What Makes Search Successful?

My co-worker, Aubrey Spath, recently asked me a really interesting question about how we think of search. I spent a bit of time chasing after it, with some potentially useful results. Many FileMaker users are accustomed to the infinitely-flexible searching offered by the platform. Any field on a screen can be searchable, more or less. In addition, the multiple “search requests” and the constrain/extend menu commands add extensive Boolean control. But that is definitely not the norm for online searching in 2016. It’s certainly not an offer in any site or app that I can think of offhand.

Instead we have the widely-understood convention of a single search box. We type search terms in, click a button, and results come back. That’s easy to understand, at least.

It may be easy to use, but does it generate successful outcomes? (Before you shout “advanced search,” remember that most people don’t know Boolean search syntax. They find “advanced search” so intimidating that I’ve seen it referred to as an anti-pattern.)

Successful searching appears to be largely dependent on how we choose to present those search results, and the tools we offer for working with those results.
  • We can format the results, and we can present them in different layouts (grid, list, columns, categories).
  • We can offer filters in specific facets/categories.
  • We can offer sorting.
  • The correct choices for any given scenario, though, depend very strongly on the specific nature of that scenario:  the data itself, the goal(s) of searching, the user demographic, the device.  There’s no one-size-fits-all best practice, not by a long shot.

Additional Search Strategy Resources

If you are interested in offering your web, mobile, or Salesforce users search functionality that goes beyond the basics, check out a few of these links about search and search result presentation:

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