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What are people's thoughts on creating a singular search tool, that could potentially answer lots of questions versus spinning off various smaller tools that address very specific use cases?

Example of merged search: facebook graph search
Example of broken out tools: two or more separate search areas. 1 for products and 1 for brick and mortar locations etc.

Benefits to a singular tool:

  • Minimal design aesthetic
  • Single entry point for requests and questions
  • 'Delight'. The tool has an element of magic. It helps answer lots of different questions and returns lots of types of content.

Cons

  • Users may be intimidated by the LACk of options
  • Search requires user input first and some users may not know what types of key words they should use.
  • Users' prior understanding of search bars may conflict with the notion of a multi purpose search.
  • Maybe change the wording to single or dedicated UI rather than tool. Under the covers you may be using the same tool. In advanced you may want to give the option to search on both product and location. – paparazzo Dec 4 '14 at 15:13
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The multiple search tools has considerable disadvantages:

  1. New users may not know where to go to search for what
  2. Repeatability of a search scenario will first mean that the returning user identifies which search tool to use

One solution would be to improve the search input to inform users that they are searching for products, brick and mortar location, etc. Design pattern: Auto-suggest modal on the input of the search form. Alternatively, you could allow users to pre-select what they are searching for.

Another solution would be to group the search results based on your classification of search categories. You would then prioritise one search category as the default one (e.g. products). A good design pattern here is Google search - you can switch to the images tab in the SRP.

Depending on your website you will surely want to analyse what type of searches are performed and what landing pages are reached after searching. This will tell you pretty accurately what users are looking for.If 99% of the searches are for products then, it would make sense to make the search form purely a product search tool (designing for the most probable use).

Hope this helps.

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Both - start with the singular search box, then add Advanced search interface if there is enough budget left.

For Power Users, it should be possible to type advanced queries in the original search box as well, once they learn the syntax - so the advanced interface should automatically update the original box for people to be able to learn by practice..

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