This post is the third and final in a series on how to use internal search data as a basis for continuously optimizing your website.So far, we have established ways for you to check-up on your website's search function and evaluate whether it delivers the results your visitors are searching for. Now, we will finish off with a short guide on how to keep your search function in mind when you are redesigning your website.
Use search statistics to get closer to your user's needs
Internal search, searching for information within a given website, can help you even before you start designing your website. This is the perfect time to take a closer look at what your users want by simply using your internal search statistics.
You can benefit from your internal search terms when you decide your navigation menus and your website's general structure. Your most popular search terms tell you what your users are most interested in. Bring this information to the forefront of your website during a redesign. Make sure the information is visible on your home page, and use terms that users would use rather than sticking to another term that is often used within your organization.
Use your internal search as a tool for testing migrated content
Try out your redesigned website’s search function before you go live. That way you can test whether new pages that are being migrated or added are shown correctly in your search results. Ask yourself:
- Is the title specific and unique for the page?
- Does the description help users decide which search result to pick?
- Are there any search results that come up in the results twice?
During content migration, check search results every few days using the most popular search terms.
Make sure you also find errors on parts of your website that you have been paying less attention to by searching for placeholder terms that should not be on the final site, such as:
- 'No title'
- ’Lorum Ipsum’
These search terms might lead you to parts of your site that do not follow the general structure of the website.
Designing your search page
The trend in search page design leans towards simplicity. Filtering options and similar extra functionalities are rarely used. Keep the most essential functions, and use the extra space for the search results.
The search results are the main focus of the results page, so enrich these with useful and concise information. You can show photos of employees or contact info directly on the search page. Maybe there is a "buy'" or "download" link that can be displayed directly in the search result?
The search box itself should be prominent; at least as big as the main menu elements and placed in the top right area of the page or in the center part of the page.
Which content should your search solution cover?
Ask yourself; which domains, sites and subsites does your organization use? Would any external sites be included in your search? Users are not aware of what and where content is placed on your sites. Let your search include content across domains, so you can maximize the help that is provided directly via your website.
Your search statistics will guide you in finding out whether the content of a specific subsite should be integrated in the main site search or not.
You may also have information on your main domain that is not suitable for being made searchable from your global search function. For instance, an archive of agendas and minutes that is used by a specific user group. Most users have no need to access this information but the users who do may be more open towards using special functions, such as searching for only a specific part of the document or sorting results by date.
When considering which types of pages should be in your main search there are three questions you should ask:
- Do users search for the information on the pages?
- Do the pages have a structure that makes it possible to integrate them well in the search?
- Are the pages being searched for by a specific group of users only?
If you decide to leave a part of your site out of the search and make it searchable in a separate search, remember to set up a quick link in your search that informs users about this. When using a separate search, it makes sense to address the needs of the user group that are especially interested (e.g. in minutes) by using advanced search functions since users with a special interest or knowledge use these options more often.
What about your mobile website?
On mobile devices, one type of information need stands out as the most important: fact-finding.
This means that facts about your organization need to be easy to find via your search, which is one more reason to show facts such as contact information, opening hours or event information directly on the search results page so that users do not need to actually click away from the result page.
Take control of the ranking for the search results to make sure that facts come first. Consider setting up quick links for the most frequent search terms and directly show maps, phone numbers or an overview of opening hours.
Also unique to mobile is the fact that space on the screen is limited. Help them out by reducing the content to include only the most important elements to free up screen space for large buttons.
Adjust the search function to the surroundings:
- Reduce clicks by presenting facts directly on the search page.
- Make room for showing the search results by removing categories, filters, breadcrumbs and other additional functionality.
- The essential elements that need to be presents are: a search box, a search button, and links to the search results with a useful description for each.
Ideally, if your site can detect where users are, adjust the ranking to the context the users are currently in. When users are at home, push pages with news, campaigns and events highest. When users are out, prioritize facts, so they are easy to find and not hidden behind an extra click.
Do you want to become even better equipped for your redesign?