To google something means to search something on the web by using a search engine (even Bing). But from a design perspective to google it takes another meaning – to design something in a simple and efficient way – the google way.
And if we talk about search engines and search boxes, it’s definitely the google way to do it. Which is being simple and precise: one search to find them all. So, we are using one big search box which can offer us all the information we need.
Due to Google having a large website with an efficient search function has become a necessity, and the old feature of advance search, popular some years ago has been forgotten. The search function must be smart enough to find the right information fast and in one single search.
- Place them in a visible place (look at Amazon, eBay).
- Keep the search words in the box (ex: search for shoes and keep shoes in the search box in the results page, maybe you want to filter further to men’s shoes).
- Filter mixed results by dividing possible results into meaningful categories (Amazon).
- Suggestions with auto-complete (like Amazon does).
- Correct misspelling or propose alternative versions (as Google does it, and Amazon). E.g. on ebay if I search “teg hauer”, the proposed alternatives are with “Tag Heuer”, the correct spelling of the brand.
- Never, but never show an empty page results. If there are no results, display something related to it, otherwise you might lose the client.
- State what you search there (IMDB: “Find Movies, TV shows, Celebrities and more”).
- Google “like” design, simple and very fast.
- Order suggestions in a meaningful way (TripAdvisor: first the location Bahamas, and then places there).
- Use color codes or icons in the suggestions to make a difference between them (e.g. TripAdvisor).
- The last resort – if you cannot offer auto-complete or suggestions (due to time & budget limitations) show meaningful results in the search page, with categories and related search (as Amazon does).
- Use the right keywords to search for (e.g. above our top result for “shoes” is a shoe cleaner – so, bad UX).
Under the hood (the Information Architect’s job)
How does it work? We must have a decent code behind it, like a customized version of jQuery Auto-complete and an organized database. Still, to really make it meaningful we need to do more:
- Search in the right field in the database and in the proper order. E.g. for Amazon the first field should be the name and then the category of the product.
- Keywords are the keyword. If the user searches for “punk” on a product site, if we have something labelled as a punk style shirt, but without punk in the name it should still display it.
- Correct labelling, a shoes cleaner should not appear in front of a shoe product.
- Dictionaries – for alternative spelling and misspelling or synonyms (e.g. on search of “sneakers”, shoes should be mentioned).
- Special characters – German language has special characters, but if we are using a British keyboard it should also work (e.g. Straße equals Strasse).
Making an efficient search is not rocket science anymore, but it requires to read the right UX books, have the right coder helping and most important, see what the competition is doing (better or worse).