Thursday, February 15, 2007

Hall of Fame:

Every now and then I come across a search implementation I really, really like.
Some places where people think outside of the customers) on their site. In these days where the search market it being heavily commoditized, and more and more websites doesn't care about the quality of their search functionality as long as they have it, it really fills my heart (I know, I'm turning thisbox in order to help the visitors (and/or into a sob-story) with pride to when I encounter MondoSearch customers which has gone that extra mile to use make something thats cool to use.

One of the MondoSearch implementations that I most often showcase to people wanting to see the real power of good site-search is the solution they have at is a US-based camping gear business, and I think they've made an awesome implementation.

Their solution isn't based on the latest technologies, in fact they still rely on good ol' asp to do the job, but they still managed to put in a couple of really nice features.

Try to go to and search for "tents" or "Coolers" or any other product that you'd be interested in.
Now the first thing you'll see is probably a SearchHeader (a query-related banner-add). This will take you directly to a relevant offer they might be having at the moment - or just shorten your way to the products of your interest. I don't know the internal work flows of Coleman, but I can imagine these SearchHeaders being the result of them analyzing frequent search words on the site and then adding SearchHeaders as a response to it in order to help people searching for the most popular terms.
Underneath the add comes the results, in categories. This is an excellent example on why it sometimes can be a good idea to show results in categories.
In the case where you searched for "tent" it's unclear if you are interested in:
a) buying a tent
b) Getting parts for a tent
c) General information about tents
d) Tips on how to use your tent
e) ...

Luckily Coleman Search presents you with the best results within each category right on the first result-page.
Most people are probably interested in buying a tent, so naturally that category goes on top.
And this is what it all comes down to: Search is all about not wasting peoples time. Don't make people waste time on your website looking for the products they want to buy, bring it to them when they ask for it. And when you present them with a search result, make it easy to pick the right result.
In this case, Coleman helps the users by actually showing a small picture of each tent in their "Products" category, along with the price. And if a users feels like buying a tent right there and then, well - it's no problem - just click the link directly on the result-page and add a given tent to your cart!
If you scroll down the results you'll also see a category of Manuals to the various products sold by Coleman. In this case it's quite helpful that they provide a pdf-icon next to the pdf-documents so the user will know what to expect if they select that link...How many times have I not been lost on a company's website, clicked on a result link and then had to wait for x minutes while firefox desperately was trying to load a huge pdf, when I was just expecting a standard document.
In general I find it's always a polite gesture to tell people what they'll get if they click on a link - and especially warn them if they'll end up with something like a pdf (not that I have any problems with pdf-files :-).

At the bottom of the result-page we find the "Advanced Search" field, for searching again and this is actually the first place where I have a little bit of criticism...This area seems a little bit messy in my eyes. There are no clear Gestalts separating the category selection and the search-type selection, and in my opinion both selections are unnecessary. Since the results are divided into categories, and it's possible to drill-down from the results I think the advanced category selection is redundant (and I bet that only very few people actually use it). The same goes with the Search Type. Here it's defaulting to AND-searches, which can be pretty dangerous. Suppose a visitor searches for "Camping Tent". He'll get significantly fewer results than a visitor searching for "Tent" - because not all of the tent-product pages contain the word "camping" although the tents could probably be used for camping :-)
I tend to prefer OR-searches, given that if a document matches all the search-words it's still ranked better than documents matching only some of the search words.

All in all I think it's a nice search implementation with the only recommendation that more simplicity in the Advanced Search section would be nice. Potentially they could also expand the search to include some search-filters, like "search only for products cheaper than X" - I'm sure some users would find that handy.

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