In a previous post, I wrote about the benefits of ramping up your onsite search.

To follow up, I did a quick and dirty review of current writing on site search best practices. I found that a lot of folks are missing out on the benefits of site search by making some common mistakes.

Let’s look at the top offenders.

Mistake 1: Neglect Mobile

At the end of 2013, there were more than 1.3 billion smartphone users globally—a 17 percent increase from 2009.

Friends, mobile is not an emerging trend. It’s the new normal, and site search is a big component of making it usable. In fact, searching for stuff is often the main point of a mobile homepage.

Two simple ideas for optimizing mobile search are making buttons big for touch screens and including autocorrect for devices with Lilliputian keypads. There are lots of others. The point is to pay attention to mobile search and build it into your company’s mobile strategy.

Mistake 2: Get Clever with the Search Box

Research has shown that most people look for a site search box at the top of the page, usually in the right-hand corner.

Now is not the time to innovate. Don’t put the box on the bottom or in a navigation menu. Don’t call it something clever—call it “Search.” Make it obvious. Offset the colors if needed. On mobile-optimized pages or apps, the search box should be the most obvious thing on the page. Unless, of course, you want navigation or scrolling to be the primary content discovery method. Let your user experience data determine that for you.

Mistake 3: Make It Slow

We already know that the speed of your overall website is critical for user experience and SEO. I can’t say it any better than this article from the Moz Blog:

“There is literally a decade of research from usability experts and analysts on how web performance affects user experience. Fast websites have more visitors, who visit more pages, for longer period of times, who come back more often, and are more likely to purchase products or click ads.”

In a nutshell, everything we know about site speed and user experience is also relevant for search speed. For example, you probably don’t need a lot of big-file, high-resolution photos for your mobile screen. Thumbnails will work fine. Keep site search fast, and users will have more reason to convert quickly and use again.

Mistake 4: Return “No Results Found

It’s been said that the worst insult is indifference, and a site search that returns “no results found” feels kind of like … well, like no one cares that you’re there.

User experience includes intangibles as well as objective results. Your goal should be giving the user a meaningful response every time.

One of the most basic ways to combat “no results” is simply to autocorrect for misspellings or suggest synonyms for keywords. There’s also a range of tactics for redirecting traffic to related content or products. You could also provide a default listing of top pages, similar to what some 404 pages do, if no results show for a particular query. And some big enterprises are using sophisticated tools that combine semantic tech and Big Data insights for granular, personalized results.

The point is to avoid total dead ends. Even if your search literally does not have any results to return, careful handling can create a good user experience.

Mistake 5: If You Build It, They Will Come (and Stay, and Convert)  

The best site search is always a work in progress. Don’t build it and forget about it. Test every change, and work your search analytics hard to gain insight into what users want.

Maybe searchers are looking for content (or even products) you don’t have. Search query data can suggest which queries perform best in conversions or click throughs. Frequently used keywords can be worked into content. How can you use these insights to improve user experience or to beef up other elements of your marketing program?

Mistake 6: Offer a One-Size-Fits-All Approach

Empowering users to tailor online search is a feature of all the top online retailers and, I’d argue, any top-notch website. Offer a range of filtering, sorting, and display options while still keeping it relevant to the most common user intents. Increased interaction makes the experience richer and increases the chances of returning relevant results.

Summing It Up

These ideas are a starting point for improving your company’s site search or jumping into the field. Are there other mistakes you see often or that you’ve made and learned from yourself?


Hi Dave,

I just came across the article, its really good and helps to rectify my mistakes. Thanks for sharing a valuable article.