Friday, July 02, 2010

Search - Now an essential feature for websites.

When I use to create website’s, my focus use to be on what the client asked for, its usually the home page, the content, and a good user experience. Search functionality was never something a client puts a strong focus on, and thus, it was never something I put allot of time towards.

Why should I? whatever you want you can find from the home page or the navigation menu's, right? The search feature is something that people hardly use, and when we do use it, we not really expected to find what we want anyways.

That was my attitude up until last year. in all my project planning, I place about one day on adding a search feature to a website, that’s one day for everything search related from start to finish.

It would involve creating a simple textbox on a header, usually expecting one keyword, and a search button, it would have a search results page that run a simple query that will return a bland list of titles and links that will reference a page that was lucky enough to have the keyword the query is looking for in the right field in the database. Nothing major and added nothing fancy, client’s didn’t see the value of invest more money into this feature, and no one is expected to use it, this feature as only there because it makes the site look more complete.

Thankfully, clients attitude are changing, finding information through a navigation menu is phasing out. It was a flawed approach anyways, menu’s are based on a navigational structure that seemed logical to a small group of decision makers, but may not make sense to others. The structure is usually fixed and difficult to adjust or grow. It can contain many layers resulting in information been buried deep in the navigation structure making it difficult to find.

So, you “looking” for what you want is old school, rather tell the system what you want and let the information come to you, sounds like the typical search feature, but give it a bigger budget, in fact, treat it as a project on its own.

Users are no longer expecting a bland list of links that contains this magic keyword they typed in. They are now expecting to find exactly what they are looking for, first time. The search feature is replacing the navigation menus. Search is now the primary way in finding information, so like the home page and any other primary component, the user experience needs to be great.

In South Africa, the two most popular websites used for finding employment is “pnet” www.pnet.co.za and “careerjunction” www.careerjunction.co.za. I have my CV registered in both sites. In the past I logged into both sites, entered my keyword, and spent the next 45 minutes filtering through the long list of vacancies that contain my keyword, it was not frustrating, it was the way. Today, things are a little different. CareerJunction placed some time and money in improving their search. Now, in addition to searching by my keyword, I can easily filter my search result by clicking on a list of locations, industries, job type and so on, I can also see how many entries this filter will return, giving me a much better user experience.



Pnet, has not upgraded their search feature, I now find their approach frustrating, so now I only use CareerJunction.

So far, the most impressive search feature I have seen is from Netflix. http://netflixpivot.cloudapp.net/, They use Silverlight PivotViewer to show all the videos available to rent, and as you filter the results, the video’s that match the filter criteria is shown via an excellent user experience. Its simple, detailed, functional – its just wonderful.

1 comment:

giovanni said...

This is the result of the fast paced modern world. People are looking for relevant, easy to access information in the information overload world.

Information is often required to make quick decisions, perfom reporting and perform trend analysis. This result in companies requiring simplicity by developing a single data respository. Its simple to store data but what is critical is how data is retrieved. This is where people are looking for relevance, simplicity and quick results. Search is becoming critical because it is complementary to data respository and business intelligence. Unfortunately not all companies have resources to invest in a respository or business intelligence solution, therefore the use of search is becoming critical for small and medium companies. Intranets are regarded as areas where employees share, find and store information and search has to make life easier with the current modern business demands