Search behaviour patterns

6 February 2008 at 16:21 Leave a comment

John Ferrara writes an excellent piece at Boxes and Arrows on designing for different Search behaviour patterns. He argues that the simple model of search; enter search term/get matching results/read and select ‘best’ result’ overlooks complex human behaviours and differing information needs according to many factors.

He lists six factors, among others, that influence search behavior:

  1. Domain expertise
  2. Search experience
  3. Cognitive style (global thinkers <—-> analytical thinkers)
  4. Goal type: navigational searches (to reach a particular location), informational searches (to seek out any documents relating to a topic), Transactional searches (to achieve something online)
  5. Mode of searching – browsing and ‘berrypicking’
  6. Situational idiosyncracies – search behavior may vary due to mood, workin context, time pressures etc.

Despite the wide variety of variables, Ferrara has observed six behaviour patterns that should be accommodated in design:

  1. Alternating between search and browse – have robust cross-linking and hierarchical clues such as crumb trails
  2. Minimizing the results set – let users filter search results by categories, include a numeric count of the total number of results and the total number for each category , use “and” as the default operator rather than “or,” so the number of results narrows instead of growing as the user adds more terms
  3. Surveying quickly – ensure that result titles are comprehensible at a glance, including application files like PDFs, highlight the terms that match the words originally submitted, let users change the number of results shown per page
  4. Making immediate judgments – optimise results for common queries and use best bets
  5. Agonizing over the query – provide suggestions as user types, show ‘top’ searches, store user’s previous searches
  6. Pogosticking – where user’s bounce around – clear titles and descriptions, show visited links on the results page and consider preview windows of the landing page

This is a really useful reference piece and I’d agree with nearly all of it, except “Highlighting the terms that match the words originally submitted to help people scan the titles and descriptions more easily.”


Entry filed under: search interface. Tags: , .

Search usability Visibility of government information

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