I may be sticking my neck out a bit given that our fearless leader here at Biznology, Mike Moran, is an expert when it comes to website search – he’s expert at a lot of things, actually – but a recent article Mike wrote brought the subject to mind.

Mike’s thoughts about the power of suggestion in website search are spot on, and to them I’d like to add thoughts for those of us with smaller sites and smaller libraries of searchable content.

If you have a very large site, the more robust you can make your site search tools, the better. Even with great site architecture, content organization, and interface design, it’s going to be nearly impossible for site visitors to find everything that might be relevant for them on a particular subject.

The Advantages of Filtering

If, on the other hand, your site is smaller, you have a different problem. The same search tool that works so fantastically on an enterprise-level site is overkill for you. It can ruin user experience and damage your site’s marketing effectiveness by returning too many empty results.

This can happen even when your site has the content, but a visitor is searching with a term you haven’t considered. (Though there are ways of minimizing that problem.)

A better solution is to use filtering instead. Filtering allows you to control the ways in which visitors can search your site content. It also provides an opportunity to use the power of suggestion in guiding user search.

These two approaches, which work best at each end of the size spectrum, can actually be combined, which is a great approach for libraries that fall somewhere in between.

There are no hard-and-fast rules about where to make the break between “big search” and “little search,” so it’s up to you to evaluate your content and your audience. That’s especially true as you get to very small sites, where any kind of search or filtering is going to add little to the user experience.

One point of Mike’s that bears repeating is the importance of analytics. Setting up your site analytics to kick data back to you on popular search terms is critical. Ideally, you also want to know how visitors behave once they’ve found – or did not find – what they searched for.

That data can provide insights to help you make your search and filtering more useful. It can also help you improve site organization, navigation, and user experience overall.

And the more visitors who find what they’re looking for on your site, the more visitors you’re likely to turn into leads and the more leads you’re likely to turn into clients.