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Website Search Bars: Everything You Need to Know

Website search bars may seem like a simple aspect of website design. Your website visitors can search for something, be directed where they want to go, and ultimately your user is downloading an ebook, contacting your company, or purchasing your product. But is it really all that simple?
Search Bar

What is a website search bar?

A website search bar is a bar that (typically) lives in the top navigation of a website and allows users to search for content rather than browse your website using the given navigation options. The user clicks the search bar, types in a query, and clicks “search”, the magnifying glass icon. Similar to searching on a search engine like Google, results appear below, based on the closest match available to the word or words used in the query.

However, before you consider how to set this up, ask yourself – should your website have a search bar at all? Several factors must be considered:

Target Audience

The ideal audience for search bars is consumers–if your audience is purchasing a product, or searching for information, and an efficient search would help your sales or conversion funnel, a search bar could be a good choice. However, the content of your website (and your type of company and services) can dictate whether your ideal audience is best served with efficiency or with a controlled user journey pathway. For example, with B2B websites, as opposed to e-commerce (consumer-focused) pages, search bars don’t typically result in a better user experience.

Website Type and Size

If your website has a wealth of pages (100+) and many of those pages are hosting content, search can be helpful in allowing visitors to find the information they seek quickly and efficiently. If the content users are searching for can be unpacked further, a search function will provide even more ease of use. E-commerce sites are also typically aided by a provided search bar because often consumers have a specific purchase in mind. Additionally, a larger company with scores of team members might want to have a searchable “Team” page, so website visitors can identify their best point of contact.

Revisit Your Goals

Depending on what you’re trying to accomplish with your website, a search bar can help you tip the scales in either direction. If you’re out to improve user experience, a search bar placed on your website is certainly utilitarian. It does its job (if coded correctly) and can give users a positive experience, particularly with fast, accurate search results. With search, your aim must be ease of use, and with it, the employment of auto-suggest, and/or AI-programmed search results. Just one bad search can make for a poor user experience. Adding in filter options or some contextual resource types could be the gold mine your user has been digging for.

On the other hand, some websites with a high volume of information, may choose to do a “mega menu” in the top navigation instead, so they can have greater control over the user journey pathway. If your content can’t be easily found with your menu, a search bar may not be the solution.

If you’re out to create a clean, uncluttered and streamlined site (if you anticipate most of your traffic to be from mobile devices) going without a search option can help you reach that goal. Perhaps your navigation bar already has many items. Adding in a search bar would just overcrowd the space visually, making it more difficult for your user to find what they’re looking for. Likewise, if you have a smaller website with a strong call to action – you may want to forgo the search bar option to control the user journey through an intentional website architecture.

As with any aspect of website design, data-informed decisions will get you on the right track. Perhaps you already have a website search bar. Through Google Analytics, you can track user searches, giving you insight into what people are looking for, and what they can (or cannot) find. There is some setup required in order for Google Analytics to track queries entered on your website. Luckily, Google Analytics offers instructions for setting up your site search tracking. Once you set this up, you can find site search terms used by looking under Behavior>Site Search>Search Terms. You can keep improving your search bar through the search results or filter options, along with readjusting your site navigation or architecture to ensure important or helpful search items can be easily found. If queries come through for something specific, other users are likely looking through your site for the same thing. If, however, the search bar is a hindrance and distraction, remove it and don’t look back.

Examples of Website Search Bars

Marketing to both commercial and consumer audiences, Gerber offers a search bar to make it fast and easy to find products for those users who already know what they are looking for.

Moz offers a treasure trove when it comes to content. As a thought leader in the digital marketing space, their search bar makes it easy to find articles based on subject matter that may otherwise be buried.

How Do I Create a Search Bar?

With a WordPress website, the bar and search results are relatively easy to plug in as an archive template, because they’re already part of the WP environment. There are, of course, search bars that range from the very basic, to the more complex–for example, a search bar with auto-suggest, or a search bar that becomes a full-screen takeover.

There are a lot of options for search bars, and with Elementor websites (a Solid Digital favorite) there are plenty of add-ons. For example:

  • An in-line field vs. a magnifying glass which presents a search bar when clicked
  • A new page vs. a pop-up vs. a full-screen takeover for search

But where on your website should that friendly magnifying glass go? Place the search bar where your user will find it. This includes the header, footer, or top navigation bar. If you have a blog page or resources page, placing the search near the top will help the user sort through your content for the most helpful items, showing posts matching their query. Check out Hubspot’s best practices for search bar design.

Note: If your user has navigated away from the home page and onto a products page, the search bar (if employed here) will need to be at the page level rather than the top navigation, so it’s clear that the search is specifically for the content they’re browsing.

Summary (Final Results!)

As with anything related to website design, providing a positive user experience is key. Determining whether a website search bar would be helpful or a hindrance must be decided by your company, through identifying your audience needs, your type of website, and your company’s goals. If you have identified user journey pathways for more control over the user experience, you should set out to create a site using the menu rather than through the website search bar. If a search bar can help you reach your goals, finetune your design and results using data-backed analytics so your website can give your user exactly what they’re looking for.

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