Reaching Findability #4 – Build for the long term!

Findability is surprisingly complex due to the large number of measures needed to be understood and undertaken. I believe that one of the principal challenges lies within the pedagogical domain. This is my fourth post in a series of simple tips for reaching Findability.

Build for the long term!

A platform for Findability takes time to build. It is partly about technology development but equally about organisational maturity.

Mechanisms for managing both information and search technology need to be established and adopted. The biggest effect though, is realized when people start thinking about information differently. When they start wanting to share and find information more easily, and desire the possibility to do so.

As with any change project, it helps to not make too many changes at the same time. It is often easier to establish a long-term goal and take small steps along the way. To reach the goal of Findability, the first step is to define a Findability strategy. While information is refined and the technical platform is developed step-by-step, the organization is allowed time to mature.

Choose your technical search platform carefully, and think long-term based on the specific requirements of your business. Give priority to supporting the processes and target groups due to receive the most tangible benefits from finding information easier and more quickly. One valuable method for defining goals, target group needs and means by which to fulfill them is Effect Mapping, developed by InUse AB, which can be used early on in the transformation to gain and communicate important insights

The technical architecture, as with the information structure, must be well thought out when laying the foundation of the platform. Start out with a first application, perhaps an intranet or public web search. The extent and influence of the search platform can then be gradually built out by adding new information sources and components in accordance with the long-term plan. With the right priorities, business value is created every step of the way. New ideas can be tested and problems mitigated before the consequences become difficult to handle.

A good example of an organization with target group focused development is Municipality of Norrköping. You can watch an entertaining presentation of how they do it here!

Findwise at the J. Boye 12 conference [Updated]

It is with great pleasure we can announce us as a partner of the J. Boye 12 conference in Aarhus (November 6-8). The J. Boye 12 is a conference focused around web and intranet to give practitioners and experts an opportunity to meet and exchange ideas and experiences in a professional, yet informal atmosphere.

Findwise will contribute to the conference with a speaker. Kristian Norling, our Market Communication manager, will give his view on future findability trends in “Enterprise Search and Findability Trends 2013” and will also offer an expert tutorial. The topic of the tutorial will be “Optimizing Your Content for Findability“.

Hope to see you there!

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 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 -

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?

Findability on an E-commerce Site

Findability on any e-commerce site is a beast all on its own. What if visitors’ searches return no results? Will they continue to search or did you lose your chance at a sale?

While product findability is a key factor of success in e-commerce, it is predominantly enabled by simple search alone. And while simple search usually doesn’t fulfill complex needs among users, website developers and owners still regard advanced search as just another boring to-do item during development. Owners won’t go so far as to leave it out, because every e-commerce website has some kind of advanced search functionality, but they probably do not believe it brings in much revenue.

Research shows:

  • 50% of online buyers go straight to the search function
  • 34% of visitors leave the site if they can’t find an (available) product
  • Buyers are more likely than Browsers to use search (91%)

What can’t be found, can’t be bought:

  • Search is often mission critical in e-commerce
  • Users don’t know how to spell
  • Users often don’t even know how to describe it

First of all, Findability can accelerate the sales process. And faster sales can increase conversions, because you will not be losing customers who give up trying to find products. Furthermore, fast, precise and successful searches increase your customers’ trust.

On both e-commerce and shopping comparison sites, users can find products in two different ways: searching and browsing. Searching obviously means using the site search whilst browsing involves drilling down through the categories provided by the website. The most common location for a site search on e-commerce sites is at the top of the page, and generally on the right side. Many e-commerce sites have a site search, user login, and shopping cart info all located in the same general area. Keeping the site search in a location that is pretty common will help it to be easier to find for some of your visitors who are accustomed to this trend.

Faceted search should be the de facto standard for an e-commerce website. When a user performs a simple search first, but then on the results page, he or she can narrow the search through a drill-down link (for a single choice) or a check box selection (for multiple non-overlapping choices). The structure of the search results page must also be crystal clear. The results must be ranked in a logical order (i.e. for the user, not for you) by relevance. Users should be able to scan and comprehend the results easily. Queries should be easy to refine and resubmit, and the search results page should show the query itself.

Spell-check is also crucial. Many products have names that are hard to remember or type correctly. Users might think to correct their misspelling when they find poor results, but they will be annoyed at having to do that… or worse, they might think that the website either doesn’t work properly or does not have their product.

Query completion can decrease the problems caused by mistyping or not knowing the proper terminology. Queries usually start with words; so unambiguous character inputting is crucial.

Search analytics, contextual advertisement and behavioral targeting is more than just finding a page or a product. When people search they tell you something about their interests, time, location and what is in demand right now, they say something about search quality by the way they navigate and click in result pages and finally what they do after they found what they were looking for.

A good e-commerce solution uses search technology to:

  • Dynamically tailor a site to suit the visitors’ interests
  • Help the user to find and explore
  • Relate information and promote up- and cross sales
  • Improve visitor satisfaction
  • Increase stickiness
  • Increase sales of related products or accessories
  • Inspire visitors to explore new products/areas
  • Provide-increased understanding of visitor needs/preferences

–> Convert visitors into returning customers!

Evaluate Your Search Application

Search is the worst usability problem on the web according to Peter Morville (in his book Search Patterns). With that in mind it is good to know that there are best practices and search patterns that one can follow to ensure that your search will work. Yet, just applying best practices and patterns will not always do the trick for you. Patterns are examples of good things that often work but they do not come with a guarantee that your users will understand and use search simply because you used best practice solutions.

There is no real substitute for testing your designs, whether it’s on websites intranets or any other type of application. Evaluating your design you will learn what works and does not work with your users. Search is a bit tricky when it comes to testing since there is not one single way or flow for the users to take to their goal. You need to account for multiple courses of actions. But that is also the beauty of it, you learn how very different paths users take when searching for the same information. And it does not have to be expensive to do the testing even if it is a bit tricky. There are several ways you can test your designs:

  • Test your ideas using pen and paper
  • Let a small group of users into your development or test environment to evaluate ideas under development
  • Create a computer prototype that is limited to the functionality you are evaluating
  • You can also evaluate the existing site before starting new development to identify what things need improvement
  • Your search logs are another valuable source of information regarding your users behaviors. Have a look at them as a complement.

And the best part of testing your ideas with users is, as a bonus you will learn even more stuff about your users that will be valuable to you in the future. Even if you are evaluating the smallest part of your website you will learn things that affects the experience of the overall site. So what are you waiting for? Start testing your site as well. I promise you will learn a lot from it. If you have any questions about how to best evaluate the search functionality on your site or intranet, write a comment here or drop me an email. In the meanwhile we will soon go on summer holiday. But we’ll be back again in August. Have a nice summer everyone!

Combining Search and Browse – Integrated Faceted Breadcrumbs

Finding information can be tricky and as I have written about in one of my previous posts improving findability is not about providing a single entrypoint to information. Users have different ways of finding information (browsing, searching and asking). They often combine these techniques with each other (berrypicking) and so they all need to be supported. Peter Morville states that.

“Browse and Search work best in tandem… the best finding interfaces achieve a balance, letting users move fluidly between browsing and searching.”

A lot of sites are improving their search experience through the implementation of faceted search. However, very few successfully integrate faceted search and browsing on their site. Searching and browsing are treated as two separate flows of interaction instead of trying to combine them which would provide the users with a much better experience.

That is why I was glad to learn about an idea from Greg Nudelman which he presented in his session at the IASummit which I attended last week. In his session Greg introduced his idea about Integrated Faceted Breadcrumb. According to him breadcrumbs are intuitive, flexible and resourceful and they are design elements that don’t cause problems but simply work. To test his idea he conducted usability tests on a prototype using the Integrated Faceted Breadcrumb. According to his evaluation the integrated faceted breadcrumb has a lot of advantages over other faceted solutions:

  1. Combine hierarchical Location & Attribute breadcrumbs
  2. Use Change instead of Set-Remove-Set
  3. Automatically retain relevant query information
  4. Label breadcrumb aspects
  5. Make it clear how to start a new search
  6. Allow direct keyword manipulation.

I find this idea interesting and I am currently thinking about whether it could be applied into one of my own projects. (According to Greg it has not been implemented anywhere yet even though the findings from the usability testing were positive.) However I wonder if this is a concept that works well only for sites with relatively homogeneous content or if it would also work on larger collections of sites such as intranets? Can it be used in an intuitive way with a large number of facets and can it cope with the use of more complex filtering functionalities? For some sites it might not be the best idea to keep the search settings when the user changes search terms. These are some things I would like to find out. What do you think about this? Could you apply it to your site(s)? I recommend that you have a look at Greg Nudelman’s presentation on slideshare and find out for yourself. You can also find an article about the Integrated Faceted Breadcrumb on Boxes and Arrows. I look forward to a discussion about whether this is any good so write me a comment here at the findability blog or find me on twitter.

IASummit – Information Architecture and Search

This upcoming week my colleague Lina and I will participate in the IASummit in Phoenix Arizona. Search, information architecture and user experience and the relationships between them is the focus for us this upcoming week. We look forward to hearing a lot of great talks, meeting interesting people and enjoying the sunny weather in Arizona.

We will be blogging from the conference but if you don’t want to wait for that you can follow me, Maria on twitter or follow the hashtag for the IASummit #ias10 so see what everyone is tweeting about.

Faceted Search by LinkedIn

My RSS feeds have been buzzing about the LinkedIn faceted search since it was first released from beta in December. So why is the new search at LinkedIn so interesting that people are almost constantly discussing it? I think it’s partly because LinkedIn is a site that is used by most professionals and searching for people is core functionality on LinkedIn. But the search interface on LinkedIn is also a very good example of faceted search.

I decided to have a closer look into their search. The first thing I realized was just how many different kinds of searches there are on LinkedIn. Not only the obvious people search but also, job, news, forum, group, company, address book, answers and reference search. LinkedIn has managed to integrate search so that it’s the natural way of finding information on the site. People search is the most prominent search functionality but not the only one.

I’ve seen several different people search implementations and they often have a tendency to work more or less like phone books. If you know the name you type it and get the number. And if you’re lucky you can also get the name if you only have the number. There is seldom anyway to search for people with a certain competence or from a geographic area. LinkedIn sets a good example of how searching for people could and should work.

LinkedIn has taken careful consideration of their users; What information they are looking for, how they want it presented and how they need to filter searches in order to find the right people. The details that I personally like are the possibility to search within filters for matching options (I worked on a similar solution last year) and how different filters are displayed (or at least in different order) depending on what query the user types. If you want to know more about how the faceted search at LinkedIn was designed, check out the blog post by Sara Alpern.

But LinkedIn is not only interesting because of the good search experience. It’s also interesting from a technical perspective. The LinkedIn search is built on open source so they have developed everything themselves. For those of you interested in the technology behind the new LinkedIn search I recommend “LinkedIn search a look beneath the hood”, by Daniel Tunkelang where he links to a presentation by John Wang search architect at LinkedIn.

Query Suggestions Help Users Get Unstuck

Several papers at the HCIR09 workshop touched on the topic of query suggestions. Chirag Shah and Gary Marchionini presented a poster about query reuse in exploratory search tasks and Diane Kelly presented results from two different studies that examined people’s use of query suggestions and how usage varied depending on topic difficulty. (Their papers are available for download as part of the proceedings from the workshop.)

According to Shah and Marchionini users often search for the same things. They reuse their previous queries e.g. search for the same things multiple times. Users use their previous searches to refind information and also to expand or further filter their previous searches by adding one or more keywords. There is also a significant overlap between what different users search for suggesting that users have a tendency to express their information needs in similar ways. These results support the idea that query suggestions can be used to help users formulate their query.  Yahoo and YouTube  are two of the systems that uses this technique, where users get suggestions of queries and how they can add more words to their query based on what other users have searched for.

Diane Kelly concludes that users use query suggestion both by typing in the same thing as shown in the suggestion and by clicking on it. Users also tend to use more query suggestions when searching for difficult topics. Query suggestions help users get “unstuck” when they are searching for information.  It is however hard to know whether query suggestions actually return better results. The users expectation and preferences do have an effect on user satisfaction as well. User generated query suggestions are also found to be better than query suggestions generated by the search system. So the mere expectation that the query suggestions will help a user could have an positive effect on his or hers experience…

Query suggestions are meant to help the users formulate a good query that will provide them with relevant results. Query suggestions can also work as with yahoo search where query suggestions both suggest more words to add to the query but also provides the users with suggestions for other related concepts to search for. So searching for Britney Spears will for example suggest the related search for Kevin Federline (even though they are now divorced) and searching for enterprise search will suggest concepts such as relevance, information management and off course the names of the different search vendors.

If you apply this to the enterprise search setting the query suggestion could provide the user with several different kinds of help. Combining the user’s previous searches with things other users searched for but also providing suggestions for recommended queries or concepts. The concepts will be high quality information and suggestions controlled by the team managing the search application. It is a way of combining quick links or best bets with query suggestions and a way to hopefully improve the experienced value of the query suggestions. The next step then is to work with these common queries that users search for and make sure that they return relevant results, but that is an entirely different topic…