We live in the age of search engines and modern browsers that implement built-in search bars. Search engines, like Google or Bing, allow us to quickly find answers to any question we have.
Do you really need an internal search box on your site, when people already have Google?
If your website has an advanced structure and significant amounts of content, then the short answer is YES.
In order for any website to be effective, it should be easy for visitors to engage with and find the content they are looking for. That’s where site search comes in.
The two primary navigation methods (navigating and searching) both have an important place in the modern Internet. But it seems as if there has always been a battle between site navigation and the search box. Web owners are inclined to either underestimate the power of the search box or, on the flip side, think that placing a search box on their page will solve all of their UX navigation issues and challenges.
Fact: Good navigation and a good linking structure are vital for the success of a website.
Browsing is the primary navigation method on millions of websites, but as a website grows, it can become quite difficult to solve UX challenges with structured navigation.
Additionally, data shows visitors are becoming more and more comfortable using a search interface to discover new content and to navigate large sites — our research shows that 50% of users go directly to the search bar as soon as they arrive on a website.
This is why a search feature is not an added bonus any longer, it has become a standard. Every website with complex content and thousands of articles has to have search functionality. Not only that, but it has to be as good as Google, or else visitors will leave your site.
Websites can be sorted into 3 navigation categories:
Should the website be designed to let users freely explore the content using search rather than guide them to where the site owner wants them to go, using site navigation?
Can we expect to see sites with no main navigation at all in the near future?
The answer to that question is: no.
Each Internet users is different and, therefore, they use different techniques. Some are better at recognising things than recalling them from memory, some prefer to search and find content independently of a website’s attempts to control the navigation paths.
Search boxes and navigation should go hand-in-hand, rather than competing, in order to help users reach their goals.
Analysing the above, the following conclusion can be made: each website should consider that there are different types of users and good design and UX should appeal to all of them. The image below presents this concept.
Good design would be a design that combines and includes most of the functionality from both designs (design 1: for users who search, where search box has prominent role, and design 2: without search box for users who browse). It doesn’t narrow or try to target only one group of users.
According to Comprend 59% of web visitors frequently use the internal search engine to navigate on a website and 15% would rather use the search function than the hierarchical menu.
What’s more, behavioral studies from the Nielsen Group and other research findings show that more than 50% of people visiting a start page on a website go straight to the internal search box in order to navigate. Those figures prove that search box becomes essential navigation tool on every website.
We have conducted a study case based on one of our clients, the Vejen municipality in Denmark. The study shows that Vejen has on average 1,200 visitors per day. The search result page is in the ranking:
The data in our partner Cludo’s analytics shows that there are on average 500 search words with results that are searched every day.
The data actually shows that the search box is a very important part of the Vejen municipality website, and it is one of the most popular and used pages.
It is very important to understand visitors and their patterns in order to understand how they use your site and what they are looking for. If you still hesitate on whether or not you should have an intelligent internal search on your site, you should look into your statistics. You can use e.g. Google Analytics and set up search word tracking / no search results tracking.
Internal searches are becoming more popular than ever. That’s expected behavior in the age of search engines (like Google or Yahoo) where even small children are educated on how to use search engines, how to build search queries, and how to use the search box once you are on a homepage.
From a business perspective, if you don’t have an excellent and intelligent search box that can provide relevant search results that are as effective as results provided by search engines like Google, you might risk people leaving your site and using an external search instead! In that case it’s quite likely that your competitors may appear higher in the list of results, which would mean that you could miss out on potential customers.