of my asking the question is the absence of any faceted search facility, so I'm left with filters. –  Justin Jun 25 '12 at 12:48
1  
Actually, @Ben, I'd suggest searching for a recipe on Google to see how much you can do with facets for recipes (ingredients, cuisines, time to cook, etc) –  Justin Jun 25 '12 at 12:52
    
@BenBrocka The problem is not the existence of filters, its the order of operations. Giving search and filters at the same time produces uncertainty. –  Fresheyeball Jun 25 '12 at 15:05
    
@Justin what do you mean? –  Fresheyeball Jun 25 '12 at 15:06
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I'm intrigued by this method. Partly because there is good pscyhological evidence that we do in fact process alot of information when we see something presented very rapidly.

In fact there is a whole field devoted to RSVP (rapid serial visual processing) ... I found a good recent summary of the state of the field here.

Personally I know a bit about it because back in the late nineties whilst working at the applied psychology unit (MRC APU) in Cambridge I was a subject in one such experiment where they presented hundreds of images to me and then asked me me to look at them later and say whether I had seen them before. I was amazed that I did in fact identify all the images (pictures of art) that I had seen earlier and was completely aware if an image was new to me. And this was the finding of the study as a whole (can't find the reference).

The point is that such rapid presentation would aid discoverability.

The question is how annoying would it be? Should we present it only on the first 10 visits/uses of software and allow it to degrade over time. Or is it something that would help long term. Fairly easy to test... look forward to hearing more! Please keep me posted.

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+1 for interesting research link –  Justin Jul 5 '12 at 0:27
    
+ Thanks Lisa for a very interesting article! –  Anna Rouben Aug 6 '12 at 17:58
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You should never encourage an increased usage of "advanced search". The presence of it simply suggests that the search system itself is broken. Given that this is a user experience forum, we should understand that we should be designing for people not computers.

People want to type a query and have the computer understand what they meant. Google's search tags (e.g. site: intitle: etc.) is the closest thing to making it easier for the user to "speak computer".

It still remains a competitive advantage (or at the least, a time saver) in many workplaces to understand how to search google effectively, although that advantage decreases as Google's system increasingly understands how people search.

Yet in theory a person should not have to know how to speak computer. The computer should understand how people speak. Advanced search settings are inherently an attempt at speaking computer. People don't want to do it, so don't try to force them.

My suggestion would be to insert suggestions the way Google does when you misspell something. After the user completes their first search, prompt them with something such as "Not what you were looking for? Try our advanced search settings". Help them along, don't start off with the assumption that the search won't work.

If you look at Facebook's search bar, you can't get to "advanced" settings or filters until after completing at least one query. I find this model to be much better because they target those users who don't want to speak computer. That's the majority of the world.

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