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Chapter 9: Search
Designing the Search Interface
Assuming that a search facility is needed, a designer should first and foremost consider what the user wants to search for. Far too often, search engines are added to a site and set to index everything using a free text search. Similar to a Web-wide search, users pound their heads as they search for a particular part number like KF-456 only to be shown every single document the part number occurs in, ranging from press releases to technical notes. To the user, the ordering of the documents from this type of search may seem arbitrary, with the most important document not appearing first in the list. What's interesting is why this form of search was used. Designers assume that since public search engines work like this, so should their local search engine. This seems like a good idea—users are familiar with formulating search strings at public sites and bring this knowledge with them to your site. However, global search engines are not very accurate for a variety of reasons, including the fact that numerous sites try to fight their way to the top of returned results. Public search engine results don't always seem to make sense, and the ordering often seems more random than systematic.

Consider that in your own site, if you want a particular page to be shown when a user types in "Robot Butler," you can cause that page to be shown. Remember, when building a local search facility, to copy the style, syntax, and interface of public Web search engines, but don't imitate their imprecise functionality.

The main advantage of local searching is that you can utilize controlled vocabularies to deal with what users will probably want to search for. Besides relating keywords with certain pages in a more precise manner, you may even suggest common queries for users to run. Remember, local search engines provide designers with a much greater degree of control than public search engines.

Next: Accessing Search

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