I am working on a project with search results, and questioning the use of the term "Relevance" to arrange the results. (In conjunction with price, a-z, etc).

Generally, we just use this term as the default search results order, but does the user understand what this means (even though from a technical standpoint we understand what it means)? Has it become ubiquitous enough now that it doesn't matter as much (i.e. Hamburger Menu)?

Is there a more user friendly and understandable term to use like Preferred, Best Match, Recommended, Default or Natural?

(Assume this is an overarching question and doesn't apply to a specific project, market, demographic).

  • Welcome to ux.se! I'm voting to close this question as I believe answers will be largely opinion-based. Please have a look at the tour section for what constitute a good question: ux.stackexchange.com/tour
    – Izhaki
    Aug 24 '18 at 18:32
  • Relevance has an objective meaning when it comes to search and search results, and I think this question has an objective answer.
    – dennislees
    Aug 24 '18 at 18:34
  • As a "sample of one" observation; If it relates to a product search I would assume that its listing what the business would most like to sell me...
    – PhillipW
    Aug 24 '18 at 21:12
  • Izhaki, I hope the irony of your comment about closing this question was meant to be purposely humorous. Relevance is indeed an objective metric of search performance. Nngroup.com compiles and regularly updates an extensive report on search usability and relevance is probably the most important dimension of evaluation.
    – Luke Smith
    Aug 25 '18 at 15:19


As Izhaki's answer arduously points out, if you really want to know the answer to a question about your users, you can ask them, or ask a test group reasonably similar to them.

Good Design Meets Expectations

'Relevance' probably came from the technical reference to the algorithm that drives the search i.e. results are quantifiable and decreasingly relevant the specific to the query in question, in ways determined by the design of the algorithm.

The point is that now it has become a standard way of referring to this default sort, and that changing it for the sake of clarity may simply result in a point of confusion, or simply a visual snag in the UI. Stick with the standard.

If it's default, it might not be worth worrying too much about.

In a UI where, within any single search session, a user will always see results sorted (by default) by 'Relevance' unless they change to something else, it matters much less what the label is. Provided the UI also contains supportive copy e.g. 'Sort by:', then they don't even need to be able to interpret it, they only need to be able to recall what it is if they decide to change back e.g. from 'Price' back to 'Relevance'.

If, however, this is a UI where the user can do something as complex as build and save filter views, where all the component labels need to be understood clearly, then I think, and this is where my answer ventures into opinion, you may have a point in doubting the use of 'Relevance' especially when compared to to something like the recognizably more approachable and palatable 'Best Match'. You'd be trading in a $10 word for a couple of $1 ones.

To circle back around the testing point, this is the type of thing you could test with users, but it's testing that will involved a lot of thinking and work, and you'd need to be sure it's what you should prioritizing your time on.

  • @Trevor W As an afterthought aside, and hence as a comment, I regularly make language decisions like this (for a Enterprise-level web app) based on my own ability and confidence to rationalize my decision in the context of the many factors (linguistics, risk, responsibility, etc.) involved. I'm currently involved in a complete update and overhaul of an entire menu, and this we will test, but switching out 'e.g. Relevance' for 'Best Match' is the kind of thing that's unlikely to bring everything crashing down, so I just go for it and keep my ears open for complaints : )
    – dennislees
    Aug 24 '18 at 19:41
  • Very cool, thank you so much for your thoughtful insight. I really appreciate you going into detail about this. Definitely helps me get my head in the right place when approaching it again.
    – Trevor W
    Aug 25 '18 at 0:54
  • Excellent reply. I would add that sorting by "relevance" means sorting by some magical algorithm that is too hard to explain to the user, which should give the most relevant results, but that's relative. Could be relevant to the business (most profitable) or relevant to the user (cheapest, fastest, etc.).
    – bart
    Dec 21 '18 at 23:25

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