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Chapter 9: Search
Result Page Design
Designing result pages must take into account two extreme possibilities: no results and way too much information. Even when just about the right information is returned, a well-designed result page should help the user discern what is relevant. The rule of thumb for a result page: the more information the better—often people can't determine the value of one result over another. A well-designed result page should include the items shown in Table 9-1.

Result Page Element Description
Original query The original query string used should be prominently displayed on all result pages so the users don't have to recall what search string they used.
The scope of the search and the results found The total number of documents searched and returned should be indicated (for example, 10,000 documents searched, 20 matches).
Context of current results There should be some indication as to what part of the result list the user is looking at (for example, page 2 out of 10, or items 30–40 out of 200).
Page or document titles Each item returned should be clearly titled.
URL of returned page The actual URL of the individual documents should be shown, as it may provide useful information to the user.
Page summaries A brief summary of a returned page's contents should be shown. This is often picked up either from the <meta name="DESCRIPTION"> element or the first few lines of text in a document. A user may have the option to show or hide the page descriptions.
Date or time information of results Minimally, the create date or date of last update of a returned document should be shown. Some search facilities also provide an indication of the time the index was last built, the time it took to search the index, and the time the query was performed.
Size of returned pages The file size of the document returned should be indicated. This is especially important if the files being searched are large binaries.
Type of result In some searches, other forms of data such as Adobe Acrobat, Microsoft Word, or multimedia data may be returned. Make sure to indicate the format of data with a label or icon.
Relevancy of results A relevancy ranking should be clearly indicated. Usually, search results are ranked from highest to lowest. A percentage score or bar should be used to show the difference between items.
Keyword matches Since users are highly annoyed when they are unable to figure out why a particular page is returned for a query, show the keywords matched and, if possible, highlight these words in context in the summary. If possible, when the user selects a document, the query terms should also be clearly highlighted.
Navigation Navigation to move through the result set should be provided. Common buttons include "Next 10 documents" or "Previous 10 documents," where the step value changes depending on the user's preference. Navigation to see the first or last page in a result set is also sometimes used.
Refinement options The ability to refine the query should be present. Users may be able to search against the result set or even perform a brand-new query.
Help Help information explaining the format of the results should be available.
Table 9-1. Common Result Page Elements

Not all types of search engines are able to provide all of these items—particularly advanced relevancy and matching indication. However, designers should strive to include all elements in a result page.

Rule: Result pages should provide as much information as possible so users can decide what items to peruse further.

Search result pages often lack any provision for site navigation. When users access a results page, they are not just searching—they may also want to switch back to a browsing mode to investigate results. Remember, users are just looking for an answer, and they may move in and out of approaches in their hunt, so provide browsing facilities on search results when possible in case the user wants to leave the result page easily. Figure 9-9 presents a search results page that includes most of the elements listed in Table 9-1.

Demo Search Results
Figure 9-9. Example search result page

One aspect of search result pages that may appear obvious but is often overlooked is that the format of data returned should be carefully considered. For example, just listing a page title, URL, and description may not be enough for a user to make a decision about one choice over another. For example, if a user performs a search of products, it might be possible to output small thumbnails of the products that match the user's criteria, as shown in Figure 9-10.

Demo Search Results
Figure 9-10. Search results vary based on the data searched

Rule: The format of search results should fit the data that is being returned.

The key aspect of designing a positive search result page is helping the user find and make a decision about which returned items to pursue further. However, in view of the public Web search engines where far too much is often returned, designers should carefully consider the negative result when nothing has met a user's search criteria.

Next: Negative Results Page

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