instant results (quick links) from apple.com
Instant Results (Quick Links) from Apple.com

We are all familiar with as-you-type query suggestions within a site search box. The autocomplete functionality helps us get ideas out of our heads by completing our keywords and phrases. On the other hand, autosuggest extends this functionality by offering us with new ideas and acts as a useful brainstorming companion.

Instant results, takes search context to the next level and provides actual results as you type into a search box. As a result (no pun intended), users skip the search results page all together and are taken directly to targeted landing pages upon clicking on a desired result.

If implemented correctly, this feature will improve both usability and findability on your site. In addition, it offers an opportunity to influence customer behaviors by promoting specific landing pages within the search box for targeted keywords.

Analytics & BI

Your analytics and customer insights may reveal customers who search using query X are more likely to buy product Y. In this case, featuring product Y for this segment will increase conversions as opposed to allowing the same customers to search and browse through dozens of options on the search results page.

Here are some examples of site search analytics requirements which you may find useful.

Site Search Analytics in a Nutshell is also a great deck that talks about 8 things you can do to extract actionable insights from your site search analytics data.

Data & Solution Management

Whether your company is using an out-of-the-box or custom solution, the configuration options will vary significantly. First you need to consider which data sources should be incorporated into and influence your instant results.

A decision will need to be made whether a segment of the most important landing pages or all your pages should be available as instant results. At first glance, most stakeholders would say all results should be available.

Enabling your entire index to be searchable within instant results may lead to ‘showcasing’ many results which should not be highlighted in this manner from usability and relevancy perspectives.

Sorting & Limited Real Estate

Since there will always be a defined limit for the number of visible results, decisions will need to be made around which results should have precedence (sorting solutions will increase IT implementation and business workflow management costs)

Exact Match Titles – A Good Start

There are many potential instant results ranking strategies. Among these are the reasons when and how results should be triggered. Using exact keyword matches within result titles is a great starting point. If your titles are written with care by effectively explaining page themes, then your most relevant results will appear when customers search using targeted terms.

This strategy will also reduce the degree of competition among results via repeating keywords. For example, if the term, ‘kitchen’ only appears in five different titles and your search box is configured to display three instant results, then two titles will not be viewable when a customer searches using the single keyword.

Now imagine basing your instant results matches by a much wider data set than exact titles matches. In this case, if the same term, ‘kitchen’ is found on 100 different pages, all these pages may end up competing for the limited three spots in your search box. The degree of relevance will vary significantly and may lead to poor customer search experiences.

Autosuggest vs Instant Results

Business stakeholders often compare ‘autosuggest’ and ‘instant results’ site search functionalities. Unfortunately, they are comparing apples to oranges. Selecting an autosuggest query directs users to the search results page where the results are ranked based on the configurations of the search engines algorithm.

In contrast, instant results skip search results pages and direct users to targeted landing pages. In addition, instant results are often ranked by a much simpler solution, such as how often the term appears in the data for competing pages or a ranking value (static/dynamic).

Selecting an autosuggest query will take customers to a search results page where they choose among dozens of results, and often refine further using faceted navigations.

Instant results take a much greater risk at guessing users intent by providing only a few results to choose from. If implemented incorrectly, this may lead to usability nightmares.

Business Value & ROI

Simplifying the information retrieval process for your customers is always a great investment in your brand and customer service. These days it’s much easier to quantify customer frustrations around site search and overall customer experience.

It may not make sense for a medium sized company to invest a significant amount into a custom instant results site search solution. An out-of-the-box solution will likely suffice. The customer site search experience will still depend on site information architecture, data design, data management and search engine configurations.

Fortunate 500 companies with millions of customers and billions in revenue should consider the right instant results solution for their brands. While also adhere to IA, data design/management and search engine configurations, but often on a much larger and complex scale.

Site search instant results is an often overlooked functionality in the same way many companies still overlook overall site search design and site search analytics. But those who invest in doing it right will reap the rewards by satisfying their information hungry customers.