A couple months ago, I was sitting in the airport with one of my closest friends waiting to go to Los Angeles. I hate LA with a passion. It’s dirty, it’s ugly and nobody understands my flipping English.
Needless to say, I was grumpy at the concept of spending five days there and “Paul” (named changed to protect the guilty) was doing nothing to improve my mood.
You see, Paul plays poker for a living. He’s made quite the name for himself, playing online, in tournaments and in cash games. And, although I TRIPLE LOVE the guy, all this celebrity has gone to his head. He’s more spoiled than all the evil children in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory combined. He knows it and he gets away with it – “just ‘cuz.”
Bottom line — he hadn’t brought his computer because it was “too much to carry” and “he could always use mine anyway.” Not exactly the best news to tell someone whose life revolves around her Dell Inspiron laptop.
Needless to say, after spending an extra hour in airport security (they only allow so many “bricks” of cash and Paul had “mistakenly” exceeded the limit) and subsequently missing our plane, Paul knew he was in the dog house.
“Baby, I want to buy you something nice.” (Please note: “baby” is used for any female from 9 months to 90 years old. It’s one of those terms like sick, kick it, chill, rage, muah, and suck out that I can’t possibly begin to explain here… or there… or anywhere….)
Secretly, I thought, “if you want to buy something, buy your own damn computer” but instead I pouted…. “I don’t want anything nice.”
“Ok, I will buy you something not nice then.” he retorted with a devilish grin.
Terrified at that particular prospect, I glanced at the search box. Waiting, waiting, waiting, until I finally saw him type in “diamondes”. Yes, with an “e”.
Here’s a guy who makes over $9 million a year in cash… not to mention all the bazillions of dollars worth of swag (free stuff) he gets, and he is spelling diamonds with an “e”? Nice. Very nice.
Now, to put this in perspective, the last time Paul had used my computer, he went to get something to drink. When he came back, the computer screen was black. Knowing that he would be attending his own funeral if he had broken my computer, he asked “Um yeah, what’s wrong with the screen?”
Not looking up, I said “It’s sleeping.”
“WOW!” he exclaimed “I worked it so hard (playing online poker) that it needed to take a nap? I guess I need to give it a rest! Maybe I’ll take a little nappy-nap myself”, as he pounced like Tigger off into the bedroom. (And no, I could not possibly make these stories up.)
Ahhh Paul…. Diamonds with an “e”. Frankly, any diamond is good to me as long as it’s genuine and sized like rock candy, but really, how could he NOT know how to spell it? I mean, not only had he attended college, but he had actually graduated from it and it wasn’t one of those $39.95 online degrees from the Phillippines either.
And then I remembered that this is what happens when boys sit down at the computer and try to use the text search.
From a usability perspective, women and men search very differently. I hate to say it, girls, but women are the world’s worst at searching. Why? For many reasons, but mostly because we use lots of adjectives and qualifiers in our searches. We use them to “help out the computer”, but in the end, they are of no benefit to us or the man behind the machine.
Women search for things like “big old dining room table to seat eight at Thanksgiving” or “gift to give at a baby shower for my niece who is turning 23″. I have 200% confidence that at some point we’ll be able to search like that, but right now, the technology just isn’t sophisticated enough. When a woman searches for “pretty blue dress size 6 to wear to the Kentucky Derby” she’s going to get over 117,000 “successful” finds on Google, most of which have to do with horse junk and very few that have anything to do with apparel.
Men are much different. They think like computers, so of course, they search like computers. Men are much better than woman at knowing the exact right thing to search for. They’ll type in blue dress. However, stereotypically, they’ll also misspell it or it will be riddled with typos or unnecessary punctuation. Men tend to smush words together like “bluedress” or they’ll add random periods as in “blue.dress.” They also tend to stop typing whenever they feel like it — so “supermarket” could become “superma” at any time. (You know when Google says “Did you mean …?” That’s for the boys in the room.)
Eight ways to improve your text search… knowing full-well that you’ll never be able to please everyone.
1. Develop and implement a thesaurus, a dictionary and a list of commonly misspelled words. And, yes, I realize that this is a simple tip but statistically less than a quarter of the companies actually do it.
2. Make sure you have proper C-Navigation. A lot of times people use the text search because they can’t find what they are looking for in the navigation. That’s why it’s important to use things like tabbed top navigation and solid left and bottom nav, too.
3. Offer problem/solution navigation. Problem/solution navigation takes the pressure off the text search because it offers the user an alternative way to search besides an index. For example, Garden’s Alive has two P/S drop-downs in the top navigation. One says “What pests do you want to control today?” and the other one says “What do you want to accomplish today?” Fiorella’s Jack Stack BBQ also has two choices. One is “How many are you feeding?” and the other is “What are you hungry for?” Both companies give you a drop-down list of the most popular choices. VERY effective technique because you don’t have to worry about poor spelling or estrogen!
4. Track the words people are using to search within your site. At the end of every week, dump them into an Excel spreadsheet and make sure all of the important words get fed back into your database or content management system. You should also make sure that all of the words that people are using to find you in search engines are well represented on your site and in your search. (Not doing this is one of the biggest mistakes companies make.)
5. Tell people what they can search for in the search box. For example, if someone can search for item numbers, please make sure to tell them. Offline users tend not to understand this, so they’ll use your descriptions instead of the product numbers. Product numbers get you almost 70% successful searches, while descriptions get you about a quarter of that.
6. If a search fails, offer the user tips on searching, a new search box and a list of five items that they should purchase or view. Text searches account for a huge percentage of abandons and one of the primary reasons is because the no-results-found page is a dead end (meaning the user isn’t able to go any further).
7. Develop an abandoned search program. Send cookied users a personal email that says “We’re sorry you couldn’t find what you were looking for. Here are some other suggestions….” Very few people are doing this and it’s working like gangbusters. Sending failed searches to telemarketing is also working VERY well. It’s a proven fact that people who search have the second highest propensity to buy.
8. If all else fails, get a good search package. Endeca, Mercado, these days there are dozens to choose from.