Not every site needs, nor should have, an on-site search feature. But those that do must be sure that the search isn't just an after-thought. It needs to be more than something to add because you think visitors want it. Adding a search function is not necessarily good for on-site usability. Implementing a search function improperly is often a greater source of frustration than not having one altogether.

For this reason your on-site search function should not be taken lightly. In fact, it's better that no search option be present than one that potentially gives the searcher a "false impression" as to the availability of products/information on your website. Much time and consideration (and development) needs to go into the search option to ensure that it not only returns accurate results, but is fully comprehensive in interpreting the searchers intentions.


Website search boxes are most often located in the top right corner of the website. This creates an expectation from shoppers, so make things easy for them and place your search box where they expect to find it.

Search options

The search box should default to a "simple" search. If warranted, provide a link to "advanced" options that allow visitors to fine-tune their search helping them find what they want more quickly.

Case sensitivity

The basic or "simple" search should not be case sensitive. If case sensitivity is an issue then this option should be made available through the advanced search option.

Search labels

The search box and/or button should be clearly labeled. Using words such as "go" or "start" are not inherently obvious for search. The word "search" should absolutely be used on or near the search box.

Results query

The original search query should be presented on the results page, both in the search box and as a headline above the search results. This ensures the visitor knows what exactly was searched and allows them to refine it without having to retype the entire query.


The search feature must be intuitive enough to recognize all possible common misspellings. Searchers who mistype their search and don't realize it will otherwise be told their product is unavailable on your site, causing them to leave for another site.

Result matches

Results should display exact matches first, with close matches second. This provides visitors with enough information that a second search may not be necessary. Get them what they want sooner, rather than later.

Result highlights

It's beneficial to highlight (or bold) the words on the results page that were used in the query. Even better if you can continue the highlighting of search words as the visitor clicks through a link into the content page.

Titles and descriptions

Each result should display a clear title and description. This information should be pulled from page titles and meta descriptions or on-page content.

Number of results

Results page should display 10-20 search results at the most, however it's a nice benefit to add an option to increase/decrease the number of results per page.

Number of result pages

Links to additional search result pages should be provided as necessary and located at both the top and bottom of the page.

Zero results found

If no results are found, you must provide clear messages to visitors suggesting alternative searches, refinement options and links to important areas of the website. You should never leave them with "no results found."

January 4, 2008

Stoney deGeyter is the President of Pole Position Marketing, a leading search engine optimization and marketing firm helping businesses grow since 1998. Stoney is a frequent speaker at website marketing conferences and has published hundreds of helpful SEO, SEM and small business articles.

If you'd like Stoney deGeyter to speak at your conference, seminar, workshop or provide in-house training to your team, contact him via his site or by phone at 866-685-3374.

Stoney pioneered the concept of Destination Search Engine Marketing which is the driving philosophy of how Pole Position Marketing helps clients expand their online presence and grow their businesses. Stoney is Associate Editor at Search Engine Guide and has written several SEO and SEM e-books including E-Marketing Performance; The Best Damn Web Marketing Checklist, Period!; Keyword Research and Selection, Destination Search Engine Marketing, and more.

Stoney has five wonderful children and spends his free time reviewing restaurants and other things to do in Canton, Ohio.


I think any site that has over 100 pages, should have an on-site search engine. These days, users are so used to doing a search to find stuff, it will be very frustrating to the user if there is no on-site search feature.

Quality Site Search at Affordable Price

I've got to disagree. Most on-site searches are of such poor quality that they mislead visitors more than help. while I like using on-site search, if it doesn't provide searchers what they indend 90% of the time it's just not worth it.

Yeah, i agree to stoney!

Any website over 100 pages is not necessary to have an on-site search function.

In the end, No data found pages frustrates customers... They can write anything in search box and initially you need to be very careful to update those quries which have already created a bad impression... (misspelled words)

Our content pages are getting very detailed and long. We can't expect our users to spend the time to scroll thought them to find what they are looking for, so just this week we are looking to add a custom search by google... Any thoughts? Advice?


Although I might be a little late I recommend to reduce the amount of complexity by layering the information of your result list. Here is one approach to do so:

First of all, you could group your results into blocks of 10, 20 and 50 single items. Let the user choose individually how much findings he would like to see by offering a radio button-selection-area on top of result list ("10" OR "20" OR "50").

Then, follow Stoney`s brilliant tips for result display.

At the bottom of each "findings"-page, offer a paging-functionality. Core content of this link selection area is a list of numbered links from "1" to "10" (maximum: "15") which enables the user to directly jump to single result pages of the first result block. Additionally you could place "next" / "previous" text links or arrow buttons at the beginning and end of this "1" to "10" link list. This enables the user to perform one-step forth and back jumping within neighbouring pages. If you would like to make a perfect job, you additionally could offer to jump directly to blocks of finding pages (e. g. "11 to 20", "21 to 30" if the user has selected "10" as the default block size previously on top of your results).

I hope that I described in an understandable way, and that my tips help you to solve your problem.

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Search Engine Guide > Stoney deGeyter > Searching for Better On-Site Search Usability