Google.com has tabbed navigation in their main search result template (although they don't style the tabs as such). However, my UX colleagues believe these tabs are not in much use, and they believe this is common for all search UIs: People are not making use of tabbed navigation on result templates.

My question: Is this backed up by actual research?

I have tried to google the issue. I found a quite recent post from Norman Nielsen on best practices for tabs in general and also a meta-analysis indicating that tabbed navigation yielded issues for some library search UIs. But this study does not answer whether there were problems in the individual implementations or if the strategy of tabbed navigation in result templates as such is flawed. Therefore, references to more research would be appreciated.

Needless to say, it would be great if the default relevancy was so good that we wouldn't need filters or tabs. Also, in our ongoing project, we are employing group results to lessen our dependency on tabs. Nevertheless they remain a key concept in our current templates and we would like to identify whether usability issues are of a tactical (implementation) or strategic (conceptual) nature.

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I'm including the above screenshot (slightly redacted) as a bonus. We user tested this, and not all users were able to make productive use of the tabs. At that point we didn't have the result counts, which we hope will yield some "scent of information". Also we are considering adding borders and background colors to the tabs, as encouraged by Jacob Nielsen.

  • you don't have to target users who are happy with top results. have you measured whether the feature helps people who don't find desired result(s) on top - do they try to narrow down the search using tabs or some other way? – Aprillion Mar 18 at 18:46

You are already doing what the most common solution to your question would be - User Research - and based on the demands/usercase of your website, it seems that Tabbed Layout of results is not very much accepted. If you can update your question with the size of your focus group and actual stats of the outcome, you may get more accurate suggestions.

However, I found https://www.freshconsulting.com/uiux-principle-21-when-and-when-not-to-use-tabs/ blog that gives a comprehensive outlook on this topic.

To answer your specific question, I have observed the issues to be of conceptual nature. It is highly unlikely that you will be able to group and filter your results accurately into tabs as there will most likely be certain overlap. This can get confusing for users as the perception of the tab vs actual results contained in them may vary from user to user. This is why most search engines have standard tab labels that are sometimes too broad; but given the lack of creativity in that dimension, they ship it nonetheless. From the implementation perspective, apart from the suggestions given by Norman Nielson, Tabs are quite old-fashioned and hard to make-over.

http://uxmag.com/articles/designing-search-results-pages gives another perspective on why not to use tabs and instead try a more product-centric search result template.

I hope this helps ~

  • first link does not seem to speak about search at all, and second link does not seem to provide any perspective regarding tabs.. I am not sure which "specific question" has been answered here :( – Aprillion Mar 18 at 18:53

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