I was reading Jacob Neilsen’s Alertbox article on Interaction Elasticity today. In the newsletter he mentions that shorter navigation paths are usually better. “4 easy clicks are more usable then 5 easy clicks, because the extra click is more work for users”.  This sounds obvious and it got me thinking about how it relates to site search (I pretty much do that for everything I read).

One of the nice things about search is it is a very efficient way of navigating on a site. You click on the search box, you type in your search term and press enter (or click on the search button). Then if the search is relevant the page you are looking for will be above the fold and you can click on it. If the results are not relevant you may need to click on a facet, a sort option, a related search, scroll down, go to the next page of results – or do another search. This is why relevancy is the single most important feature in a search. If the results are relevant it reduces the amount of work you need to do.

The auto complete functionality that we released a few months ago shortens this path further by reducing the number of keystrokes you need to make – by 8 on average. I see Google is testing enhancements to Google Suggest to not only show search terms but also results and ads as you type. Showing search results as you are typing reduces the path even more – you don’t need to see the search results page. For this reason I think  this type of functionality will become more widespread – both in web search and for site search.

Another idea that we are starting to encourage our customers to investigate is to put the focus on their search box on most of the pages on their site – essentially any page that doesn’t have a more important form on it. This again reduces the navigational path – you don’t have to do that first click on the search box before you start typing. You also don’t have to do the work of finding the search box (which on some sites can be surprisingly difficult) – you just start typing after the page is loaded.

You don’t see many sites that put the focus on the search box. Google does it on their homepage. They’ve done a lot of usability testing – so it must be a good idea. Amazon doesn’t do it. They’ve done a lot of usability testing – so it can’t be a good idea. Mmmm. Personally, I really like it. I think Amazon should do it – let’s see if it catches on elsewhere.

2 thoughts to “Focus focus focus?

  • shaunr

    Jason Billingsley from Elastic Path said via twitter (he tweeted?) that he thinks auto focus is not a good idea unless it is the only action on the page – like Google. He pointed out that if the focus is on a form you can’t scroll with your keyboard. I never thought of this because I very rarely use the keyboard to scroll.

    Usability experts are always saying you should never make design decisions like this based on your own preferences. Instead you should consult your users and test. And I recommend you do that with this idea as well. My guess is that it’s going to be positive. I suspect it will encourage people to search more and because people who search convert at a higher rate than those who navigate by clicks you will sell more.

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