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What are the best practices for designing search interfaces?

Sheza Naveed

The search function is one of the most important parts of an interface as it allows users more freedom by:

  • allowing them to have control over the interface and use the web in their own way.

  • allowing them to easily get out of situations where they are stuck in navigation and cannot find a way out.

Often, users are moving quickly on the interface when they are searching. The interface should allow them to carry out searches quickly and not waste their time locating the search bar. We should follow the following guidelines regarding search:

  • search should be available on every page of the interface, as the user might feel the need to search at any time.

  • search should be in a box, as users scan the interface and a box search is what they are accustomed to.

  • search should be a type-in-field in the form of a text box and not a link.

  • the search box should be placed at the top right corner of the page, as the convention dictates it should be and that is where the users look for it.

  • the search box’s size should be wide enough to contain a typical sized query. If it is too small, the query will scroll, and this decreases usability.

  • the most relevant search results should appear on the first page, as users rarely go to the second page of the search results.

Search bar

Advanced search

Most users cannot carry out an advanced search, so it is important to:

  • ensure that your search engine can handle single-word queries or very short multiple-word queries and produce accurate results.

  • do not offer advanced search on the homepage, as users might opt for that option and get further confused by using it incorrectly.

Scoped search

Scoped search allows users to limit the search results to specific areas of the site. Although it is risky, it has to be used when a site offers too many services. The following guidelines should be kept in mind:

  • set the default scope to “all,” i.e., search the entire site.

  • in case of a narrow search, state the scope of the search explicitly at the top.

  • allow users to return to site-wide search quickly from scoped search in one click.

  • if the scoped search reveals too many options, allow users to further limit the search scope.

Scoped search. Source: NN group

Search should allow users freedom and not leave them helplessly scrolling to find what they want. The placement of search fields and returning high-quality results are essential to offer a good user experience.

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