By Dean Burney
Sep 02, 2011

Searching for a Better Search? Part One.

Part 1 in a 3-Part Series: The Homepage Search Box
Over the years I've had the opportunity to lead the UX and design for a number of content-heavy site redesign projects, including several online newspapers, magazines and scientific journals where search functionality was of particular importance to the user base.  Through my experience I've learned a thing or two about search usability and have developed a list of best practices that I follow, and now would like to share with you.

This is a pretty dense subject, so I’m going to split it up into a three-part series: Homepage Search Guidelines, Search Results Display and Search Refinement.  And now without further adieu, let’s dive into today's topic: searching from the homepage.

Search Box Placement
The search box should always appear in the upper right corner of the page, preferably within the page masthead and above the navigation bar.  This is a rock solid convention - moving it anywhere else will force a user to search a page to find it.  A user should never have to search to search. 

Search Box Size
The search box should be wide enough to accommodate multiple word and phrase searches.  Larger search boxes encourage the user to enter more search terms, and ultimately get more accurate search results. 

Search Box Labeling
There is no need to label the search box with a phrase like "Site Search" in front of the search box.   When placed in the proper location, users tend to understand the functionality out of the gate.  Consider simply placing a subtlely designed term like "search" in the search box, that disappears when the client clicks in the form field.  Also consider using the term "Search" as the text on your submit button (or the universally understood magnifying glass icon) instead of "submit" or "go."

Search Categorization
If you have a particularly large amount of content on your site, and there is a very recognizable split in the type of content a user can search (such as site content, blog posts, PDFs, etc.), give users the ability  to search for a particular content type – or all content types – upfront.   If your site has only a handful of content types, or if the search result sets are small, stick with the simple search box that searches everything -- and let users refine their results later.

Advanced Search Placement
Advanced search link - there is some debate and disagreement among experts around the necessity and usage of advanced search features.  I will discuss this later in the series; however, it is safe to say that if you have advanced search functionality on your site, you should have a link to it - preferably right next to or below the primary search button and much less prominent (such as a text link instead of a button). 

Example Time
See how we’ve displayed the search box on the homepage for these clients:

Infinity QS

Maximus

Washington Blade

Annual Reviews

ACS Publications

CapitalSource

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