In our information dense digital world, search is crucial. So is the search result where there are a lot of help for users.

But on mobile devices, the screen is very limited, which makes the use of laptop search result page hard to implement. Such as:

  • filters
  • best bets
  • 'did you mean' (for spelling suggestions)
  • display result as you type
  • 'others searching for this also searched for...'.

Which search result improvements should be in visible in a search result page, which should be there but hidden under a menu and which can we leave out altogether?

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    +1 for a great question. Looking forward to some answers, ideally backed by real user research and studies. – greenforest Dec 20 '13 at 23:41
  • What sort of user research studies did you have in mind? Or, more pertinently, once you've got some recommendations from here how would you go about validating those in context of your specific application and your user base? – Erics Dec 21 '13 at 6:11

Okay, I'll take a whack at this one.

Filters: You are probably familiar with the idea of novice vs. advanced users. Filters are potentially a more advanced feature. The main reason for this is that your search should do a good enough job at delivering relevant results that, unless I am really trying to find something super specific (like a specific sized image), the search should get me there without the need for filters.

However there are those needs, and this probably really depends on the app/what content you are searching. I would place filters in a prominent place near the top, but subtle enough that I could cruise over them and get right to the results. I want a user to notice the filters when they are about to type into the search because what they were looking for didn't come back the first time.

Best Bets: I would avoid these, or simply build it directly into your search results. Like I said above, ideally the search would bring back the desired result immediately, so if your system is confident that this is what they are searching for, why wouldn't it just be the first result?

Spelling Suggestions: I think a single line text link of "did you mean blah?" is easy and understandable. I would not make the assumption as Google sometimes does, because on mobile, data is $$ and I think it is more important to give the user what they asked for as opposed to taking them to somewhere else.

Display as you type: As other posters have mentioned, when the keyboard takes up half or a third of your screen, this is less than helpful. I would also add that you are using data on a mobile device, and it would be better to wait until they actually search. I think recommendations are helpful (i.e. jabberwocky displaying as a potential search term when I type jabberw), but showing actual results could be potentially very wasteful and slow.

'others searching for this also searched for...': Out of everything to strip out of a mobile search, I would get rid of this one. If you wanted to include this, I would definitely place it at the bottom where the user would only see it once they scrolled to the bottom of the results.

Hopefully this helps. Here is a mockup that illustrates some of these ideas.


download bmml source – Wireframes created with Balsamiq Mockups

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  • Nice answer! I'd love to see your mockup! – Benny Skogberg Dec 20 '13 at 16:00
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    @BennySkogberg Sorry it took so long, had a busy weekend. Hopefully that is helpful. :) – Matt Lavoie Dec 23 '13 at 15:39
  • The only thing I don't agree with is not showing a "did you mean" spelling correction. It's very easy to mistype a search term on a mobile device and I often find myself just hitting submit even though I know one of the words is spelled incorrectly; Then I'll click the spelling suggestion if I don't get the results I expected. I'll go as far as saying this feature is even more important on mobile than desktop. – Soviut Dec 24 '13 at 7:55
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    @Soviut Did you mean ___? is illustrated in the second screen. Its kind of tiny though. You edit the mockup to pull it up larger. – Matt Lavoie Dec 26 '13 at 19:29

Excellent question!

In my view, for anything useful, the number of clicks should be minimized as much as possible. That means - yes, try to make as many features accessible as possible right away, to begin with.

Once you are there and page becomes crowded, try to reduce the size of buttons first. (Surely buttons still have to be big enough to accomodate people with large fingers.) If it is still crowded, try to group them together. Once user clicks on a group, you can expand it to show more options.

  • Filters are (sadly) not so common as they should be, so I would place them more prominently to make your app stand out.

  • Not sure what "best bets" are. Recommendations like Amazon books? Again, not so common, so helpful to see at least an icon (though labels are better) to know it is there.

  • Spelling suggestions can be an icon or small button IMO. Again, the user only needs to know they are there and click if needed.

  • Display results as you type - really helpful! And they appear only once user starts typing, so no need to hide them. But I need a way to get rid of them if I want. So leave some space away from them where I can click and have them disappear. If you think a user can find them annoying, let them disable it manually but many will like it.

  • Others searching - again the same thing - I only need to know it exists, then I can click on it if I want more.

Hope this helps.

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  • I disagree completely with the first part. The number of clicks is not that important, it's the "intuitiveness" of the information placement that matters. Try to create a complete app where everything is accessible through 1 click, and see what I mean. Reducing the size of buttons on a mobile app is a very bad idea. Have you seen the size of some fingers ? ;) – thomasb Dec 21 '13 at 11:43
  • @cosmo0 I never said intuitiveness isn't important. Neither that the size of buttons should be reduced infinitely. – Dmitri Zaitsev Dec 21 '13 at 12:13
  • I think reducing the size of buttons is especially a bad idea on mobile. I have slim fingers, and yet I often fail to click on the button/link I need. I believe that on a mobile app, the bigger the buttons, the better. If I click on the wrong button, and have to wait a few seconds to come back, then fail again because the button is really small, it's more than annoying. If I don't have a way to zoom (and I suspect most users don't know how to pinch-zoom), it might be a deal breaker. – thomasb Dec 21 '13 at 12:37
  • @cosmo0 Agree on that, my fingers are not even thick yet I hate typing on the iphone. See parentheses added. – Dmitri Zaitsev Dec 21 '13 at 13:28
  • Showing more information and fewer buttons is a lower "cost" for the user experience on mobile. Users aren't afraid to scroll and it's the easiest thing to do. Tapping buttons, on the other hand, is a decision, which can lead to low uptake since users may think the button will take them away from where they are. Not to mention button taps require more precision than scrolling. – Soviut Dec 24 '13 at 21:43

I believe most of these points should be driven by user data, business need and type of application.

Filters depend mostly on the application type. While it's useful at Amazon, not so much at Google, for instance. If there are clear categories, and some common search types might be in multiple unrelated categories ("mouse" in a store that sells both computer hardware and animals for instance), make the filter prominent.
It also depends on your capacity for building a great search engine. In my opinion, search filters are often there to compensate for bad search queries. You should thrive to make filters irrelevant by allowing the user to filter himself, by entering more precise search terms.
Conclusion : no filter, but better search engine.

Best bets are often more marketing-driven. If you sell something, you put the products that make you more money (or the most popular) upfront. Otherwise, it's not so useful.
Moreover, best bets might be seen as ads and completely ignored by the users, or effective only on some category of population. Knowing you user is key here, and analytics are your friends.
"Others searching for this also search for" falls squarely into this category. If your business have an interest in it, put it on the bottom, or at most in the middle by clearly separating it from the rest. However, it's more often relevant to put such things in the item details than in the search results.
Conclusion : if your application/business benefits from it, put it upfront, otherwise, remove it.

Spelling suggestions are fine, but more user-data-driven. Is a popular item hard to spell ? Is there a "popular" misspelling of a certain item ?
In any case, "did you mean" is a great feature to push forward, but you must be sure that it will not annoy users with search suggestions of similar spelling even though their spelling is fine, but for another item.
Note that in the general population, most people are either terrible at spelling, or don't care very much, or don't pay attention. If your audience is more specialized, you might not need it.
Conclusion : if you're capable of providing a great "did you mean" engine, put it upfront, otherwise, remove it.

Search as you type is very helpful, but for that, you must both have a way to display the results that is not obnoxious to the users (does not go over other interface elements that are useful while you're searching), and data for common search terms.

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Just my opinion

  1. filters --> Ideally need to be persistent across the page/ app
  2. best bets --> Can be an icon that appears on the top left/ right dynamically... so we can draw the user's attention, optionally
  3. 'did you mean' (for spelling suggestions) --> Can be a modal dialog as soon as the user clicks search, with various suggestions, along with a button "No, just search" :)
  4. display result as you type --> I would not recommend this... when the user is keying in the search term, the user's keyboard would cover 1/3rd the screen leaving very little space for results. However, if the user were to use Voice input, I would then recommend showing instant results
  5. 'others searching for this also searched for...'. --> This can be a "creep in" from the bottom after the user has the page open for 2-3 minutes... this way, we can avoid annoying the users who are actively looking at results. But for those who are still searching/ looking for the right link, the "creep in" will be a good help.
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    I completely disagree with your point (3). You shouldn't break the user flow with a modal dialog if you're not 100% sure that the user made a mistake (even then that's questionable). Most of the time the user searched the "correct" term, but the system can still calculate some "did you mean..."s – Lovis Dec 19 '13 at 8:43

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