Search Driven Navigation and Content

In the beginning of October I attended Microsoft SharePoint Conference 2011 in Anaheim, USA. There were a lot of interesting and useful topics that were discussed. One really interesting session was Content Targeting with the FAST Search Web Part by Martin Harwar.

Martin Harwar talked about how search can be used to show content on a web page. The most common search-driven content is of course the traditional search. But there are a lot more content that can be retrieved by search. One of them is to have search-driven navigation and content. The search-driven navigation means that instead of having static links on a page we can render them depending on the query the user typed in. If a user is for example on a health care site and had recently done a search on “ear infection” the page can show links to ear specialist departments. When the user will do another search and returns to the same page the links will be different.

In the same way we can render content on the page. Imagine a webpage of a tools business that on its start page has two lists of products, most popular and newest tools. To make these lists more adapted for a user we only want show products that are of interest for the user. Instead of only showing the most popular and newest tools the lists can also be filtered on the last query a user has typed. Assume a user searches on “saw” and then returns to the page with the product lists. The lists will now show the most popular saws and the newest saws. This can also be used when a user finds the companies webpage by searching for “saw” on for instance Google.

This shows that search can be used in many ways to personalize a webpage and thereby increase Findability.

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?

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.