February 11, 2003, 12:00 AM

Site search falling down on the job, says Jupiter survey

One-third of consumers turn to site search before navigation, but nearly half find it time-consuming and confusing.


Site search is often used as an alternative to navigation by consumers hoping to speed up a task or locate content more quickly on a web site, but site search as offered by many web operators today doesn’t deliver, according to new research from Jupitermedia Corp.’s Jupiter Research.

One-third of consumers polled by Jupiter said they look first to site search instead of navigation, while almost one-half said they turn to site search if navigation doesn’t get them what they want. Yet 45% said they found paging through the results of site search too time-consuming, while 44% said they weren’t sure what to type in to get the information they wanted.

A total of 39% reported being frustrated by the fact that search works differently on different sites; another 39% complained that misspellings were poorly handled by site search functions. 38% said that results from site search were not relevant and 21% complained they could not use full sentences while typing in a search query. 13% said they didn’t know what to look for without help when conducting a site search.

Site operators can address the problem by engaging in a boarder dialogue with customers, according to Jupiter.

“By itself, full-text site search merely provides a technical solution to a technical problem,” says Jupiter analyst Matt Berk. “But consumers may not know what they are looking for, might prefer asking questions in English, or aren’t sure what keywords to use.”

The solution is for site operators to move beyond the traditional search/find-keyword/result model toward experience-enhancing functionality. Such a “discover and dialogue” model would, for example, better coordinate site search and information architecture, as well as negotiate linguistic differences between users and site operators. “Technology alone can’t manage the dialogue,” Jupiter says.


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