In the event that a user search displays no search results, what is the best thing to do?

  • Say: "Found no results. Try widening your search criteria". Display a button that takes you to a screen which lets you do so."
  • Say: "Found no results. Try widening your search criteria". Inline-display a form that can widen the search criteria.
  • Say: "Found no results. Here are some other things you might be interested in". Try somehow to display something for the user to look at, along with the options of changing your search criteria, one way or the other.

In this particular case, the search criteria are defined on a settings screen (because they are almost never changed and shouldn't clutter the main screen), but if the user enters strange values, he will get no results on the main screen.

  • It depends on the context (UX mantra :)). Is not exact result useful for a user? Also (maybe more important) why users enter strange values? Is there mental model mismatch? Commented Aug 21, 2013 at 16:09
  • For instance, if they look for blue cars from 1986, and there are no blue cars from 1986.
    – forthrin
    Commented Aug 21, 2013 at 18:15
  • 1
    'No results found' instead of 'Found no results'
    – smoca
    Commented Aug 22, 2013 at 13:45
  • You could also provide suggestions for the user, which could be similar search terms that provide results, or suggestions for what terms they can try, or search terms from other users.
    – Michael Lai
    Commented Aug 23, 2013 at 1:25
  • 1
    in your case, you can tell user that "You search for 'Blue Cars fro 1986' return 0 result".. and can show results in a section based on the browser history.. or you can also suggest some search correction by saying 'you can view more results for car from 1986 (60 items found)'
    – Awesh
    Commented Aug 26, 2013 at 12:18

6 Answers 6


When you consider that much effort (hopefully) goes into the design of other pages on the website, it's wrong to think that the search engine results page (SERP) should receive any less love.

There are several steps at which the zero SERP can be avoided or improved.

The first point of prevention is at the query formulation using as-you-type suggestions, did-you-mean corrections and auto corrections.

Then there's fallback strategies that widen the scope - these can be automatic or prompted by the user, but also tend to require that a wider context is still a useful context.

But some systems just inevitably end up with a zero SERP, so there has to be an effective strategy of dealing with that, and that has to be a double barrel strategy:

Provide clear communication - you must effectively communicate the zero result state and give advice on what they can do about it.

Provide a method of rectification - you must allow the user to reformulate and action the query.

Now you also have a great opportunity to educate the users on ways they might improve the way they formulate the query - see examples below

The worst thing you can do is leave the user feeling like they have to back pedal.

You always want users to feel like they are making progress and getting smarter.

You do this by

  • allowing them to move forward with a reformulated search
  • giving them an understanding of why there was no results
  • explaining how close they were to actually finding results
  • not making the user go back to start over again
  • providing a mechanism for tweaking and exploring the query
  • making them feel smarter by educating them in better ways to search effectively

So consider your example above of a zero SERP when searching for 'blue cars from 1986'. The important variables are the car, blue and 1986

It depends how close you are able to find alternative results. You might be able to suggest an alternate colour, or an alternate year, but it probably doesn't make sense to suggest a carrot instead of car.

If you can find results retaining one good variable, or within a reasonable 'distance' of the original terms (whether with one or two variables), then possible responses might look like:

enter image description here


As it sounds like performing a similar search makes sense in your context, then consider presenting the user with a link to a similar search that will yield results. Please don't do this unless you can guarantee the suggested search yields results!

Google does this if it determines your search is too specific, suggesting a similar search with one or more of your search terms crossed out:

enter image description here


I should do this per page. so:

1) Search on your searchpage, use extra filters to search in a specific way.

2) redirect to the 'searchresults' page. If no records were found display something like 'Sorry, no results found for (your searchterms)' however this is optional.

3) below that add a button or a link to go back to the searchpage, make it so that your search criteria is still visible, now the customer can edit his search criteria and then search again.

In my opinion this is the best way, it's always best to use seperate pages for searching. It's just a lot more clean, than to put all on the same page.


From your setup

the search criteria are defined on a settings screen (because they are almost never changed and shouldn't clutter the main screen), but if the user enters strange values, he will get no results on the main screen

I think your could improve the search:

  • provide explicitly the search query. Don't make user recall it from setting screen
    enter image description here
  • as searsh query changes rarely, you could transform it to tag-like object and provide auto-update featrute so user could see number of results as a tick. When there is no results he didn't go to search screen so you eliminate the problem of no results
    enter image description here
  • to avoid strange values you could provide structured query form with set of fields and help
  • That "5"-bubble is a brilliant idea! Do you think the user should be disallowed to choose a configuration that will give empty search results on the main screen?
    – forthrin
    Commented Aug 22, 2013 at 13:17
  • No, on button click user goes to screen, where he could change the configuration. Commented Aug 22, 2013 at 13:25

Let's analyze this for a moment.

404 Errors

Why do people hate 404 errors? Because it returns nothing when a user expects something. When this happens, users get frustrated and hate landing on a blank page saying "you done goofed." Instead, this issue is countered by allowing the user to get something in return and assuring the user that it wasn't their fault.

Same thing happens with search fields

If a user searches for something and they get nothing in return, they get frustrated.

The solution

See what is done!

Youtube allows a simple way of guiding people to a search after some fun. This is their awesome 404 error page:

enter image description here

To be more specific for a search page:

enter image description here

They allow for filtering, searching again and providing what their search query returned. It could be hard providing what they would want because of what the search query is. As you see, my query provides little to no insight in what I wanted. Although, you could provide what they would want to see from previous searches/cookie algorithm, but that's getting too technical for here. This should be done only if you have absolutely no clue in what they are trying to search.

All in all, give them something so they can judge if this is what they wanted in the first place. If not, allow a way of tweaking the search by filtering or reiterating what they wanted in the first place. As you can see, the bottom left corner provides a "this is what we think you'd enjoy" channels.


On my internal search engine, I simply redirect to the homepage using a HTTP header, and then show an error based on the query string. What do you think of that? Just my two cents.

  • 1
    That requires an extra step, because from what I imagine, you're taking the user to the search page, they search, if something goes wrong, they are sent back to the home page? Too many steps. Why not just give an error in the search page so they can refine their search instead of bouncing back and forth?
    – UXerUIer
    Commented Sep 23, 2013 at 15:43

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