Toward a search dominant wayfinding paradigm (worthit?)

24 Sep 2009 - 7:18am
5 years ago
7 replies
419 reads
morville
2010

I agree that large corporate (and .edu and .gov) websites should at least
seriously consider migrating to a search-centered strategy. Browsing rarely
scales well. Site search is increasingly a choice of first resort. And,
that's only when users don't parachute deep into the site via Google. This
means that every destination is also a gateway. We can enhance the value of
these findable and social objects through attention to IxD, IA and SEO. We
make this case in our new book (Search Patterns), so you'll have to wait
until January for more detail :-)

Peter Morville
President, Semantic Studios
http://semanticstudios.com/
http://findability.org/

-----Original Message-----
From: discuss-bounces at lists.interactiondesigners.com
[mailto:discuss-bounces at lists.interactiondesigners.com] On Behalf Of David
Hatch
Sent: Wednesday, September 23, 2009 7:10 PM
To: discuss at ixda.org
Subject: [IxDA Discuss] Toward a search dominant wayfinding paradigm
(worthit?)

Hi all,

For the past several months I have been perseverating on the concept of
creating a search-dominant wayfinding system for my web site: Adobe.com.
Why, you may ask? My thought (and I know Jared, at minimum will disagree
after having just listened to a recent podcast from him on this) is that as
web users we are moving more and more in that direction - toward search as
being a standard, hard-wired, lizard brain reflex when confronted with
moving through the vasty content spaces that are out there. The Googles have
had no small impact on our wayfinding approaches.

*Meme check: search as last resort?*
I wanted to call out and question a particular meme, namely: ³search on
sites like adobe.com is a function of last resort for those poor folks who
aren¹t finding their trigger words in the page (nav or content). I know
there is research on this so please hit me with it as necessary. But I can¹t
help thinking that you could phrase a new approch like this: ³People search
first because that¹s how they are used to finding info². What do you think?

*Why a search dominant wayfinding mode?* Any attempt on our part (UXers) to
come up with appropriate linked words or images to use as nav in the hopes
of getting users where we think they want to go is only a guess. Sometimes
our guesses at nav are great but sometimes they totally fail. What we do
know is that in every user's mind is an intent as they move through a web
site. If we let that user type their intent into a search box then that is a
step closer to (and more feasible than) creating the mind reading UI we all
know would be best for users. Of course the next thing is: are the search
results useful? But lets assume they were. Why in that case would we not
want to create a search dominant wayfinding UI for folks.

*What would a search dominant wayfinding UI look like for a site that's not
Google?*
It would probably have a very prominent search field. One of those giant
novelty size web 2.0 style things perhaps. For a site like adobe.com it
would probably also have some standard links such as "products" and
"support", etc but those would not be the main focus. Perhaps search could
even be used to generate the local navigation on subsections. Perhaps the
search input field could be integrated into the page such that it could also
act as a page title (an example is here http://bit.ly/o81Vp, although
admittedly its a results page). An extreme example of a search only UI on
the homepage is here: http://www.sequoiacap.com/.

Question: what are you thoughts on developing a search dominant wayfinding
paradigm for a corporate site. I'd like to hear what you think.

Thanks,
David Hatch

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Comments

24 Sep 2009 - 10:07am
Jared M. Spool
2003

On Sep 24, 2009, at 9:18 AM, Peter Morville wrote:

> I agree that large corporate (and .edu and .gov) websites should at
> least
> seriously consider migrating to a search-centered strategy.

I predict this will fail.

> Browsing rarely scales well.

Nothing scales well, but I believe a well tuned IA is going to outplay
a search engine any day. Facets scale best, for many types of data.

> Site search is increasingly a choice of first resort.

There is no evidence to support this.

It's a matter of the nature of the content. If people know unique
identifiers (exact titles, authors, part numbers), then search will
always trump any category hierarchy or facets. That's why media
products (such as books and music) do well with search.

However, search on data where the people don't have unique identifiers
(such as much of the content one might find on the Adobe.com site)
doesn't do well. Users enter generic keywords into search and the
results presentation is rarely helpful.

I'm going to bet that if David looks closely at Adobe.com's stats,
most of the users don't try search from the home page. If they try
search, it will be from somewhere deep in the site. This tells me that
they are using search to recover from a failure in IA. They couldn't
find what they were looking for by following trigger words, so they
resorted to Search (where, what they enter into the Search box is
their trigger words).

That's my take.

Jared

24 Sep 2009 - 10:44am
morville
2010

A debate with Jared about the stinkyness of site search? I'm having a
flashback ;-)

http://semanticstudios.com/publications/semantics/000004.php

...now, I'm not about to argue against the value of information
architecture...that would feel a little strange...I just don't understand
why folks insist on pitting search and browse against one another. We need
both and they need to work together. Sites that employ faceted navigation
serve as a good example. In my experience over the past few years, I've seen
plenty of investment in information architecture (browse/navigation in
particular) and not enough in getting search right.

Okay, I'm going back into lurker mode now...I have to finish my book about
search :-)

Peter Morville
President, Semantic Studios
http://semanticstudios.com/
http://findability.org/

-----Original Message-----
From: Jared Spool [mailto:jspool at uie.com]
Sent: Thursday, September 24, 2009 12:08 PM
To: Peter Morville
Cc: discuss at ixda.org
Subject: Re: [IxDA Discuss] Toward a search dominant wayfinding paradigm
(worthit?)

On Sep 24, 2009, at 9:18 AM, Peter Morville wrote:

> I agree that large corporate (and .edu and .gov) websites should at
> least seriously consider migrating to a search-centered strategy.

I predict this will fail.

> Browsing rarely scales well.

Nothing scales well, but I believe a well tuned IA is going to outplay a
search engine any day. Facets scale best, for many types of data.

> Site search is increasingly a choice of first resort.

There is no evidence to support this.

It's a matter of the nature of the content. If people know unique
identifiers (exact titles, authors, part numbers), then search will always
trump any category hierarchy or facets. That's why media products (such as
books and music) do well with search.

However, search on data where the people don't have unique identifiers (such
as much of the content one might find on the Adobe.com site) doesn't do
well. Users enter generic keywords into search and the results presentation
is rarely helpful.

I'm going to bet that if David looks closely at Adobe.com's stats, most of
the users don't try search from the home page. If they try search, it will
be from somewhere deep in the site. This tells me that they are using search
to recover from a failure in IA. They couldn't find what they were looking
for by following trigger words, so they resorted to Search (where, what they
enter into the Search box is their trigger words).

That's my take.

Jared

24 Sep 2009 - 12:50pm
Joshua Porter
2007

A relevant quote from Avinash Kaushik (Google's analytics wizard):

"In the good old days, people dutifully used site navigation at the
left, right, or top of a website. But, two websites have fundamentally
altered how we navigate the web: Amazon, because the site is so big,
sells so many things, and is so complicated that many of us go
directly to the site search box on arrival. And Google, which has
trained us to show up, type what we want, and hit the search button.

Now when people show up at a website, many of them ignore our lovingly
crafted navigational elements and jump to the site search box. The
increased use of site search as a core navigation method makes it very
important to understand the data that site search generates."

You can read the rest here (it's an excellent read): http://www.alistapart.com/articles/internal-site-search-analysis-simple-effective-life-altering/

Also, one more aspect of search dominance is the screen size you're
working with...mobile makes showing large navigation structures
difficult at best.

Just one example: Amazon's iPhone app is completely search dominant.
(there is no IA to speak of)

Josh

On Sep 24, 2009, at 12:44 PM, Peter Morville wrote:

> A debate with Jared about the stinkyness of site search? I'm having a
> flashback ;-)
>
> http://semanticstudios.com/publications/semantics/000004.php
>
> ...now, I'm not about to argue against the value of information
> architecture...that would feel a little strange...I just don't
> understand
> why folks insist on pitting search and browse against one another.
> We need
> both and they need to work together. Sites that employ faceted
> navigation
> serve as a good example. In my experience over the past few years,
> I've seen
> plenty of investment in information architecture (browse/navigation in
> particular) and not enough in getting search right.
>
> Okay, I'm going back into lurker mode now...I have to finish my book
> about
> search :-)
>
>
> Peter Morville
> President, Semantic Studios
> http://semanticstudios.com/
> http://findability.org/
>
>
>
>
> -----Original Message-----
> From: Jared Spool [mailto:jspool at uie.com]
> Sent: Thursday, September 24, 2009 12:08 PM
> To: Peter Morville
> Cc: discuss at ixda.org
> Subject: Re: [IxDA Discuss] Toward a search dominant wayfinding
> paradigm
> (worthit?)
>
>
> On Sep 24, 2009, at 9:18 AM, Peter Morville wrote:
>
>> I agree that large corporate (and .edu and .gov) websites should at
>> least seriously consider migrating to a search-centered strategy.
>
> I predict this will fail.
>
>> Browsing rarely scales well.
>
> Nothing scales well, but I believe a well tuned IA is going to
> outplay a
> search engine any day. Facets scale best, for many types of data.
>
>> Site search is increasingly a choice of first resort.
>
> There is no evidence to support this.
>
> It's a matter of the nature of the content. If people know unique
> identifiers (exact titles, authors, part numbers), then search will
> always
> trump any category hierarchy or facets. That's why media products
> (such as
> books and music) do well with search.
>
> However, search on data where the people don't have unique
> identifiers (such
> as much of the content one might find on the Adobe.com site) doesn't
> do
> well. Users enter generic keywords into search and the results
> presentation
> is rarely helpful.
>
> I'm going to bet that if David looks closely at Adobe.com's stats,
> most of
> the users don't try search from the home page. If they try search,
> it will
> be from somewhere deep in the site. This tells me that they are
> using search
> to recover from a failure in IA. They couldn't find what they were
> looking
> for by following trigger words, so they resorted to Search (where,
> what they
> enter into the Search box is their trigger words).
>
> That's my take.
>
> Jared
>
>
> ________________________________________________________________
> Welcome to the Interaction Design Association (IxDA)!
> To post to this list ....... discuss at ixda.org
> Unsubscribe ................ http://www.ixda.org/unsubscribe
> List Guidelines ............ http://www.ixda.org/guidelines
> List Help .................. http://www.ixda.org/help

24 Sep 2009 - 1:14pm
bminihan
2007

This may just be my bias after designing both search and taxonomy
systems for a few really big companies, but I doubt that searching is
actually replacing browsing. Rather, it seems that search technology
has improved such that searching is finding its proper niche in the
user experience.

While researching critical usability issues for a large corporate
search engine, the pareto showed "MAKE IT FIND THINGS!" went off
the charts, in comparison to every other issue or feature we could
address or add.

While building the corporate business unit taxonomy for the same
company, we learned very quickly that no one would bother going
further than 3 levels deep into the tree, without searching, which
encompassed a whopping 10% of the total company hierarchy. We
designed and built that, left the rest to searching, and achieved the
best of both worlds, IMHO.

With a decent search engine, it's nice not to have to cram every
single site destination in one global nav system. Conversely, with a
simple taxonomy that covers the "hard to finds", you don't need to
completely re-engineer your search engine to bring up the founder's
biography every time you search for "about us".

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Posted from the new ixda.org
http://www.ixda.org/discuss?post=45983

24 Sep 2009 - 1:59pm
Mark Schraad
2006

As a somewhat interesting tangent... when I was working in portal world we
introduced vertical or channel specific search. As almost an after thought
we included sponsored links. The revenue stream turn out to be wildly beyond
our expectations. Were we new to the indexing process... and as we got
better at it (better search results for the user) our gsl revenue declined.
It made for interesting conversations between the revenue folks and the UX
folks.
Mark

On Thu, Sep 24, 2009 at 7:14 AM, Bryan Minihan <bjminihan at gmail.com> wrote:

> This may just be my bias after designing both search and taxonomy
> systems for a few really big companies, but I doubt that searching is
> actually replacing browsing. Rather, it seems that search technology
> has improved such that searching is finding its proper niche in the
> user experience.
>
> While researching critical usability issues for a large corporate
> search engine, the pareto showed "MAKE IT FIND THINGS!" went off
> the charts, in comparison to every other issue or feature we could
> address or add.
>
> While building the corporate business unit taxonomy for the same
> company, we learned very quickly that no one would bother going
> further than 3 levels deep into the tree, without searching, which
> encompassed a whopping 10% of the total company hierarchy. We
> designed and built that, left the rest to searching, and achieved the
> best of both worlds, IMHO.
>
> With a decent search engine, it's nice not to have to cram every
> single site destination in one global nav system. Conversely, with a
> simple taxonomy that covers the "hard to finds", you don't need to
> completely re-engineer your search engine to bring up the founder's
> biography every time you search for "about us".
>
>
> . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
> Posted from the new ixda.org
> http://www.ixda.org/discuss?post=45983
>
>
> ________________________________________________________________
> Welcome to the Interaction Design Association (IxDA)!
> To post to this list ....... discuss at ixda.org
> Unsubscribe ................ http://www.ixda.org/unsubscribe
> List Guidelines ............ http://www.ixda.org/guidelines
> List Help .................. http://www.ixda.org/help
>

24 Sep 2009 - 2:38pm
Robert Hoekman, Jr.
2005

>
> It's a matter of the nature of the content. If people know unique
> identifiers (exact titles, authors, part numbers), then search will always
> trump any category hierarchy or facets. That's why media products (such as
> books and music) do well with search.
>
> However, search on data where the people don't have unique identifiers
> (such as much of the content one might find on the Adobe.com site) doesn't
> do well. Users enter generic keywords into search and the results
> presentation is rarely helpful.
>

<plug>
Seconded. Especially since I just finished proofing the chapter Jared and I
did about this very subject for our upcoming book, Web
Anatomy<http://www.rhjr.net/s/wa>,
in stores in November.
</plug>

-r-

24 Sep 2009 - 2:48pm
robenslin
2008

I'm really enjoying this discussion. To my mind it depends on the
degree of complexity and context of information within the site to
create a balance of search methods.

Related to context, users using search is inversely proportional to
context. The greater the context the users' need affords (a small
site focusing a specific needs) the less the user relies on search...
and they tend to use alternative search methods: navigation, labels,
imagery, copy to locate the information.

No doubt I'm sure there are caveats to this notion?

-- Rob

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Posted from the new ixda.org
http://www.ixda.org/discuss?post=45983

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