designing usable search results pages

Today I’ve been thinking about the best way to present search results on a page. For the purposes of this excercise, lets just assume that we have a magnicent search engine that always pulls out the most relevant results in order of relevance for us (yes, I know – it’s a whole other kettle of fish).

Obviously, search is an area where we have a plethora of conventions and standards that we’d be mad to ignore. (eh. I can’t believe I’m linking to Jakob so early in my blogging career!). And yet, I have some questions:

  1. what if I have distinctly different types of content on my site… some different categories of editorial style content, some are different sets of product pages. What’s the best way for me to flag these differences in a way that enhancese usability (the likelihood of my user choosing the result that best answers their question)? Can I design some great icons and use those and mix all the results together? Perhaps with a filtering option? Do I provide a filter option at the outset? What about Tabs? Could I put different results on different layers of tabs? (I have a few categories to work with here, say half a dozen).
  2. do we agree that its best to write ‘special’ short descriptions to use with the page title in search results listings? (rather than just pulling out the first 200 or so characters of the body of content on the page? If so, do we use the same short description for internal search as we do for external search (metadata)? Is the difference in usability significant enough to justify the extra time required each time a new page is created (just say you have many thousand pages to create… this is a fair bit of time/$$)
  3. Is it possible that I like the Yahoo search results pages better than Google? (I’ve just been doing some comparisons, and I think that its true. Although, what is that little boxy icon they use at the end of the result title? what on *earth* does that stand for? Link? Maximise? I’m lost.



  1. lelak February 1, 2006 at 1:44 pm

    “Open this result in new window”, duh.
    (Ok, so I checked the alt tag.)

  2. leisa.reichelt February 1, 2006 at 1:48 pm

    ah ha! so there you go.
    alt tags don’t seem to be working in Firefox.

    no mystery unsolved with you around miss lelak :)

  3. lelak February 1, 2006 at 4:37 pm

    firefox looks for the “title” tag; lelak’s best practice says “supply all images with an alt tag AND a title tag, and everyone’s happy”.