If you have a large content site, you must offer site search.
The text input box for the search phrase should be top-right on each page. This is what usability studies suggest. See Jakob Nielsen's Usability Resource Pages and search for “SEARCH”. You'll get a number of interesting results.
Furthermore the text input box should …
… be wide enough, e.g. 27 characters, to fit long keyphrases without horizontal scrolling, which is quite annoying in a textbox.
Actually, users do expect a search function on a big Web site and automatically start looking for the “little box”.Take advantage of it and keep users longer at your site.
“Your Search function should be Visible and Simple.”
Users love search for two different reasons:
At first, because it makes them independent from Web sites' navigation. They do not like to go through categories or directory like structured pages. It appears to be more simple to find what they are looking for by typing one key phrase and “GO!” Many user testings and evaluations have confirmed this behavior since it was first published back as early as 2001 by Jakob Nielsen.
Would you like trying to figure out the information architecture of a site, the language they use to categorize topics, or would you rather look for the search term entry field, as I usually do?
It can be really frustrating to go all the way down through hierarchies only to find out that it's the wrong one, again. Of course, there are users that will navigate your site as you have intended, but whenever they get stuck, they will stay at your site longer only if you have a site search. Make it available from each single page. I guess I do not need to mention that it should be a site search that delivers well.
If you do not run a CMS with a built in site search function you could easily implement a site search as it is offered by big search engines for free.
I already wrote, that you should offer the search on each page.
Input Text Field in the upper, right corner. The input box
should be wide enough, e.g. 27 characters, to fit long key phrases
A “Search” button or instructions about how to engage the search. Like, “Type your search term and press Enter ”.
Who should implement search on his site?
Everyone that wants to enhance user experience on his site. In the beautiful Web 2.0 World your Website could become a part of a big social, virtual network. Have them stick more with your site through better content and better usability.
John W. Furst is the founder of fcon21.biz - Internet Business Solutions and an independent consultant with a very strong background on Usability Engineering.