WordPress comes with a basic internal search system, but it has lots of room for improvement. If your webpage has more than just a few pages, you should definitely make sure that you’re providing a great internal search experience. Read on to understand why!
Search is how we… search
In the early days of the internet, users navigated the web by clicking through lists and directories of links. But, as search engines became more popular, that behaviour changed. Now, Google (and others) have normalised search as the way in which we explore the web. Instead of just hopping from link to link, we describe what we want, and get a list of options.
Chances are, your users have the same expectations of your website. Many of the people who arrive at your website will have a specific question in mind. Or they may be looking for a specific piece of information. If they don’t immediately see what they’re looking for, then they’ll likely expect to be able to search. After all, that’s much easier than having to learn how your website is structured and browsing through your lists of links.
If there’s no option to search, a confused or lost user might simply leave your website. And if that happens a lot, then it might create the kinds of negative user experience signals which may lead Google to think that your pages aren’t good results. But if you provide a great search experience, that might create positive user experience signals, which may benefit your SEO.
WordPress’ internal search is okay
The good news is that WordPress supports internal search “out of the box”. Many themes come with a search box in the header, sidebar or footer. Users can type in a keyword or phrase, and WordPress will send them to a page that lists the top content on the site which matches that search.
But the results aren’t always great. It’s not always clear what you’re looking at. It can be hard to sort, filter, and find the right result. And it’s not always clear how to even search in the first place.
If you’re using the default WordPress’ search feature, there’s a lot that you can do to avoid these problems and to provide a great user experience.
Optimising your internal search experience
Your internal search system is typically split into three parts. There’s a form where users input their query, the page that displays the results, and the underlying system which delivers those results. There are a lot of ways in which you can assess and improve each of these, in order to provide a great user experience.
The search form
The search form is where your users start their search. But, only if they can find it, and only if they can recognise it! To make sure that people use your search system, you should make sure that:
- It’s easy to find. People might overlook search features in menus, footers, or other ‘hidden’ areas.
- It’s obvious and recognisable. Input fields should look like input fields, use a search icon, and say ‘search’ in the placeholder.
- It behaves conventionally. Fancy features which change how the input field looks, works or behaves might confuse or challenge users. Customisations and enhancements shouldn’t break the basics.
- It has a ‘search button‘. Hitting ‘enter’ should submit the form, but users who don’t know that should be able to click a helpfully labelled submit button instead.