Search, The Internal Frontier

I’ve recently taken on a project which includes a complicated “Internal” site search.  This website not only needs to be found on the web, but members can run specific searches against specific elements on the website, click on subcategories and then create filters.  Sounds a bit like an eCommerce search, right?  Well, it’s not, but eCommerce is a good starting point.  This blog article is going to explore what I know about internal website search and places they have solved it well or not so well.

First off, there are two kinds of searches online as you should know by now.  You got your World Wide Web search now referred to as a Google search, and an internal website search.  It may not be so easy to figure out which kind you are doing these days, because an internal search quite often is using Google and/or the Google Appliance, a box Google sells you that manages a “Google like” private search engine for your website.

I first ran into a hybrid search, what I call “Directed Search” when I was hired for a consulting gig at The Limited, VictoriasSecret.com.  They had no search box at the time.  The year was 2005.  I mention that, because that shows how large, successful brands, can get stuck in the past.  They required the customers to click on the word search, then click on something like a bra. Then you would have to choose your size and finally choose a style and color.  It was like 9 clicks to checkout. Well that was unacceptable.  But it made sense from a technical standpoint.  A lot of things make sense from a technical point of view.  Having a system that holds people’s hands through a step by step search can make sense, but not with bras.  At VictoriasSecret.com, later that year after I had left, the search became a search box, and finally you could put the word “Pink” in that box and get some results and then make adjustments on the left for price, color, size, etc.  Point is, that not all searches are equal.

I have been studying two well used online internal search paradigms to solve my problem, Linkedin.com and Bankrate.com.  Both websites have a complicated, MIT level issue with data, and getting customers to the right answer, without taking up too much time and without losing them in “advanced” areas.  I think both sites live and die by helping the members find their way to a person/company or whatever int he case of Linkedin.com and to a mortgage company in the case of Bankrate.com.

Basic Versus Advanced

I think we can all agree that the best searches have a limited amount of functionality at first.  If you read my article on “2 Online Marketing Segments: Insecure Focused, Secure Unfocused“, you will see that you need to accommodate the less sophisticated, yet ready to go, user like myself first and foremost.  I admit I don’t read everything, and I would guess that 80% of the population is like me.  But for that 20%, there are extreme details they want to know, and they WILL use the advanced search. So, you got to keep everybody happy.  It is not easy for Linkedin.com for instance.  You will notice they have it easy to find people, but if you start peeling back the layers, the advanced search is there.

One Click Versus Many

One UI goal and conversion goal for all searches is to reduce the clicks.  This means if something can be done in one click that’s great and lets say no clicks, that’s even better.  Remember with JQuery you can have a no click solution, where people type things in, look at Answers.com and others, and have it change as you enter your search terms.  The way that Linkedin.com solves this is by having a little drop down for the search, which means you can choose what kind of search you are starting before you enter data, people, company, group, etc.  This is really innovative and useful.

Complications & Third Parties

So sometimes a search can not be as straight forward.  There could be third parties who have ad-space making it advantageous for search to take a little bit longer (a few clicks).  Bankrate.com is a great example of searches where, in order to search customers correctly, they have to know where you are looking to get a mortgage and what type  you are looking for to even start the search.  For instance I would be looking for a 30 Year Fixed in Boca Raton, Florida.  Then they can start the search… So for some searches it is more about getting the basics in place, and then start the filtering.

No matter what kind of search you set up.  Trust me the Google Appliance is not for everybody and there are still about 15 companies out there which provide third party internal Saas search products like Omniture and Autonomy.  If you are an eCommerce company you can’t live without them.

 

 

Web Branding vs. “Don’t Make Me Think”

About 10 years ago I picked up a copy of Don’t Make Me Think by Steve Krug. It is by far the simplest bible-like book of user interface design. The principle of this short read is simply creating web page layouts that meet common ways people are used to using the web, and you will make your site is more usable and successful. And according to Krug, deviations from these norms, make people think. Making people think, means they sometimes get confused, sometimes they leave the site and often they don’t make the decisions you want them to make. Basically you make people think and that is a bad thing.

Don’t Make Me Think Example

A good example in the book is the word “Search” vs. “Quick Search” on a search form on a website. The slight difference of the wording “Quick Search” actually makes people think for a second, like is this search really quicker, where is the real search? According to Krug, if you are making people think, the sites usability is lessened and therefor things like conversion rates drop and quality of the site is lower.

Word Famous & Now We Are Starting To Think

I was sitting in on a brand building call by David Tyreman, founder of World Famous Company, and a guru extraordinaire on brand building, this week and he was covering the concept of making sure customers are in their comfort zone, whether as they arrive on your site, your business, in between, or right before buying or during the transaction. This is part of the larger concept of improving and creating your world famous brand.

Brand Comfort Zone

This comfort zone covers both physical and virtual spaces. By physical, a good example for our speed dating business, is when people are getting ready for a speed dating event, are they comfortable, happy, at ease and in the proper zone right before an event. Trust me people are nervously standing around, especially looking at people walking in the door, wondering if they are going to be in the event. For a virtual website, have you created an environment on the website that eases the visitors comfort level and therefor improved their comfort zone? An interesting example is Apple.com. They follow few standards. Often on the Apple.com website, I have to search around and find what to click on and discover stuff. But that is what Apple is all about. It is a tug of war between being Apple (branding) and Making People Not think. Well, this is what I am noticing is a diversion from Don’t Make Me Think, in fact, it’s the time you want people to think, because you are using your brand to improve their comfort zone.

VictoriasSecret.com’s Pink Bag

Back in 2001 or so, I was working at abcdistributing.com, specifically on their website analytics and their cart. abcdistributing.com, which I occasionally talk about in my blog, is the unsung hero of catalog companies that only women who love catalogs know about. They used to get thousands of orders a day online, so small improvements in their site design made a big difference. I was looking around back then and noticed that Victoria’s Secret was the first website to really introduce a different kind of a cart. Theirs was “Add To Bag”. Cart’s were just simply “Add to Cart” or “Buy Now” buttons back then, so when I saw this nicely branded little bag, i was impressed. It was really my first introduction to how online branding can be extended to comfort zones online. I just did not know it back then. I tried to think of a way to extend this to abc distributing, a business that did not believe in branding, and all I was able to think of was this box they shipped out had this little fish icon on it. Everybody remembered them that way. That was their brand at the time, and therefor I pushed to switch their “Add To Cart” to “Add To Box” with a little box icon… Of course they did not go for it, but it stuck in my mind. Finally, thank you David, for explaining to us what this is about!

Be Uniquely The Same

So, in the end what I think this means is not everything online fits a cookie cutter way of doing things. Don’t Make Me Think obviously is a great example to start with in building user interface designs. It says don’t put something in a place on a site like a search box on the bottom left, or a menu bar in the middle of a page (not at the top), or the company logo in the middle of the page or change wording like About to “Who we are”. But there are exceptions, many exceptions, but exceptions that have to do with branding, where you want people to think! Another good example of a client of mine recently, who switched the word “Services” to the word “Benefits”. Or a site that uses “Start Your Journey” vs. “Buy Now”. So, it appears, good branding, especially improving the customer comfort zone, trumps Don’t Make Me Think. Sorry Steve Krug, sometimes you gotta think!