There is a trend lately that is cropping up everywhere, “Make search the central point of your business”.

I hear it with many clients and employees.

Just put a big search bar across the top, then [we don’t need to do anything, because] people can find anything.

Facebook, Amazon, and YouTube all do it. The big search bar is obviously working for them so we should follow their lead.

The problem with this logic is that I have never worked with a company that is actually competing with Amazon, Facebook, or YouTube. In that case why are you striving to be like them? You won’t stand out being smaller and exactly the same. Being different is how you will stand out.

Using search can work, but the problem is that you lose complete control of your business. You are now relying on the customer to lead themselves through your site. Most of the time, especially as a smaller company, your customers are just discovering you. If a customer doesn’t know anything about you, then why are we expecting them to search for your content?

A great marketer is someone who carries a customer on a journey. Relying on search, handcuffs you from leading them on the journey. You have no idea what they are going to search for and no control over how they experience your brand. Take control, by getting rid of the search bar.

Most sites don’t have that much content to truly support a site search. In addition, most sites use pretty crappy searching algorithms.

Your Search Lost My Business

Iconfinder has no discovery option. I can only search. The problem with this is I was intrigued by the idea of what Iconfinder could offer me, I was ready to devote some time on your site. But I couldn’t think of something to search. So I sat there… Thinking.

IconFinder Search in 2013

Maybe some hints, or a discovery button would have helped me figure out what was available so I could understand what you offered. Before I hate too much on IconFinder, I have to admit that they actually took my advice and have added a small “hint” section. However, its still really basic. Simply reminding me of three static examples is not great, but its better then nothing.

Search is more useful as a power feature, or to supplement an already powerful onboarding process. You still need to take the user down a journey of discovery.

Search Done Well

The only site that actually leverages site search very well is facebook.

Now I loathe facebook and this is one of the few compliments you will ever hear from me about facebook. Their site search is the best I have ever seen. Not only do you get autocomplete, but you also get sorted, categorized results with your search.


Categorized facebook search
Facebook back in 2013 with a wonderfully clear categorized search

Facebook’s search actually used to be a lot better than it is right now. Nothing new there, that is Facebook doing what they do best and screwing every good thing they have ever done. Regardless a good search is like the one above. Nicely categorized for me to easily find what I am looking for. Amazon does this also by categorizing things by department. When you have loads of content like these sites do it can be useful to help divide up your content to make it easier to manage during the searching experience. This helps me find what I want and move on.

Facebook search discovery open graph
Discovery is key with search, do not use a blank search box. Facebook gives you ideas on what to search before you type anything.

Facebook also did a great job with search discovery. Because of how powerful their open graph searching engine became, they decided to give us ideas on what to search before we even start typing. “Movies my friends like” is something that Google or Amazon can not find for me and its something that I think is done well to show off the power of Facebook’s search. No one will naturally search any of these things unless I am taught to do it first. So Facebook does a good job helping us learn about how powerful their search is.

Facebook’s open graph search is one of the most incredible technical advancements of the year. Seriously amazing. Ok, now you will never catch me ever complimenting Facebook again, so please cherish the moment. No I do not have a Facebook page. But you can follow me on twitter.

Why you still shouldn’t do it.

I’m guessing you don’t have as much content as Facebook does, or anywhere close. In that case don’t use it.

Search works really good on sites like Google, Facebook, Pinterest and Twitter where there is more content and information than you could ever digest. Helping me digest the information is key and part of the user experience. Anything I search will come back with thousands of results. These are perfect times for site search.

But I can’t tell you how many startups I’ve seen with site search. I’ve seen sites that don’t even have 10 pages, but they put a search bar at the top. Don’t do this! Chances are if someone searches something they will not get any results.

[Tweet “Slapping a search bar on your site is the act of a lazy marketer.”]

Slapping a search bar on your site is the act of a lazy marketer. Instead, challenge yourself to lead the customer to victory through engaging content and user experience. Make them delight in something unique and special about YOU! Don’t kick them off from shore with only a search bar to navigate and expect to get any level of valuable results.