About Björn Klockljung

Interaction designer with a wide variety of interests ranging from accessibility, web design, game design, swing music, lindy hop and 1930-1940th vintage clothing

Book Review: Search Analytics for Your Site

Lou Rosenfeld is the founder and publisher of Rosenfeld Media and also the co-author (with Peter Morville) of the best-selling book Information architecture for the World Wide Web, which is considered one of the best books about information management.

In Lou Rosenfeld’s latest book he lets us know how to successfully work with Site Search Analytics (SSA). With SSA you analyse the saved search logs of what your users are searching for to try to find emerging patterns. This information can be a great help to figure out what users want and need from your site.  The search terms used on your site will offer more clues to why the user is on your site compared to search queries from Google (which reveal how they get to your site).

So what’s in the book?

Part I – Introducing Site Search Analytics

In part one the reader gets a great example of why to use SSA and an introduction to what SSA is. In the first chapters you follow John Ferrara who worked at a company called Vanguard and how he analysed search logs to prove that a newly bought search engine performed poorly whilst using the same statistics to improve it. This is a great real world example of how to use SSA for measuring quality of search AND to set up goals for improvement.

a word cloud is one way to play with the data

Part II – Analysing the data

In this part Lou gets hands on with user logs and lets you how to analyse the data. He makes it fun and emphasizes the need to play with user data. Without emphasis on playing, the task to analyse user data may seem daunting. Also, with real world examples from different companies and institutions it is easy to understand the different methods for analysis. Personally, I feel the use of real data in the book makes the subject easier (and more interesting) to understand.

From which pages do users search?

Part III – Improving your site

In the third part of the book, Rosenfeld shows how to apply your findings during your analysis. If you’ve worked with SSA before most of it will be familiar (improving best bets, zero hits, query completion and synonyms) but even for experienced professionals there is good information about how to improve everything from site navigation to site content and even to connect your ssa to your site KPI’s.

ConclusionSearch Analytics For Your Site shows how easy it is to get started with SSA but also the depth and usefulness of it. This book is easy to read and also quite funny. The book is quite short which in this day and age isn’t negative. For me this book reminded me of the importance of search analytics and I really hope more companies and sites takes the lessons in this book to heart and focuses on search analytics.

Design Principles for Enterprise Search – The Philosophy of UX

In May I attended An Event Apart in Boston (AEA). AEA is a 2-day (design) conference for people who working with websites and was created by the father of web design Jeffrey Zeldman and the CSS guru Eric Meyer. The conference has a broad perspective, dealing with everything from how to write CSS3 and HTML5 to content strategy and graphic design. This post is about an AEA topic brought up by Whitney Hess: Create design principles and use them to establish a philosophy for the user experience.

Hess wants to create universal principals for user experience to communicate a shared understanding amongst team members and customers and to create a basis for an objective evaluation. The principles suggested by Hess are listed below along with examples of how these can relate to search and search user interfaces.

Stay out of people’s way

When you do know what people want stay out of their way

Google knows what to do when people visit their search at Google.com. They get out of the way and make it easy to get things done. The point is not to disturb users with information they do not need, including everything from modal popup windows or to many settings.

Create a hierarchy that matches people’s needs

Give crucial elements the greatest prominence

This means that the most used information should be easy to find and use. A classic example is that on most university webpages – it is almost impossible to find contact details to faculty members or campus address but very easy to find a statement of the school philosophy. But the former is probably what users mostly will try to find.

university website -  xkcd.com/773/

Limit distractions

This principle means that you should design for consecutive tasks and limit related information to the information you know would help the user with her current task. Don’t include related information in a search user interface just because you can if the information does not add value.

Provide strong information scent

There should be enough information in search results for users to decide if results are relevant. In an e-commerce site this would be the difference between selling and not selling. A search result will not be perceived as cluttered if the correct data is shown.

Provide signposts and cues

Always make it clear how to start a new search, how to apply filters and what kind of actions can be applied to specific search results.

Provide context

Let the user know that there are different kinds of search result. Display thumbnails for pictures and videos or show msn availability in people search.

Use constraints appropriately

Prevent errors before they happen. Query suggestion is a good way as it helps users correct spelling error before they happen. This saves time and frustration for the user.

Make actions reversible

Make it obvious how to removes filters or reset other settings.

Provide feedback

Interaction is a conversation so let the user know when something happens or when the search interface fetches new search results. Never let the user guess what happens.

Make a good first impression

You only have one time to make a first impression. It is therefore important to spend time designing the first impression of any interface. Always aim to make the experience for new users better. This could mean voluntary tutorials or fun and good-looking welcome messages.

So now what?

Are universal principles enough? Probably not. Every project and company is different and need their own principles to identify with. Hess ended her presentation with tips on how to create company principles to complement the universal principles. Maybe there will be future blog posts about creating your own design principles.

So what are your company’s principles?

Search and Accessibility

Västra Götalands regionen has introduced a new search solution that Findwise created together with Netrelations. Where both search and accessibility is important. We have also blogged about it earlier (see How to create better search – VGR leads the way). One important part of the creation of this solution was to create an interface that is accessible to everyone.

Today the web offers access to information and interaction for people around the world. But many sites today have barriers that make it difficult, and sometimes even impossible for people with different disabilities to navigate and interact with the site. It is important to design for accessibility  – so that no one is excluded because of their disabilities.

Web accessibility means that people with disabilities can perceive, understand, navigate, interact and contribute to the Web. But web accessibility is not only for people that use screen readers, as is often portrayed. It is also for people with just poor eyesight who need to increase the text size or for people with cognitive disabilities (or sometimes even for those without disabilities). Web accessibility can benefit people without disabilities, such as when using a slow Internet connection, using a mobile phone to access the web or when someone is having a broken arm. Even such a thing as using a web browser without javascript because of company policy can be a disability on the web and should be considered when designing websites.

So how do you build accessible websites?

One of the easiest things is to make sure that the xhtml validates. This means that the code is correct, adheres to the latest standard from W3C (World Wide Web Consortium) and that the code is semantically correct i.e. that the different parts of the website use the correct html ”tags” and in the correct context. For example that the most important heading of a page is marked up with ”h1” and that the second most important is ”h2” (among other things important when making websites accessible for people using screen readers).

It is also important that a site can easily be navigated only by keyboard, so that people who cannot use a mouse still can access the site. Here it is important to test in which order the different elements of the web page is selected when using the keyboard to navigate through the page. One thing that is often overlooked is that a site often is inaccessible for people with cognitive disabilities because the site contains content that uses complex words, sentences or structure. By making content less complex and more structured it  will be readable for everyone.

Examples from VGR

In the search application at VGR elements in the interface that use javascript will only be shown if the user has a browser with java script enabled. This will remove any situations where elements do not do anything because java script is turned off. The interface will still be usable, but you will not get all functionality. The VGR search solution also works well with only the keyboard, and there is a handy link that takes the user directly to the results. This way the user can skip unwanted information and navigation.

How is accessibility related to findability?

http://www.flickr.com/photos/morville/4274260576/in/set-72157623208480316/

Search and Accessibility

Accessibility is important for findability because it is about making search solutions accessible and usable for everyone. The need to find information is not less important if you are blind,  if you have a broken arm or if you have dyslexia. If you cannot use a search interface you cannot find the information you need.

“what you find changes who you become” -Peter Morville

In his book Search Patterns Peter Morville visualizes this in the ”user experience honeycomb”. As can been seen in the picture accessibility is as much a part of the user experience as usability or findability is and a search solution will be less usable without any of them.