Search engines help people navigate through the entire web at once by searching any keyword. It became a revolutionary invention for internet users, and Google rose up higher. But the applications of search engine did not stop here.
What if you want to go one step forward and look for desired items within a single webpage or website? A standard search engine is not suitable for such things.
So, designers came up with a User Interface element known as a Search Box. Let us understand more about the search form of the website before jumping into the testing part.
You must have seen a small box usually situated at the top corner of a website. A magnifying glass icon marks the box, and you can search for anything you wish for from the website in that box.
The box will then pull out relevant results from the contents of the whole site for easy access. It is a search box. We gave a very general and typical example of what it is; however, they come in various customized types.
A search form contains all the algorithms for searching the entered keyword. It also includes instructions for different search scenarios and decides what will pop up on different term that user enters.
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So, what is the need of going through some extra steps and adding a search box to your website? It is a minor yet essential part of a website as they allow users to find what they came for in an instant.
The ease of access is not the only benefit of adding a search box. It works in a double benefit fashion. When you add a search form to your website, it gives you valuable data about what the users are searching for. It helps in establishing the performance of different articles or products on your website.
Moreover, you will get information about the product that is in high demand but not present on your website. Search box data helps websites in improving their services as per user behaviors.
The same information, when obtained through surveys and third-party applications, can cost you a lot of money. The search box provides valuable business information free of cost.
The only thing required in setting up an efficient search box on your website is some time-consuming effort and an in-depth test search process.
Features Of Modern Search Engines
While adding a search form to your website, you can learn a lot from the characteristics of standard search engines that you use daily. The modern search engines have defined a search box perfectly. Let us look at some features that you can incorporate into your site search.
Autocomplete is an important feature present in almost every major search engine. More and more websites are including this feature.
It is especially crucial in shopping websites where you can divert customers to different products through search suggestions. They also show professionalism and help the user in finding the required product faster.
Compatibility on mobile
One can access search engines through different devices. Smartphones, tablets, and PC users use search engines daily. So, the engines need to have the same performance on all platforms. You can open and search anything on Google from an entry-level mobile device to a supercomputer.
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This compatibility is essential for successful search functionality. Websites need to adopt this point to ensure that the search box and its features are entirely intact on both mobile and desktop devices.
A search engine does not show the single best result for the keyword entered. It does not just put up the best possible page according to it. It will give you a list of titles with decreasing relevance. A search engine will also give you additional results that are somewhat related to your keyword and can be useful in some way.
Your website search should also show more than just one answer. Enlist several articles or products related to what the user searched for. It is essential to keep visitors engaged and increase the chances of a profitable interaction.
Relevancy is crucial. Before you focus on giving additional results, you must keep the most relevant results on top. Google and Yahoo teach this lesson, ideally by showing the best and most consistent results on top.
The less relevant and borderline useless results shifts to the 2nd page and further, which prevents times waste of users. Relevant results will show your genuineness and fill customers with confidence.
A part of this was discussed earlier when we talked about the search trends shown by site search boxes. Search engines produce reports about different search keywords periodically. Marketers and business owners all over the world use these reports.
While some get it at low cost, others have to incur hefty expenses for such data. You can manage such reports for free of charge on a smaller scale. The website search form will help you get reports about the problems in an organization.
These are some of the great features that are present in search engines and one can adopt into search forms during the design process. Once the design process is complete, the need to test the search box becomes essential.
Testing is a fundamental process of software development. Testing is not done for complete software at once. Instead, testers go through checking one tool and one functionality at a time.
Among these steps, search forms are also tested. Though they are a small element, testing can get complicated there and is mandatory for maximum client satisfaction. Test search process checks various functions and features of the search box.
The features we discussed for search engines are also verified in a search box. The accuracy of the search box needs constant improvements. The search results should be relevant. The search box should be fast and consume less bandwidth while producing results.
All these expectations from a search box go into the test search process. An ideal and perfect search box needs to stand firm on all these norms and requirements.
Test search involves different scenarios and cases. Different keywords that users will enter are checked, and then the results are checked. It is a complex process and not as simple as the search box looks. Like every testing process, a test search also requires several documents to be prepared before the start of actual test work.
Document Preparation For Test Search
A test plan is an essential part of the testing process. Testers draft test plan when testing any component of your software or website, including the search box.
The test plan defines every detail about the test search. It describes the resources available, the preferred budget, scenarios, the approach, and the schedule of different tasks within testing.
A test plan should also define who will perform which job. This criterion is decided based on skill levels of various persons and the specialty of departments. Engineers and testing heads prepare the test plan with proper coordination from the design team.
For testing search form, you will need to prepare a document with all the data description of your website. This document will have all the product details and the result instructions. The report is prerequisite as all the testing process works on the results described in this directory.
A separate document named Test Scenarios is also prepared. Scenarios are also known as test possibilities. All these possibilities are cleared first in the records for a smooth search box testing experience.
In addition to Test Scenarios, Test Cases are essential while drafting the plan for test search. A test case document defines the set of conditions or variables that software must fulfill to be a finished product.
These conditions include Accuracy, Relevance, Economical, Speed, and Conciseness. All these cases are to be tested to be active in your search form.
Design Of Search Form
The search box is a small section of your application or software. It acts as an input field with "Submit" functionality. This small field is highly useful in content-heavy and large websites where users cannot go through the entire website searching for one particular product or information.
Search boxes are present on every e-commerce website. You can take inspiration from different websites while designing your search box.
Add a magnifying glass icon
It is a cliché but still very important as users are accustomed to it. Every user will search instinctively for this icon when one wants to explore something. If you add no icon or some other icon, it can take more time to discover it on your website.
Moreover, the currently famous image of magnifying glasses suits the search bar perfectly well and denotes its purpose correctly.
Keep the box on every page
Many websites only show a search option only on the home page. So, users have to navigate back to home and then look for the search box and enter the relevant term. It adds one extra step to the process and several extra clicks.
To prevent this, you should always keep the search element on every page of your website or application. It provides smooth and quick navigation between the information of the site.
Size of the text box
The size of the text box is vital in keeping the aesthetics of your website intact. Many developers make the mistake of neglecting this point and keep the search box too small. It causes inconvenience to users while they type into the search form.
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The form begins to scroll the text, which looks terrible. One simple rule of thumb for the size of the box is keeping it 27 characters long. It will accommodate over 90% of the searches. Once you start receiving traffic, you can adjust the size based on the search history reports.
E-commerce website usually needs larger search boxes. So, the size of the search box also depends on your website category. You can make your search box into an expandable format. It is a modern design where the size of the block grows when more characters are entered into it.
Placement of Search box in UI
The User interface plays a significant role in determining the customer's experience on your website or software. Designers give a lot of emphasis on keeping the UI neat and organized. The search box adds a new function to UI, and an easily discoverable position is an ideal location for it.
Place the box in a familiar place. It is a standard norm to add a search box on top corners of the website. Some websites add it to top centre of the pages. It is essential to follow these norms. You can add extra search boxes at the bottom of the site too for convenience.
Another idea to incorporate is to keep the search box intact while scrolling. You can lock the search tab so that it is visible even when the user scrolls the page down.
Add search button
Allow the users to search by hitting the Enter key. Bear in mind, however, that it does not eliminate the requirement of having the search button at the end of the text field. A search button gives a classic look to your search box and makes it simple to use.
Some users have the habit of clicking the icon on the screen to initiate the search. So keeping both- Enter key and search button functionality is the right option for your website's functionality.
Search Suggestions gives dynamic and active feel to your website. The drop-down list that appears when you start typing on a search box is the list of search suggestions. Everyone loves some ideas that will reduce the effort of typing the whole search keywords.
Search suggestions will help you to guide your users to different areas of your choice. It allows you to drive traffic to some extent by showing attractive titles in the suggestion list.
Search suggestions can be handy to show the amount of work that you have put into your website. Giving accurate suggestions to users at the right time will impress them.
They subconsciously feel welcomed, and it leaves a great impression. Search suggestions need detailed testing on the following points:
- Are auto-suggestions activated on every page?
- Do the ideas pop up smoothly and immediately after the user starts typing in the search block?
- Are the suggestions relevant and useful to users?
- Do the suggestions change dynamically as the keywords increase or decrease? The main feature of search suggestions is speed and flawless update.
- Does every suggested keyword take you to a proper result page?
Advanced search features are an extension to your search box, which gives multiple options to narrow down the search results. These features come handy in product websites. Users can select different options like Language, InUrl, Region, File type, Price range, Reading level of results, and so on. You need to test various advanced search features like:
- How is advanced search accessed? Is it easy to spot and open? And is the process straightforward?
- Are the different features available in your advanced search sections sufficient? If yes, then are they working correctly?
- Does the advanced search features function in combination? The coordinated results should appear quickly and accurately.
- Are there any instances when no results are present? If yes, then hide such cases and show some related pieces of stuff for helping the user.
Responsive mode needs testing efforts too. Every feature of your search box should be working with the same intensity in a responsive window. Check the following points out for testing responsive search functions:
- Is the search block friendly for mobile or Smartphone mode too? Is there any laggy response that can frustrate the users?
- Is advanced search responsive to other platforms?
- Do all the testing points discussed previously in the guide stand correct for Responsive mode too?
All these are examples of different cases that are of high need for consideration during test search.
Framing test scenarios is no less of an art. You need to ask the right questions, which leads to improvements in the search functionality on your website. One important thing is the language of the scenario you draft while you test the search form. The question should cater to one topic at a time and should be concise and clear. Then we work on this question and find the answer during the test search process. Let us look at some tips for focusing your test scenarios on the right spot.
Be open and specific
You need to challenge the search box of your website while testing it. But at the same time, your questions need to be rational.
Do not waste time on searching the type of keywords that users will never enter. A simple rule for this is asking good questions. You can separate good and bad questions in the following ways:
Good test questions
Test questions are good when they are specific yet open-ended. You should try searching for a product category with a particular colour or size. A good example is "Black shoes." These are common keywords users enter and ideal for testing your search box.
Bad test questions
If your questions are too specific and not open-ended, then they are not suitable for the optimal test search process. Another category of wrong test question is when you ask very open-endedly. For instance, "Black crocs" is a too specific search, and "Shoes" is a too open-ended question.
Test different aspects of demographics
Websites often have a broad range of demographics. Individuals from different demographics look for different products. When you test the search box of your website, all these demographics are essential.
Frame different questions for each of them. Try keywords like “Men’s shoes” in particular to test gender-based searches.
Special attention to terms with multiple meanings
There are words like "headphones" that are often confused with "earphones" and "headsets". When you test the search box, it should be clear about the difference and show the right product on such terms.
You can add suggestions like "in-ear headphones" and "neckbands" when someone searches for headphones which will help users to define these ambiguous terms better. Another example is when the user searches for "Leisure time book."
Instead of looking for a book titled "Leisure Time", your search box should know that it is time to suggest some books to read during free time. These features are available in useful e-commerce websites.
Test non-product keywords too
Prepare your search box for more smart actions by adding non-product results also. Customers or visitors can enter terms like "customer care" in your search box. Many websites lead to zero results in these non-product searches.
You can link these keywords for leading to the customer support and contact us page. It is a significant upgrade to search functionality of your website. Testing non-product keywords will make you stand ahead of competitors.
Link departments and categories
Your search box should suggest departments for product being searched for quickly. But while you perform test search, ensure that these departments do not limit the product options. Your departments should be linked such that products can appear in multiple department searches at once.
It will prevent the occurrence of a wrong choice from the viewer's side. Your department search improves manifold when you consider department checks in your test search process.
Test words that may show stemming
Sometimes terms that make absolute sense can lead to irrelevant results related to some other keyword. For instance, some university websites in the US does not give proper results on searching for "accounting programs."
Despite universities having accountancy programs, the keyword gives Account login and other irrelevant results. This condition rises due to the stemming of Accounting to Accounts and not Accountancy. You need to look out for such issues and solve the discrepancy during the testing process.
Test for universal search results
Universal search results are those keywords that do not associate directly to any product or category, but they are meaningful to the website.
These keywords are very similar to non-product keywords. During a test search, check for the universal terms and make sure that your website does not produce 0 results.
Your search box should identify these words and produce generic results immediately.
Test Cases For Test Functionality
Test cases are essential criteria on which you test your website's different functions. These test cases are useful for having a complete and elaborate test search plans. A tester works along with the test cases and eliminates the problems in search process one by one.
Test cases are vital for achieving a flawless search function on your website. They are like a planning process for the whole test search duration. You write down a list of all the essential things in your search box and all the features that will be good for it.
A long list will mean more time spent on test search but also more qualitative testing. Time and Quality go hand in hand when it comes to a test search. You need a minimum of 100 test cases to evaluate and curate your search box thoroughly. This number is a ballpark figure, and it will change based on the size of your website or software service.
We looked at some test cases earlier in the article with different categories. Let us look at a list of some more examples of Test cases for the search functionality of your website:
- Check cursor position of the search box when typing starts.
- Have provisions for changing the colour of visited pages or links. Check that the colour varies for the visited ones and remains unchanged for new links.
- Check the search response time. Ensure that it is up to the standard and not too long.
- Check that no results will be displayed on single character searches that might occur by mistake.
- Check the search functionality on sponsored products or advertisements.
- Check that the results displayed are well-connected to the original page of the article or product.
- Check if search box produces results based on internal content of products or articles too. Results based only on titles are shallow and may skip better options.
The search box is an asset for you as well as your visitors. While it delivers relevant data about user's behaviour to you, it provides ease of access to users as well.
However, these benefits are achievable only when you invest some time in proper setup of search form on your website. Prepare an excellent user interface of your search box and place it correctly on your website.
The test search process takes care of the rest. Functional test cases and proper understanding of test scenarios will lead to putting up excellent search functionality on your website.