I'm working on the search results for a large shopping site. Each day it gets thousands of queries and, as expected, often gets misspelled search terms. Each day reps go through the search results and add them to a data dictionary. So if someone searched for "computer" and instead typed "computter" then computter would direct the user to computer.

(These are not actual terms and the process is more complex than I described.)

My question is: how do we find out if the user truly was looking for "computter"? Maybe there is golf app that the store could sell that is called "ComPutter").

(Again I'm making these search terms up as I'm going along.)

That being the case how do ask the customer "did you mean what you wrote"?

Currently we display something along the line of:

You searched for "computter." No results were found for that. Did you mean "computer"?

I'm looking for examples or ideas that would allow the user to say: "Yes I meant computter - show me computter."

The "problem" with the Google example is that many people "miss" the "search instead" statement. You would think that people would be "trained" to look for this but in tests I've found too many people not find the "search instead" link.

  • May I ask what's wrong with You searched for "computter." No results were found for that. Did you mean "computer"? ? You're giving the results for what the user searched for (something that should always be the case in my opinion) and it's giving an opportunity to correct something that is most likely a typo.
    – jazZRo
    Aug 7, 2014 at 6:49
  • I don't think there is anything "wrong" per se. However I've done some user testing and found that too many people did not find the alternative. Why? I think it is because we automatically redirect people to the "assumed" page. Enter "Computter" and we will show you results for "Computer." People never seem to see the link for "Did you mean Computter." Now if the video game "ComPutter" was in the system then the user would be directed there. This really only happens when consumers are aware of brands or products BEFORE the store enters them in the system.
    – Mayo
    Aug 7, 2014 at 13:42
  • But if you show this message You searched for "computter." No results were found for that. Did you mean “computer”? the results are shown for computter not computer right? What’s wrong with that? Again in my opinion never show the results for the assumed word (computer). No wonder people couldn't find the link, they were not looking for it because they thought they saw the results for the word they typed in.
    – jazZRo
    Aug 7, 2014 at 14:22
  • For better or worse the company displays the ASSUMED result. They have analysts monitoring search results and doing redirects. Analyst decides that "X" means "Y" and from that point on "X" is redirected to "Y". I have convinced them to do several things -- keep records of redirects (wasn't centralized) and review these redirects periodically. There is a need for the company to know when the consumer's query was CORRECT even though all "evidence" points to a typo. The need arrives when the customer is searching for a new product that the analyst is not aware of: as in the ComPutter example.
    – Mayo
    Aug 7, 2014 at 16:59

2 Answers 2


You could switch the process and show the results for the phrase the user actually searched for first. Without making assumptions what the user might have searched.

This way the user will be more likely to click on a provided link to a similar phrase if the result is obviously not living up to her expectations.

  • Well that certainly is logical but it isn't going to happen. :-) The assumed search MUST show up. A site redesign is in the works and I'll try to get the room to clearly state to the user that "You searched for X and we're showing Y" and deal with all the variations. (Currently we show msgs only when reps put them in.)
    – Mayo
    Aug 7, 2014 at 19:27

'That being the case how do ask the customer "did you mean what you wrote"?'

An example like this?

enter image description here

  • I added an edit to my original comment. I've run some A/B tests and found that people consistently missed the "search instead for" link. I would have thought that google would have trained users to this - but I haven't seen it. I have limited real estate (of course) and don't want to clutter up the limited amount of white space with "DID YOU MEAN COMPUTTER" text.
    – Mayo
    Aug 6, 2014 at 17:15
  • hmm, its interesting that people miss the 'search instead for' link as I would have thought receiving search results for something other than what you (the user) searched for would cause frustration and drive them to locate such an option (in the scenario when they wanted the misspelt item).
    – OpenTage
    Aug 7, 2014 at 9:39
  • That's what I thought of as well. But sometimes there's a "0" search result such as when a customer searches for: Samsung Galaxy S3. Then the system would say: "The S3s are out-of-stock, take a look at our S4s and S5s." But what if the alternative wasn't so clear. EX: often times users would just put in Galaxy S3, and sometimes misspell it 'Galax S3'. The system redirects them to Galaxy S3 (in which the big, bold msg stated above would appear). But what if there is a new video game called GalaX S3 that the store doesn't carry? It would be good to have user feedback - "Damn it Jim, I want ..."
    – Mayo
    Aug 7, 2014 at 13:36
  • Do you think you are perhaps worrying about an edge case too much? It is more common than not that a user will type the search term correctly, then if they misspell you cover that by directing them to what you believe they wanted and offer a 'oh did you mean ...'. If you are only applying the spell correction to items you do not stock then there is little problem, you have not lost a customer as you dont sell what they are looking for.
    – OpenTage
    Aug 7, 2014 at 15:04
  • The use comes up most often when a new product appears and the reps are unaware of it and the name is very similar to an existing product. Such the term computer, the typo computter, and the golf app ComPutter. I will have to give this more thought. Thx.
    – Mayo
    Aug 7, 2014 at 19:30

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