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Imagine a simple site, containing numerous News Items and numerous Galleries which both comprise of some text, some tags, and both of which contain one or more Photos. Each Photo can also be tagged.

In terms of URLs:

example.com/news_items
example.com/news_items/alpha-item
example.com/news_items/alpha-item/bravo-photo

example.com/galleries
example.com/galleries/charlie-item
example.com/galleries/charlie-item/delta-photo

If it was just News Items that were tagged, it would be really easy to create the tag search - clicking on a tag would perhaps take you to example.com/news_items, with the items filtered down to only items with that tag, and perhaps with UI for selecting a different tag to filter by. However, in the this case, not only is there a second type of taggable item; the Gallery, but there is also a child item of both News Item and Gallery that can be tagged: the Photo.

It is definitely useful for all three of these to be tagged, but how should the search interface work? Should all three types be returned in a single location - for example example.com/tags. If so, how would order be decided? Which type gets priority?

Another option is to have three completely separate searches - filters as described above on example.com/news_items and example.com/galleries, and a new URL for Photos example.com/photos. However this feels a bit clunky and doesn't make much sense - if I click a tag London I'd like to see news items, galleries or photos with this tag, but if I click a tag Exhibition, I might only want to see News Items.

How should tagging and searching by tags be approached when there is more than one type of tagged item and when there is an explicit hierarchy between the tagged items.

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As a user, if I'm trying to look for "photos" I'm likely not thinking about your site's hierarchy structure, whether there's News section and a Gallery section that has photos in it.

Unless a tag search returns too many items, then filtering things down based on type provided by your site's hierarchy may make sense.

So a good way to approach this would be do put in a single global faceted search.

If the user performs a search using a tag, display all items matching the tag across various sections. And then provide on the side, facets breakdown of the hierarchy showing # of results in each section.

  • I suppose the reason I'd discounted faceted search is because it usually applies when searching across a single type of thing - usually products. Here there are clearly 3 different types of thing (although you could argue a gallery is an aggregate of the photos it contains, this is definitely less clear in the case of a News Item). More importantly, this doesn't solve the issue of displaying the different types in the search result. How should they be presented? What if there are matches on all three types? – Undistraction Jul 15 '15 at 23:44
  • Oh a single global search doesn't mean you have to present the results all in the same way. A photo in the gallery would probably best be shown with a thumbnail preview. A news article that has been tagged with "photos" can be shown clearly as an article, with a Title and a short description blurb. Some meta data as to which area the result is found in and its associated tags would be nice. – nightning Jul 15 '15 at 23:52
  • Do you have any examples of a site that displays different types (or resource / model) in a different way in the same search results? – Undistraction Oct 18 '15 at 7:53
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The answer to your first question as to whether there should be a single tag search or multiple - you are 100% right, there should be a single search (there are some edge cases where you may need multiple, however in 98% of cases - you want single search). As nightning mentioned, website visitors most likely have no context of your website hierarchy and in many cases it is not very intuitive for the visitor to know that they need to go somewhere else to conduct a separate search.

Now to your second question “how to organize results when using a single search”. There are several things to consider … Context for the search & Visitor default expectations

Q: Can user interact with the search outside of the “Gallery”, “News” and “Photo Sections?

No, search is contextual. Then the intuitive and expected order of items will be suggested by page/section context.

Example: I am within a “Gallery" and searching for a tag. Default expectation is to see all “Gallery" items matching my tag first, followed by “Photos" and then “News"

Yes, user can engage with the search on any page of the website. This is a tough one as you would have to look at:

  • Who is the primary audience visiting your website and what is the most visited section “News”, “Photos” or “Gallery”. Website traffic will suggest the order you need to display the results in if search is done outside of the context of those three sections.
  • Now, contextual results will still apply. If the visitor navigated to a section “Photos”. The order of results may differ. Example: “Photos”, followed by “Gallery” followed by “News”…

Last but not least, page layout. Having a clear understanding around what your visitors may want to see when conducting a search will suggest a layout which will allow them quickly scan the results and navigate to an item that closely matches what they’ve been looking for.

Edge Cases:

  • There might be cases where a tag search was initiated within a “Gallery” section, however a visitor may have been looking for a specific photo (or maybe their attention changed to “Photo” results). Such use case suggests showing results from several sections.
  • There also may be cases where you may not want to display all three sections in search results if your intent is to keep the visitor focused on Photos ONLY and don’t want them to side track them with showing “News” and "Gallery" results. Such use case suggests showing results from a single section.

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