last updated: 21 August 2018 (approximate reading time: 3 minutes; 579 words)
If you run a website, you’ve probably either got some sort of site search functionality or you’ve considered implementing it.
Can I make a suggestion: don’t implement this feature and if you’ve already got it, then remove it.
Because people will use it.
You Should Be Guiding
If you offer a search tool, people will use it—it will be their default method for approaching your site. You probably think that search is a good thing and that it’s helpful. It’s not, its an abdication of responsibility on your part and is covering up a bigger failure with your website.
First off, the website is your website. You should be showing visitors what you want them to see. If something is important, then they should see it very soon after they reach your site—they shouldn’t have to go looking.
But more significantly, you know better than anyone who will be searching:
- what is there to be searched
- what matters
- where the stuff that matters is to be found
In other words, you already know the answer, so rather than giving your visitor a search tool and hoping they find the good stuff, why not actually direct them? Why not help them find what they might be looking for? Bring some structure to your website so that people will be guided.
This structure can take many forms, but might include:
- Menus (both in the site’s main menu and through sidebars and contextual menus).
- Links from prominent pages (such as the front page).
- Summary pages with links to the important material. These summary pages can be linked to from a wide range of pages to in effect create a funnel directing people.
- Categories, tags, and other taxonomy terms.
Whatever choices you make, the key is to make visible a path for visitors to reach your important material rather than to hide everything behind a search engine.
What People Will Find
There’s a secondary question when you offer a search function: do you know what people will find when they search?
What people will find when they search is usually based on a combination—and interaction—of three factors:
factor one: the search term (or terms)
Can you be sure that your visitor searched on the right term and therefore uncovered the correct/appropriate information?
factor two: how the search function works
Can you be sure that the search function identified the most relevant piece of information? Do you actually understand how the search function on your site works and how it weights the text you write to provide an answer to someone searching on your site.
factor three: what is there to be found
Can you be sure that a less relevant piece of information wasn’t surfaced? Maybe the less relevant piece was newer; maybe it was a better response to a poorly chosen search term.
And when you look at the content that is to be found by searching your site, if your content goes out of date, then why do you want it included in a search?
When a visitor finds something, can you be sure that:
- they have found the right thing
- there isn’t something better
- this is the answer to the issue the visitor wanted addressed
But People Need To Search
If people need to search your site, there’s always Google. With Google, if you put “site:” and then the site’s URL immediately before the search term (so: site:simoncann.com search term), Google will restrict it’s search to just that site.