Jakob Nielson on Search

By Deane Barker on July 15, 2004

Time for a Redesign: Dr. Jakob Nielsen: Here’s a good interview with Jakob Nielsen about general Web usability in which he has some strong words about the state of search and information design.

[…] the individual pages, or units of information, are typically poorly described in terms of things like the headline and the summaries, which is all people have to choose from when they get the search-results listing. So if there was just one thing we could fix on the Web, and for intranets as well, I would say let’s fix search; that’s still the number one single thing that’s causing people problems.

The second thing that’s causing the most problems is information architecture […]

And I’ll just mention one glaring mistake that most companies make: They divide up their networks or Web sites between products and supplies and service. […] For a customer, however, if I have a certain copier, let’s say the X17 copier, and I want toner for that machine, or I want to get it serviced — well, what I want is to go and find my copier and, once I find it, I want to get supplies for my copier, I want to get some trouble-shooting, self-service information.

I agree very much with what he says about search. I believe that a well-crafted and tuned search engine and interface trumps all else. If you set up the keywords right, and have a good interface, you can get away with that being your main way of getting users around your intranet.

I’ve even heard of situations where all index pages were just canned searches (but I won’t mention any names…Joe).

I often thought that would be a handy way to go in a static HTML intranet: just generate all index pages as searches against a page’s META tags, so page authors could add their own pages to the intranet’s index pages based on what they put in the META. You could likewise order them by the a “date published” META tag. So long as your trust your page authors to be intelligent with their META, you’re in good shape.