Search or browse

In the past weeks we got a few questions about the implementation of a search field in the Open Police platform. Currently visitors can only search the ‘Questions’ pages. We’d love to tell you why.

Good navigation

In the old platform visitors could search the whole website but most of the times they did not get to the information they were looking for. For example, searching for ‘office hours’ or ‘district officer’ did not return a helpful result.

Good navigation and useful links are vital for the success of your website. A search feature is an added bonus, sure. If we implement one, it has to be as good as Google or even better.

Instead of a global search we first focus on a solid navigation structure and only provide a search feature in the questions.

As a result, statistics show that people are no longer using the terms ‘office hours’ or ‘district officer’ as search terms. Instead they are simply browsing through the contact pages.

Only 2% use the search feature

Google might be insanely popular but that doesn’t mean the search feature on your website is too. On the contrary.

Analytics show that the search feature is rarely used. For example, on the website of Politie Leuven, only 2% of the visitors on the ‘Questions’ page use the search field.

User tests show the following results over and over again:

  • Most people only use the search feature after they’ve tried the navigation or the content links. Search is regarded as the last resort.
  • If people are looking for something very specific, like a product they know by name, they’re more inclined to search.
  • Programmers and engineers use the search feature more often than the average visitor.

Encourage people to browse

Most people aren’t very good at searching

It’s quite shocking to see how bad some people are at formulating a good search query. Often they use words that are either too general, way too specific or just plain wrong.

Different words

People often use different words than the website uses. They type ‘robbery’, when the site talks about ‘theft’. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it usually doesn’t deliver great results.

Spelling errors are very common

You wouldn’t believe the amount of ‘sandels’ and ‘sandles’ being offered on eBay when actually what these people are trying to sell are ‘sandals’.

Future, better websites

Improving your website through fact-based research is our primary focus. A global search feature is on our list but will not be implemented in 2015 since it is only a small piece of the puzzle.

Make sure to check our guides, they will help you create accessible, readable and understandable information.

This blog post is based on “Navigation versus search”.