Search usability

31 January 2008 at 10:56 Leave a comment

Shari Thurow has recently blogged on Understanding search usability 1 and 2. I was expecting something on designing search interfaces for usability. Rather, Thorow focuses on the message that optimising the search experience is much more than traditional SEO and should take account of users’ search behaviour.

Thurow argues that search usability is misunderstood by a range of new media disciplines and aims to dispel misconceptions around the use of usability studies, focus groups and web analytics. She argues that key to understanding SEO and web site usability are the human factors. “Why do people do what they do before and after they arrive on your web site? By objectively observing target audience members and carefully analyzing their search behavior, web site owners can improve their web sites.”

Thurow outlines Marcia Bates’ concept of berrypicking – searching is not a linear behavior, rather it comprises a wide variety of behaviors including, but not limited, to: querying, refining, expanding, browsing/surfing, pogo-sticking, foraging, scanning and reading. So users’ berrypicking behaviour needs to be recognised in designing more effective search interfaces.

“The term “search usability” addresses all search behaviors on a single web site, not only querying behavior, and not only browsing behavior. A user-friendly, search-friendly web site accommodates berrypicking behavior and delivers searchers to the information they desire as quickly and easily as possible.”

Search usability needs to incorporate not only the usability of the query interface (search box and results pages etc.) but also ensuring sites are search-friendly (rather than purely search-engine friendly).

“The term “search usability” addresses all search behaviors on a single web site, not only querying behavior, and not only browsing behavior. A user-friendly, search-friendly web site accommodates berrypicking behavior and delivers searchers to the information they desire as quickly and easily as possible.”

So it is important to:

  • Identify types of search behaviour
  • Understand how these search behaviours are all related
  • Design a web site that addresses all or most of these search behaviors, by understanding the searcher’s experience as an objective observer.

Thurow advises remembering three things:

  1. You are NOT the user
  2. Even if a user fits a profile, persona, or role, a user is not objective or accurate about evaluating his own behavior
  3. Users are not always right

So Thurow concludes that “Search usability is a complex subject. There are many types of search behaviors, and plenty of elements on a web page that need to be formatted in such a way to accommodate these behaviors.” I particularly liked her point that “You are here” cues are very important. When users click on a link from web search, they are likely to land in the middle of the site. So good label to help searchers orientate and form a mental model of the site are important in instilling confidence.

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Entry filed under: search, usability.

Japanese sponsored links in my Gmail Search behaviour patterns

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