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This article (targeted for search sites) says:

All three sites (google, yahoo and ask) assist the user by placing the cursor within the search box upon page load and allowing the user to press the Enter or Return key to submit the query. In addition, they each reserve a consistent location for the search box, at the top and bottom of the page.

So, can this trick be used on a sites like eBay (they do it), amazon (they don't) or etsy (they don't)?

My reasoning is yes. Because there are 2 kinds of users who come to these eCommerce sites:

  1. To search: They know what to search and will quickly navigate to the search box. This "feature" will help them.
  2. To browse: Now, for this user auto focusing on the search box won't be a problem since they came to this site to browser and a common user uses a mouse to navigate a site (is that a safe assumption?). So, it won't matter where the focus of your cursor is.

What do you think?

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up vote 4 down vote accepted

You are forgetting people who use the keyboard. Auto focusing means you break the backspace key to navigate back a page. When an input control is focused, the backspace key deletes characters (that aren't even there) and no longer functions as a shortcut for the back button.

See also Drawbacks of auto "focusing" on a web page's text field (JavaScript)

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But why would some one press a backspace on a homepage? You generally backspace when you are somewhere inside the website. – zengr Dec 6 '12 at 7:50
And why do you think your home page might be the first page I visit? – Marjan Venema Dec 6 '12 at 8:04
Sorry about that, my assumption was we were talking about the homepage. I do not intend to do that on every page of the site, but just on the homepage, same as google. – zengr Dec 6 '12 at 8:11
Makes no difference, unless the search box is the only thing on your (home) page. And even then, I would recommend against auto-focus for that because people may land on your home page by accident and auto-focus should really be reserved for forms (form pages) that a user visits with the intention of filling out the form. A home page, like any other page on your site, may be entered "by accident" by inadvertently clicking on a link on some other page/site. – Marjan Venema Dec 6 '12 at 8:23

For me it would be the sort of thing I'd A/B test to see if there was any significant difference. Personally I would bet "no".

On your two points both options would hurt me (personally) since I generally navigate around with the keyboard and I normally expect the keyboard focus to be in it's default location. So whether searching or browsing I'm reaching for the tab key straight away - since I "know" that the default location won't be where I need it to be. If somebody moves it then I'm always automatically tabbing out of where they want me to be. Best case I'm confused. Worst case I've just tabbed out of the box where I want to be. Personally it annoys the heck out of me.

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