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If a search results in only one item on the search results page, should I save the user’s time by immediately redirecting him/her to the searched item, or let the user see the list before moving on?

Search result page: 'Showing 1 to 1 of 1 entries'

P.S. It is kind of related to this question, however, this question is more generic and I find that that question lacks better answers.

  • 27
    Also consider that that one search result might be something the user does not want to try to visit. As for instance, when using Google search, I never want to try to view Google Books results, or videos. Automatically redirecting me to them would be annoying at best. – jamesqf Apr 20 '15 at 18:04
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    Unless your Search button is actually named "Search / I'm feeling lucky" then I would highly advise against the behavior which you describe. – MonkeyZeus Apr 20 '15 at 20:30
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    MediaWiki actually does this, so you can experience it for yourself by searching for uncommon things on Wikipedia. (Though it is a configurable option that can be turned off by the sysops.) – Michael Hampton Apr 21 '15 at 3:29
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    @MichaelHampton: I'd argue MediaWiki does the "opposite": The primary perceived purpose of the search box is not to "find all pages with a given keyword", but to "open the one page on a given topic" (in fact, I think "search" is a bit of a misnomer for that feature, it should be called "manual input of article name" or similar). – O. R. Mapper Apr 21 '15 at 14:57
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    @O.R.Mapper That might be someone's perceived purpose, but after seeing many search result pages with keyword search results on Wikipedia, I perceived it to be just that. Obviously there's a UX issue here. :) – Michael Hampton Apr 21 '15 at 15:05

12 Answers 12

131

Letting the user know that there's not much useful information found is useful information.

If you don't show the search results list in case there's only one result, you save the user some time – but I doubt the user will actually appreciate it. The user basically doesn't know whether there's only one result – or if there's an inconsistency in how the search works. Sometimes he/she sees a list of results, sometimes he/she's redirected to a content page.

So I would suggest you better save yourself some time and don't add that feature.

  • 26
    I would argue that for Wikipedia, the context isn't about entering a broad search term to see what comes up, but rather a specific term to find the single wiki article you are looking for. The autocomplete suggestions reinforce this. It also helps that they have redirection and disambiguation links at the top of many pages to "broaden your search" so to speak. – Nathan Rabe Apr 20 '15 at 18:50
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    When Wikipedia does go directly to an article you'll often see at the top "REDIRECT" redirects here. For other uses, see REDIRECT (disambiguation)." – user1008646 Apr 20 '15 at 19:15
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    @user1008646: no it does not. Those are unrelated features. A search goes directly to the article when it is a exact match. On the other hand there are pages which the only content is a "redirect" to another page, yet linking two words is not a sure thing, so there may be a notice that "you got here through THIS word but maybe you are interested in THAT one" – user17696 Apr 21 '15 at 7:36
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    @NathanRabe I guess that is their point. Nevertheless I find it quite annoying that sometimes we land on a specific page, sometimes we don't. Even worse, it works differently if searching from a search box in a 'regular' page (leads to a page if there is a exact match) than when searching from the search page (show all results) – user17696 Apr 21 '15 at 7:38
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    Note that with wikipedia this behaviour is for the search box (and API) not for the search page. I have a vague recollection of this box being labelled "quick search" many years ago, but that might have been on another site; it would still seem to be a suitable way to describe such a tool. – Chris H Apr 24 '15 at 13:43
52

Do not auto-redirect user. Remember to let the user have the control on your sites. Make them the ruler of your site.

The user might also want to revise their search terms. As a user, when I tried to search for common items and got 1 result, I might feel something wrong with my search terms. I would tried to generalize the search terms.

On another case, the only result might not be the one I'm looking for. Of course I don't want to be redirected to that page.

Overall, it's best to let user choose what they want to do with the search results

34

Consistency is important in UX

This is a general principle but it's especially true for consumer-facing sites where users may be new or have varying levels of familiarity.

  • In real life, when you open your fridge to start cooking you expect to see food inside. It's confusing and cognitively dissonant if you open your fridge a second time and see a stovetop inside....even though your ultimate intent is to cook food.

For user search, a typical workflow involves starting with an idea, doing a search, iterating, and then achieving an end result:

enter image description here

Search users often iterate several times before arriving at a solution, and they may adjust the search in different ways (choose another result, go back and adjust search terms, or go back to ideation and rethink what they want).

When you break consistency, you risk creating disorientation in this workflow because a user may change a search term and get no results page.

  • The user can still hit the back button (or re-enter a different search term if the box is persistent), but you've already caused disorientation because the same mini-workflow has created very different results.

Don't do it (usually)

For this reason, it's usually presumptuous design to assume the user wants to be redirected straight to the result. Search is not always a linear workflow for users, so consistency is more important than convenience most of the time.

If you are worried about blank space on the page with just one result, there are other layout approaches to improve the experience (this is one of the reasons elastic dropdown search boxes are popular nowadays)

  • 1
    Along the lines of considering the user's expected workflow, if the search page is ever ajax'ified in the future, then he may be trying different search options and just reviewing the list. They may have no intention of visiting the results at first. I might Google with instant results, get only one item back, see that item is not what I want, and immediately edit the search field. This workflow would be interrupted by an automatic redirect. – AaronLS Apr 20 '15 at 22:50
  • What would you think of the idea of indicating that there was one found record, showing a link to a page just for the record (as would be done for each search result if there had been many) but then underneath that show the record that was found? Aside from some vertical screen space (which could be reclaimed by clicking the link if necessary) the result would be essentially as useful s going directly to the page, but without disrupting normal UI patterns. – supercat Apr 21 '15 at 14:50
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It also depends on the kind of search, for example if the user is searching for a customer number in a CRM. When entering that number while on the phone with a customer, the number is unique and the user expects one match. He/she will probably find the result list redundant. A partial number may return the search list for further exploration.

  • The new Google Maps is an interesting example that is on the edge for this. If I search for, say, "Washington Monument", there's only one such place, and I expect to be taken straight there, not given a list (which is what it does). But often it gets it wrong: e.g. recently I was searching for pubs with gardens, but instead of giving me a list, no matter what I typed just took me to one nearby pub called "The Garden". If you make assumptions about users' intentions, give them an alternative in case your formula guesses wrong – user568458 Apr 27 '15 at 11:39
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If the application is for providing exact items for which users may know the title, redirect to the item but provide a means to show the full search results.

Wikipedia does this if you search for an article with the exact name of your query unless you navigate to the full search results. This is useful because the user will most likely want to visit that page directly if they know the title. This could also be useful on places where you're trying to search for an exact name like that of a game or movie. If the results are about things with specific names, redirect the user.

Examples where this would be useful: Wikipedia, IMDB, Steam, an app store

If the application is for finding items from generic criteria, don't redirect them.

If your search is designed for a topic among a set of blog posts or websites where the actual title isn't of much importance, redirecting should not happen. If you do a search on Google and there happens to be a result with the exact same title as your query, it would not be useful in most cases to redirect the user. The distinction here is that the search is designed for content rather than titles.

Examples where this would be useful: Google, Amazon, blog, forum

It's also useful to provide real-time search suggestions if possible so the user can click a result themselves, thereby maintaining control over their search.

This is useful in both of the cases presented above. In cases like Google, it can help you avoid extra typing and even help you figure out how to word your search. This still brings you to a search results page but it can still be a helpful feature. It can also be useful in cases like Wikipedia, Steam, or Amazon where it can bring you quickly to a specific page. There can also be an option at the bottom which users can click to bring them to an actual search results page so they can maintain control over their search.

  • 3
    This should be the accepted answer. It's complete, argued, precise and detailed. – KPM Apr 23 '15 at 21:49
  • In the first case (and @ciscoheat's example) if the search is more of a "retrieve this thing", then taking the user straight to the result is probably best, but there should probably be an option to not do so. – TripeHound Apr 27 '15 at 13:18
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As has already been expressed in other answers on here, the reasons not to redirect include:

  • The user expects to see a results page (consistent with other search operations)
  • The user expects to be able to evaluate the results of the search
  • The user is likely to become disoriented by the page redirect and think that the search may have failed.

Google did make a move in the direction of instant redirects with the "I'm feeling lucky" button that takes the user directly to the top result for their search string but they still use the more regular search behaviour as the default (when the users hits return or enter on the keyboard rather than clicking a button on screen)

6

I would love to say I'm 100% sure of this. But, as a user I would still expect to see the result list. I did a search, nothing in the UI is telling me that only 1 search result is found. If I am redirected right away to the only result, it my be confusing as I'm not sure if I did the search in the first place.

This very however, very dependant on what search we're referring to. If we're searching in a system which has a limited number of items with obvious differences it might be fine.

However the best implementation would be to show results before the user completes the search aka Auto complete.

5

I've run into this issue before and I actually have a different answer. In my case, the list of items is that user's own list, so keep that in mind.

I do redirect the user automatically, but include a notice at the top of the page informing the user that "There was only 1 record which matched, so you were automatically directed to it. Click Here to see the list anyway."

So yes, I do redirect them, but I also tell them why, and give them an option to go back anyway. I believe this is the best of both worlds, as it minimizes clicks 99% of the time, but still keeps the user 100% informed and in control.

  • I was going to answer the same thing, can’t believe this wasn’t accepted. – Kirk Strobeck Apr 24 '15 at 3:57
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    To be fair, when I replied the answer was already accepted ~20 hours prior, but I wanted to share what I believed to be a better solution. – Bing Apr 24 '15 at 4:12
  • It can always be changed, and in this case it should be. – Kirk Strobeck Apr 24 '15 at 4:13
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Users can't know everything

As others have noted, you want the user to be in control and fully aware of their site flow. On the other hand, the system should know more about what's available than the user. That's what computers are for, right? The system knows, for example, that if they would only have changed one word in the search, they'd get 5x the results.

Put the computer to work for the user

The concept of recommendations in e-comm sites is squarely aimed at the problem you're facing. Sometimes there aren't many results, and that may be just what the user was after. However, the system also knows that people who look in that sparse corner of the site tend to be interested in other information as well.

Give the user what they asked for, whether it's 1000 results or 0. But, you can append "similar" or "related" searches in a clearly messaged and defined space. Let them know "this is not what you searched for, but we think you'll like it".

  • “The system knows, for example, that if they would only have changed one word in the search, they'd get 5x the results.” Do you mean the more results the user gets, the better? I figured it's better to give them what they searched for, not 5x more. If they typed the exact name of a movie, isn't it better to have them directed instantly to the page dedicated to the movie (in the case of a movie database), instead of displaying a result page consisting of one line? The page could possibly include a line of text indicating "we redirected you here because there was only one result." – Niavlys Jun 25 '15 at 15:12
  • @Niavlys 1) More is not necessarily better, but letting the user know about related results often is. Take them to the results they asked for, but let them know that there's more in the system. 2) You also have to be careful about changing the pattern. If the user doesn't come to your system daily (or more), variations of a flow can cause confusion and disorientation. In the case of a movie database, redirecting may seem easy, but are users more likely to be irritated by the extra click or caught off guard by the change in flow. That's what testing it for. – plainclothes Jun 25 '15 at 15:33
4

I agree with the above answers in general to not do it. However, there are always exceptions.

If you search in the JIRA (issuetracker) webapplication, you get the list of results, unless you directly type an issue key (in the form of PRJ-123). In that case, it would be annoying to show the list, since as a user you expect to exactly match 1 issue.

1

If the user is searching by a particular unique identifier (and it's expected that most users would know/use these identifiers regularly), then redirecting a single result to the detail page would be acceptable. For example, if I'm searching for a user story in Rally, I expect the search to take me directly to the story if I type in US12345, but I also expect to go to a search list if I use keywords, even if only one result exists. If a story should be linked to another (e.g. US12347), I'd use the relationship system built in so that searching on US12345 would show the one result, and the successor area would show US12347 as a related item. If I had wanted to go to US12347, I would have searched for it directly.

This is a specific example, but it outlines the fact that sometimes it's acceptable to go right to the detail page. For example, searching by an account number, or another unique record identifier (such as above), you can go to the page. At any other time, give the user a list, even if there's only one result. As an acceptable alternative, you might also provide a Google-esque "I'm Feeling Lucky" option, where the option goes right to the first match. Users might use this if they know their particular search result just right (of course, indexing may change over time, so this might not always be the best idea, but at least the user has an option).

1

No! As a user, I may want to revise my search terms, or not be happy with the result of this action. Also, I may want to click on that "Did you mean?" link. Finally, I may be (rarely, but possibly) infected by malware. See action diagram below:

  1. Type the search term
  2. Automatically redirected
  3. Not happy with the result for any reason

The best thing to do is to let the user pick the result, even if it's only one (ignore the case).
See example:


Spoogle

Enter search term:How to walk my dog without a leash?
Recommended search: How to walk my dog without a belt?
Results (1):

Walk your dog without a leash
Learn how to walk your dog without a leash at DogTuts.org!


Wouldn't you like to revise your search term in such case? You can add an option, though.

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