The 3 key search box UX design elements

Louise Vollaire, Alexandra Prokhorova

Marketers and website owners often overlook the design of their search interface at the expense of a good search experience. A clunky or non-intuitive search experience leaves users frustrated and more likely to move on to a competitor’s site to find what they need. For media sites, e-commerce retailers, and every site in between, it is imperative to fine-tune every part of the browsing experience, including the search bar. 

Why the search bar matters

The search bar is often the first interaction a user has with a website. In fact, studies have shown that about 43% of website visitors go immediately to the search bar and that these searchers are 2-3 times more likely to convert.

The search bar can provide a sort of conversational experience for users where every keystroke is effectively a two-way discussion with the system. Users shouldn’t have to reverse engineer your interface to make searches. Rather, the process should feel like a natural human experience that can quickly guide them to what they’re looking for. It’s imperative that your website provides a seamless user experience for these customers. 

How to create the best search bar design

There are three key aspects to the search bar ux design process: look, location, and function. All of these aspects work together to form a more clear and efficient user experience. 

1. The look of the search bar

The look helps users form a first impression of the search bar — and often your entire website. It helps them understand the purpose and use cases of the system and convinces them to start using it and exploring content. It’s important to make sure that the design is clear and logical without sacrificing functionality:

  • Keep it simple and use common design patterns. Users come to the site expecting the search bar to look and function in predictable ways. Don’t overdesign your search bar by overloading it with too many fields for the user to fill out. A single field that users can type into will do. A simple, clean design will make the search bar easy to find and use.
  • Use a magnifying glass icon. Modern users immediately understand the magnifying glass as the universal sign for search. You can quickly draw their attention by using design patterns they recognize.
  • Consider the field size. The search input and font size should accommodate the standard user query length — typically about 27 characters. Make sure to test this on various devices, including different mobile devices.
  • Use microcopy. Without prompting, users will enter all sorts of questions into your search bar. If you’re expecting them to search for specific types of content, then tell them. Simple prompts within the search bar such as “search for products,” “what do you want to learn,” or “find the perfect destination “ can help guide your users and shape their expectations of what they can find.
  • Keep the last query in the search bar. When users are looking at a search results page, it can be helpful for them to reference their past search query. In the case that they didn’t find exactly what they’re looking for, they can then quickly go back and revise the search.
  • Make the search bar visible. Users shouldn’t have to search for the search bar. The search bar needs to be large enough so it isn’t obscured by the rest of the site. Consider the color and visual contrast relative to the rest of the site so that it doesn’t accidently blend into other components and get lost.

simple search bar design + magnifying glass icon

 

2. Location of the search bar

Users should be able to navigate to search regardless of where they are on your site. Consistency of the placement allows them to browse through different pages without getting lost. Here are some tips to remember:

  • Be strategic in search bar placement. The more prominent the search bar, the more likely users are to use it. Users typically expect to find a button or icon for search on the top-left corner or top-right corner of the webpage. Depending on the use case, however, you may choose to make the search bar even more prominent. Whatever you do, don’t hide it!
  • Put it in the same place on every page. Regardless of the context of the page, the search bar should always be available. And when they navigate to a different page, the search bar should be in the same place as the last time they used it to ensure that they can quickly get back to their exploration process. Consistency is key as curious users will want to jump between different types of content, and the search experience should help them do so.

 

3. Functions and capabilities of the search bar

Ultimately, the function and capabilities of the search bar connect users to the things they’re looking for. Make sure your search bar not only provides the functions users expect, but goes above and beyond to offer a robust experience that promotes search and discovery:

  • Use query suggestions and autocomplete. Users do not always immediately know what to search for or what your offerings are. With query suggestions, you can recommend queries that are known to provide good results to users as they begin to type in the search bar. It can also help nudge them toward executing searches that align with your strategic business goals and keep them away from the dreaded “no results” page.

query suggestions in action

  • Tolerate and autocorrect typos. While users are accustomed to search systems, they often misspell words in the queries. The system should be capable of returning results despite typos, correcting errors where possible or necessary, and making suggestions as to alternatives.
  • Display results as the user types. Instantly showing users content and images as they type helps them stay engaged and ensures they understand how the system responds to their queries. This increases the chance that they continue their exploration and find what they’re looking for.
  • Provide robust results with federated search. Federated search interfaces can pull results from your whole site, including diverse microsites and databases. This means your users can have access to guides, pdfs, products, and more with the power of one search.
  • Cater to all of your users with accessible search design. Lastly, it’s important to consider all of the users who may utilize your search. Is your design accessible? For example, can a user who does not use a mouse still navigate search through keyboard? Consider usability and accessibility. 

search results being displayed as the user types

 

How to implement a great search UX

Building a search bar means going above and beyond user expectations. You need a search as a service provider that offers robust features and opportunities to tweak the search to your business use case. Read our e-book “Search and the user-business relationship” and learn how understanding your users can help you drive search improvements and tailor the search experience.

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