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Here's the dilemma. To help users quickly find a hotel (the same could be true for a shop finder, pub finder etc) there is a search field on the homepage where they can type the search query. This could be postcode, hotel name, street name etc.

Once the search is submitted should the user be taken directly to the matching hotel page if one is found, or taken to the search results screen with the most likely result displayed as the first result so the user can see the other possibilities?

The problem with taking them direct to the specific hotel page is that they may have mistyped the address, or there may be multiple ones matching the result. Is it better for the user to see the list of posibilites so they can choose the one they actually want, or should they be presented with the actual hotel page so there is no need to view the full list?

I'm thinking that if there is a single clear result found then that page should be displayed, at other times the list of results should be shown. However, is this not an inconsistent method? - What if the user wants to see which hotels there are in and around Brighton, so they type in 'Brighton' and are not given a list of results but are taken to a specific page instead?

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up vote 14 down vote accepted

Taking the user straight to the 'single result' page could be detrimental in several ways in my opinion - not least of all it feels like the search isn't very powerful or adaptable.

What are the chances that the user only wants to see one result. Its Hobson's choice - but people like to feel that they have a choice.

If there is one result, then it's a perfect opportunity to also give the user other options by increasing the scope, such as suggesting that they widen the search to include a larger area, and giving them a direct link to do so. Or even something along the lines of 'we found one result within your search parameters, but we found another 5 results nearby'.It feels smarter and more friendly and you keep the consistency. It's much more desirable than the surprise effect of going directly to the page which bypasses a communication/confirmation step and takes control away from the user.

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Great point. The Hobson's Choice comment is exactly the issue I was curious about - my instinct was telling me that if there's only 1 search result then it would make sense to give them that result directly, but showing them the context of that result, why it was returned and providing options to change is exactly how it should be done, you're right. – JonW Aug 9 '11 at 12:57
Great, it's better than my one, because you extend the scope with nearby results :) Thanks Roger! – Csongor Fabian Aug 9 '11 at 15:49

My point:

Don't use two different ways, it might be confusing for users why one time they got a result page, another time a hotel profile page.

Autosuggest: Maybe autosuggest (like OS X Spotlight or Facebook search) might be a good idea: first 3-6 elements are hotels, selecting any of these brings you to the hotel profile page. The last list item should be something like "Show all results (N)" which leads you to a search result page.

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+1 "don't use two different ways". Agreed, they may not appreciate/understand what's happening. As a user, I appreciate seeing a list of results, rather than just being taken to an individual hotel page. – Janel Aug 9 '11 at 11:05

Even if I have a specific hotel in mind I still like to see it in context, and so taking me to a list of matching results would be preferred.

Also, if you take users to a specific page you've effectively said, "I know best, so I'll take control away from you and force you to have what I want you to have - enjoy, loser." Not a user friendly approach. Let them narrow the focus using your site's tools, and don't make the mistake of being Overly Helpful.

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For your requirement, I suggest you can try to design the site such a way that the result shows multiple website homepage screens as results. From this you can show the user with multiple results and also the homepage of the websites.

But for better usability, I suggest showing results along with some ratings and features of each hotel. The users can rate and you can show the features in icons, like beach, romantic etc.

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If there is a single exact match, take them to it, and inform them of the next nearest matches.

They may have made a mistake. The data quality of the data on which you are searching may itself be poor.

In either event, the match you have made may not be the searcher's intended result. Make sure they get a chance to validate the search return, in comparison to other near matches.

There is no need to take them back to the search results page - after all, the result may be correct. Simply display it in a highly visible place as "If that wasn't what you wanted, perhaps these are"

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