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Do users change their search patterns if the search is shorter? Do users search less if the search box is too large?

The only article I'd found is a 2009 Smashing Magazine article:

The [Nielsen] study found that the average search box is 18-characters wide. The data showed that 27% of queries were too long to fit into it. Extending the box to 27 characters would accommodate 90% of queries. Remember, you can set widths using ems, not just pixels and points. One em is the width and height of one “m” character (using whatever font size a website is set to). So, use this measure to scale the width of the text input field to 27-characters wide.

In general, search boxes are better too wide than too short, so that users can quickly review, verify and submit the query. This guideline is very simple but unfortunately too often dismissed or ignored. Some padding in the input field can also improve the design and user experience.

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Interesting question! While researching for another question yesterday I realized quite a few sites have inexplicably long search bars, Target can fit 50 characters in it and Walmart roughly 88 characters, I can't image why you'd need that much search space. – DasBeasto Jan 21 at 13:05
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This is interesting. Amazon's search bar is HUGE mainly because everyone landing on their site do one thing first: search. Search on their site is valuable. But say on a site where no one has heard of, search might not be as valuable. – Majo0od Jan 21 at 13:43
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My personal gripe is when a search box is only big enough to show one or two words and a typical search might be much longer most of the time. Example: TV listings search boxes are often very small, and so I cannot see all my search I have typed in when I hit Enter or click Search, and see a "No results for (insert typo here)" – Mark Stewart Jan 21 at 17:11
    
I believe long search boxes are used in cases when you are looking for something that is hard to define by just one word and that can have many details that would make search more precise. E.g. Amazon, "glitter liquid Iphone 6 case iridescent". Another case where a big search box could be used is when the audience is not very internet literate, and the search is a main navigation mean for the service. The search is big and occupies a primary position, so that users see it right away and get a hint that they should use it. – Zoe K Jan 22 at 8:25
    
I'd say the article you found is about as good a source as you'll find. What they're suggesting makes sense - you want to allow 90% of queries to fit into the search box. – icc97 Jan 22 at 8:39

From my experience, the answer is... It depends!

I work for a recipe site and we launched a new site last year which had a whole redesign. We used to have a smaller search box and users interacted with it completely differently to a larger one.

Looking at the data that was captured on peoples searching terms, the big change was that when they had a smaller box, their search terms were much more limited - a couple of words, compared to the larger wider box where they inputted more complex searches.

I think this is because :

  • Users could see everything they were typing and that seemed important to them.
  • Since the box was wider, it meant that people could type more, but it did not stop users from typing less.

We could then make it more complex and allow how the system brought the results back, for example recipes can be complex and some users wanted to type in lots of criteria, but did not necessarily want JUST that result, but instead recipes which included each of the criteria in the way that we segmented our data e.g. "Easy Tomato Pasta" - we could bring back "Easy", "Tomato", "Pasta" and then order it by the most relevant first.

This worked really well for us, but it depends on some additional criteria such as:

  • How you are wanting users to use your search
  • How much content you have to search through
  • The logic behind bringing the results back and displaying/filtering

Hope that helps!

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Really interesting comment, thank you. – Eliot Hill Jan 21 at 14:28
    
It goes along with the idea that people's habits change dependent on what they need to find but also the balance of how prominent you want search function to be. – Eliot Hill Jan 21 at 15:05
    
On mobile it can be very hard to scroll, which makes typing-and-correcting harder for long phrases. Easier to just use small phrases. – corsiKa Jan 21 at 20:13

Primary factors

1. Average length of expected search terms

The visible character capacity of the input will influence behavior. In my tests, users will instinctively limit their entry to the available length. This is true even though the input will support typing beyond the field boundary.

I've tested slight variations in width where a known norm was well-established. Dropping the field width below the average string length resulted in lower averages. To find the max, I kept going up until the string length hit a ceiling.

2. Desired visual prominence of the search feature

The size of the input impacts more than the number of characters entered. How valuable is search in your application? Getting more people into the search box with longer, more precise terms is all well and good, but would you rather drive them to browse?

I hate to put a hard rule on any behavioral factor; a good test carries a lot more authority than instinct and experience. On the other hand, open search has become the expected norm in web site/app usage. If you don't get users to the search feature quickly, you're likely to make them work harder than necessary.

In the ecomm world, most analysts will tell you that a user who searches is worth more money. I've confirmed this hypothesis in my own tests. The central idea is that a user who has something in mind already is more likely to convert. Making their search easier means making their conversion easier.

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Relating to number 2, a larger box is also easier to select with a mouse or a finger. In some interfaces that might be a good reason to make it full width, and relatively tall, even if you are expecting the search terms to be small. – joeytwiddle Jan 29 at 21:39

Is there a standard size for search boxes? - NO

But should we keep a minimum size ? YES

Search boxes can be of any size , as long as user can enter the query and perform a search without much hassle.

Most commonly used sizes

Having said the above , although not a standard Internet giants such as google , Quora , Youtube etc use search box size greater than 500px and lesser than 600px .

Quora has recently introduced an expand on focus search box also. Why ?

Because if autosuggest is present search box sizes should be dependent more on the size of the result rather than the search query.

Quora's search result are primarily questions which are longer than usual search results. So they need longer search space.

When real estate is a constraint

We become concerned about search box sizes if real estate is a constraint. In such cases as seen in many sites a simple search icon which expands to a small sized search box can also be used.

EDIT:

Found this article in the web. Explains about different search box sizes.

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"if autosuggest is present search box sizes should be dependent more on the size of the result" - This is vitally important. If only half of a suggested search completion is visible, then several similar suggestions may be cut off so that it's impossible to distinguish them. – recognizer Jan 21 at 16:30
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+1 for expandable search box. The one on Stack Exchange is a slightly different model from the one you propose: you get a small box for your first search, but the results page gives you a much larger one with (importantly) an expandable list of advanced search tips. – Level River St Jan 21 at 22:50

About 4-5 years ago, I was working on the redesign of AOL Canada's homepage which, at the time, featured a gigantic Google-powered search bar in the header. The search bar was approximately 800 pixels wide, running almost the entire width of the page and it had "Type your search here" written inside the box.

This seemed like an overkill to me so I proposed to reduce the width of the search bar by some 100-200 pixels. The answer was no.

The explanation was that the search deal with Google generated a lot of revenue and that the larger the search box, and the more obvious it was, the more people used it.

My hypothesis was that reducing the size of an already gigantic search bar by 20% would not reduce usage as it would have still been the most visually prominent item in the top header space. But, from their perspective, there was no such thing as a too large search box.

On the other end, the product I'm working on right now (desktop accounting software) features a very small search box in the top toolbar and our research shows it's hardly getting used.

So, to answer your question, I don't think there is a single recommended size for a search box. The size and (perhaps more importantly) the placement should be determined based on it's relevance to the overall product experience or business value.

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Out of curiosity, how small is the search box in your current product? It seems like there's currently a trend to make search much smaller (sub-200 pixels wide, or collapsed under a search icon) and on some web layouts it can be rather difficult to find. – recognizer Jan 21 at 16:31
    
It's 75 pixels wide. But it is meant to be used for very short search terms - think tax form names (2-8 characters) so it wouldn't make sense making it much wider than the longest searchable string. – Slavko Eror Jan 21 at 17:15

I believe that your search input can't be too large, as long as it looks like what users are accustomed to, for example Google search input is 60 characters long.

If your search box looks like search box and it is not to narrow everything should work as usual. Anyway it is always a good practice to test it out.

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The search box should be a size that reflects how important it is on the site in question, or how much you think it should be used. If that is too small of a size, let it expand into a usable size when focused.

Apple.com has a very small search field, because they probably want users to look around, rather than go directly to the product they were looking for.

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I supposed if your search box is able to contain the longest words in English dictionary, (pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis) 45 letters, you should be fine. :)

Joke aside, whether a user perform more or less search depends on the context. I would probably do more search in an ecommerce site or faq page as oppose to a portfolio site. As what the article said, the length should not be too short.

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