Site Search Suggestions

Search suggestions used to be an optional, nice-to-have feature for site search. Search suggestions are recommended queries that appear in a dropdown as users type in a search box. These recommendations appear beneath the search box and change as users type each letter of their query.

In recent years, search suggestions have become an expected sign of a well-designed search feature. This change in expectations is likely a result of users’ frequent exposure to query suggestions on Google, which always sets the standard of what a “good” search feature should be.

When your users select from search suggestions rather than typing in their own complete query, they benefit because they:

  • Pick an appropriate term
  • Decrease interaction cost
  • Avoid typos
  • Use less mental effort to search

If you’re planning to implement or improve your site’s search suggestions, follow these tips to make them as helpful as possible.

Don’t Suggest Bad Results

Make sure every suggested query actually has good, relevant results. Suggested terms that return zero results, or irrelevant results, are worse than unhelpful — they sidetrack users and are downright irritating.

Use Text Styling to Differentiate Between Type Query Text and Suggested Terms

Within a suggested search dropdown, each suggestion has two parts: the characters already typed by the user, and the characters suggested by the system to complete the query. It’s important to use different visual styles to show which characters fall into each category.

The type of suggestions your site offers should help you determine how to style the suggestions.

If your suggested search feature only appends characters to the end of the user’s text to finish the query, then you should highlight the suggested characters. If, instead, your suggested search feature will suggest popular queries that contain the user’s text anywhere in the query, it’s best to highlight the user’s query.

Include Scope in Search Suggestions

Scoped search should only be used on some websites, and even then, only if it can be implemented well. If your site scopes content, you’ll want to reflect that in the site’s search suggestions.
For scoped sites, each search suggestion can have three components:

  • the characters already typed by the user
  • the characters suggested by the system to complete the query
  • the scope of that suggestion (if any)

Just like the other two parts, you’ll need to visually distinguish the scope from the rest of the suggestion.

Consider Including More than Simple Query Recommendations

Beyond just completing a user’s query, the search suggestions dropdown can include links to other types of related content. Consider if this type of complex search-suggestion dropdown would be helpful for your users, or confusing overkill. If you do adopt this approach, your suggestion dropdown should be well organized and labeled. Users should be able to easily scan and understand all of the information presented.

Conclusion

Prioritize scannability and ease of processing in your search suggestions. Remember that their primary purpose is to make it as easy as possible for your users to express their information need and to see helpful results.

Via: NN Group


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