It’s Not About Search, It’s About Wayfinding

Man looking laptopOver the past year, I’ve had many, many clients call and meet with Matrix Group about site search issues. Clients complain that their search isn’t pulling up enough results, or it’s pulling too many, the formatting isn’t great, it doesn’t include protected content, yada, yada.

I sat down with a client recently to discuss site search and quickly realized that it’s not really about search, it’s about wayfinding and all of our user interviews and user testing are bearing this out. Here’s what we have learned:

Site Search is a Twin to Good Navigation.  Whenever we interview users or watch them during user testing sessions, we find that there are people who use navigation to find information and there are those who skip the navigation and quickly turn to search. We’re not sure why this is, but it points to the importance of having BOTH good navigation and site search on your website.

Google Has Shaped Our Expectations About Search.  To be honest, most clients love Google and want their site search to be Google or work like Google. Trouble is, the Google Search Appliance is pricey and Google stopped selling the Google Mini last July 2012. So today we implement SearchBlox, the Google custom search, Zoom, Solr and MaxxCAT. If a client wants the ability to search by specific fields (e.g., date range, title, category) and allow filtering of the search results, Google doesn’t seem to be the right fit. We have found that there is no, one single search solution that works for all sites.

Visitors Don’t Often Know What They Need. More and more, we find that visitors come to a website with a problem on a specific topic. For example, a VP of Government Affairs needs to know everything possible on an issue before Congress. She goes to her trade association website. She might use the site search but she gets 500 results and she’s overwhelmed. Or she goes to the Government Affairs website and learns what the organization is doing on the topic but she needs more background. What this VP really wants to know is: background info on the topic, the organization’s position on the topic, recent news, upcoming meetings and conference calls, some publications for sale, a committee on the topic, etc. A possible solution is to create dynamic topic pages that bring together everything that an organization has to offer on a topic. This can be done with a common taxonomy, web services and RSS feeds.

Bottom line is this: good wayfinding on your site is a multi-faceted journey. It’s not just about site search,  so please explore the different ways that your visitors can find the information and services they seek.

How about you? What have you done on your site to promote good wayfinding?