Internal search is the function of browsing the content inside the website or app and showing it to the user according to his or her search query. Tuned correctly, it shows the relevant content and this way provides the shortcut to what the user needs. Thus, the internal search saves the user’s time and effort, amplifies usability and desirability of the digital product, supports user retainment and increases conversion rates. Easy to see that this element is vital.
The interactive element responsible for the internal search in the user interface is a search field. A search field, which is also called a search box or search bar, presents the interface element that enables a user to type in the search query and this way find the pieces of content that are needed.
When to Use Internal Search
Whatever great you find the navigation of your interface, if your website or app is made of 50+ pages, it’s high time you considered applying the internal search. Well-designed and easily found search field enables the user to jump to the necessary point without browsing through the numerous pages and menus. This approach is a common pattern of user behavior now, it respects the user’s time and effort, so it is highly demanded in user-friendly interfaces.
Why is it important to have a search inside?
Earlier the recommendations about applying the internal search started from 100-200 pages on the website, but now we find them outdated a bit. Modern users are spoilt with a variety of choices and options offered by a constantly growing number of resources on the Web and in the app stores. If a visitor has already come to your website, your task is to give them what they want as soon as possible. And in most cases, users (especially led from external search engines) come to a resource with a specific goal or query and without the wish to spend much time looking for it. Search enables them to make their journey focused and effective.
In case you have a single-page website, if your app or website is concise and not heavily-packed with content, the internal search is not needed. Well-thought navigation will be enough, for example, for a corporate or portfolio website highlighting core information and services.
However, designing search usability, don’t make the opposite mistake: don’t prioritize search over navigation in a user interface. Based on everything mentioned above, designers may think that search is the best and only interactive element worth their attention. And that’s a big mistake. Although many users do try getting closer to their aim via search, there are also others who may have problems with search interactions. For example, they don’t know a language well enough to form the correct query, it’s not convenient for them to type something in, or they just hate thinking over the textual queries and they would prefer to follow the already existing navigation and cues rather than the cognitive load of communicating to the system via the search.
Core Features of Effective Search
There are different nuances of making the search interactions clear and intuitive, yet the three features below are core points to consider for the internal search:
- it should be instantly visible
- it should be clear as a search functionality
- it should show relevant content
UX Design Practices for Search
Place a search field in the most visible interactive zone
One of the key design issues is the placement of the search graphic control in the interface. In web design, the search field can be often found in a header of a website and this is a good choice: as we mentioned in the article devoted to design practices for website headers, for any website it is the zone of the highest visibility, so putting a search field there enables users to quickly get transferred to the pages they really need without wandering through the website and scrolling down.
For example, it is actually for big e-commerce websites often visited by users who have a particular goal, a specific item they are looking for – if they can’t find it quickly and conveniently, the risk is high that they will leave decreasing the profitability of the resource. Moreover, the power of habit and mental models should also be taken into account: as numerous websites include search into their headers, users are accustomed to looking for it there when they need it.
Use a clear recognizable icon and be careful about experiments
In terms of interaction design, the search field can be presented in different ways, from the framed tab to the interactive input line, or even a minimalist clickable icon. In the vast majority of cases, the search field is marked with the icon featuring a magnifying glass. This symbol is recognizable by a wide variety of users so it has proved itself effective for setting intuitive navigation and is quickly seen when users scan the webpage.
Give textual prompts and auto-filling
Textual prompts are a good way to give users a hint about the interactivity and functionality of a particular interface element. The classical example everyone knows is the Google search that offers you the options as soon as you are inputting your query. This way you reduce the time of filling in the search field and let the user start actual interaction with the content quicker. Of course, it is quite logical to tune auto-filling according to the most popular and relevant queries.
Offer the options immediately
The flow of interaction can also be supported with the dropdown menu offering possible options while the user is typing the query. Going further from auto-filling, these can be fully-featured preview snippets of the relevant shop items, news, blog articles, etc.
Use filters to tune search
In case of very high content intensity on the website (imagine Amazone with thousands of items), even a quite well-crafted search query may be not enough as it will bring out too many options in search results. In this case, filters can support the interaction flow and allow users to tune their search better: for example, on the e-commerce platform, the filters can narrow down the search results according to price range, specific brands, particular characteristics of the product, and so on.