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Something I have noticed with website users is a tendency to go for the first obvious text entry box on a screen when intending to search for something. Generally the users in question are of the generation who did not have the internet growing up, so their perspective is different from a lot of us, but, I am still talking about intelligent, educated people, who are making an effort to use the internet, definitely with email addresses and some history of e-commerce purchases, quite possibly with facebook accounts too.

Why have I observed users who fall into this category making the mistake of trying to use the wrong box to search a site and often getting lost as a result? What mistakes are being made in the interface and in the understanding of these users?

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2 Answers 2

I have two reasons for using wrong box for searching.

  1. New way of information consumption. Internet changes the way of information consumption. Internet is fast and huge and easy to interact. The typical loop is Search – View. No waste time to read and think on interface, more time to consume. So this is an implementation of the famous "Don't make me think" strategy. Simplified users' mental model is: blue underlined text could be clicked, single line input box performs search.
  2. The lack of uniformity in placing search box. Searching in a paper book is not a problem, as the table of content has fixed place: the beginning of a book. On a website there is no such uniformity. So the slip (right user's intention but fault in implementation) is occured.

I think the first reason explains why most browsers have eventually removed separate search field and use omnibox instead.

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the omni box is interesting, though another thing I've observed is users putting URLs into the search box in the top right of browsers then finding the URL as the first result and clicking on it –  ColinSharpe Nov 26 '13 at 21:17
    
All of us do this. :) –  oakad Nov 27 '13 at 1:31
    
Consider the following: when you open your favorite search page the focus will be automatically set into the search text box. Thus it makes sense to start typing rather than start fishing for the address bar with the mouse. Also, "paste" action will end up there as well (and on some browsers, mouse "paste" of any string into the browser window invokes the search engine url). –  oakad Nov 27 '13 at 1:35
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It happened to me once, don't remember where.

The combined reasons for mistaking a field for a search field is that it is where a search field usually is (in the upper right part of the page) and it is not labelled Search.

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the labelling is the point, often the fields are labelled correctly but the mistake is still made –  ColinSharpe Nov 27 '13 at 16:47
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