Provide Navigational Context for Search Results

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Editor's note: For a complete PDF of this column including charts and graphs click here. http://www.dmnews.com/pdffiles/navigation.pdf





Search functionality on most Web sites is notorious for providing poor, unrelated results, or none at all. A recent IDC study indicates that 50 percent of most Web site searches are abandoned, translating into 50 percent fewer online sales and 50 percent more frustrated customers trying to solve a problem, find a product or retrieve information. When users cannot locate the information they seek, they quickly leave a site and try elsewhere.


Though many Web sites provide quality search engines, most do little to help users navigate. Without navigational assistance, users often are overwhelmed by the volume of results and left guessing where to go next to fulfill their informational needs.


To boost satisfaction in the search process, engines must go beyond traditional requirements by providing navigational context or mechanisms by which users can refine their search results. This enhanced method of finding information improves the user experience and leads to business benefits including increased revenue, improved customer retention and acquisition and reduced cost of sale.


What is navigational context? Navigational context, also known as faceted browsing, enhances the search process by letting users provide additional information to a search input. Consider two cases in which a user is searching for shoes. In the first case, the user enters the term "Nike" in a search box. In the second, the user sees an area of the page marked "brand" with a set of hyperlinks for brands such as Adidas, Converse and Nike, and then clicks the link for Nike. In this second case, the application derives much more value from the input, as it knows not only what term the user wants to search for (i.e., Nike), but in which context to search for it (i.e., brand).


Navigational context includes the use of refinement values to indicate which selections have been made and which selections are still available. Also, more advanced search platforms will dynamically filter out these options that are no longer in scope.


Benefits of navigational context. Navigational context provides benefits to end users and businesses alike, including:


• Enhanced user experience. Customers can sort quickly through large, diverse data sets without being confused or frustrated by uselessly long results lists.


• Increased revenue. Customers can find the products and information they need quickly and easily, and also discover items they didn't know existed, leading to higher customer satisfaction, larger order sizes and increased sales.


• Reduced cost. Research shows that better search and navigation tools can decrease call center costs and volumes by 30 percent or more. Increased use of the online channel reduces the overall cost of sale.


• Faster ROI. The cost of implementing navigational aids is typically paid for in a few months.


• Competitive edge. Helping customers find, discover and buy products quickly and easily helps companies achieve a sustainable competitive advantage.


• User empowerment. Users feel empowered by having intuitive, effective search refinement capabilities at their fingertips, fostering loyalty to the site.


Types of navigational context. The following are a few examples of navigational context tools that make search platforms more effective and customer-friendly.


• Taxonomy. The most common navigational mechanism is the incorporation of a taxonomy into the search application, such as a hierarchy or product categories. Taxonomies make information retrieval quick and easy by placing information into a sensible structure that is applied consistently. The result is a search platform that makes information more accessible to customers while reducing support costs for the business.


• Attributes. Searches that produce a sheer mass of results may require the incorporation of attributes into a search application. Attributes behave similarly to taxonomy but are less complex. They operate in tandem with taxonomy to provide alternative views of data or content and additional avenues for searching and browsing.


Consider a consumer searching for a book. Books can be categorized any number of ways: genre, era, nationality, etc. If a search product supports only one method of classification (taxonomy), users are provided only one view of the data. However, if a search provides multiple means of classification, users can explore the data via multiple avenues and find a path to their goal in a manner that best suits their needs.


Modern search engines can support an unlimited amount of classification types, letting users explore data in whichever order they prefer. These alternative views often let visitors discover items they didn't know about, leading to larger order sizes and the potential to convert one-time customers into repeat clients.


• Range contexts. This navigational mechanism keeps a list of user choices meaningful and manageable when dealing with large value sets, such as dates, prices or other numeric fields. Using a range context such as "Price Range: Under $30" lets users automatically filter out options that are outside their preferred price range, thus providing more pertinent results.


Search long has been a cornerstone application of the Internet, and the addition of complementary tools that implement taxonomy and navigational context continue to expand the capabilities of search. A well-designed search and navigation platform puts results in context, turning unstructured data into actionable information and delivering a streamlined process that helps users find what they seek more efficiently. For businesses, this translates into better buyer conversion rates, more loyal and profitable relationships with customers and an increased consumer lifetime value.


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