It sounds like you’re concerned with the clutter or real estate consumed by multiple search options, but I’m not clear about your plans to manage it. Are you talking about putting each simple (single-text-box) search in a separate accordion? I don’t see much space savings with that because the control for the accordion will take almost as much space as the search text-box.
Perhaps you mean that each simple search section can be expanded for advanced searches? You are right to be concerned that such a design could disrupt the home page layout, confusing some users. I see little upside from the design –whether the user opens an accordion to goes to a separate page for advanced search, it’s still one click to navigate, so the accordion solution is no easier although it’s maybe twice as fast. Accordion/expanders are great when the user is going back and forth between what’s in the accordion and what’s on the rest of the page, but if the user is going to advanced search, the next place s/he is going is to Search Results, not back to home.
Actually, I’m more concerned with a different issue presented by multiple simple search boxes, and that’s users putting their search criterion in the wrong search box. Testing of course will confirm if this is an issue in your case, but users in general have gotten used to rather mindlessly typing whatever they’re searching for in whatever text box appears in the upper right. They often don’t read labels, maybe because too often search boxes are poorly labeled.
The ideal solution, saving both real estate and search confusion, is to have a single simple search box that takes all four types of searches. In other words, keep simple search simple. You handle the multiple kinds of searches by the following means:
Include a dropdown list in
front of a single search box to
specify the type of search. Amazon
does this, so I guess it works for
them. On the other hand, now it adds
two clicks to making a search, so
it’s more work than four separate
text boxes. Using tabs or radio
buttons reduces it to one click,
which helps, but that takes more
space. In any case, you need to be
prepared for users failing to
notice search type control and leaving it as the default.
Infer the type of search from
the format of the criterion the user
enters. For example, if it looks
like a tracking number, do a search
for shipments. If it looks like a
date, then do a search of history.
Google does this effectively. The
hard part is intelligently
recognizing the search type from the
format. You can help this by
“cascading” searches –if the
criterion returns little or nothing
from the first search type you try,
then try it on the second most
likely search type, and so on. You
also can combine this approach with
(1) above, where the dropdown list
defaults to “All” (like Amazon
does). This way, Search will still
work, more or less, if users ignore
the dropdown list, but it’ll work
better if they don’t.
Perform all four search types
using the given criterion. Results
can be a combined list, perhaps with
the order of the items influenced by
your best guess of the search type
based on the criterion format, like
(2). You can also include a
“facet”-like list of links to allow
the user to filter the results by
search type post hoc. Alternatively,
you can display the results in four
separate columns, one for each
search type. In any case, this can
also be combined with (1).
To absolutely minimize space used on the home page, advanced search likewise can be a single button that takes the user to a single dedicated page. Tabs or radio buttons at the top allow users to select the search type, with the default based on whatever was indicated by the last simple search (users often go to Advance search only after a simple search fails).