Sunday, November 8, 2009

Search Results with Only One Result

I have a question about an issue with internal site search on websites. It's related to how the results are rendered to the user if there is only a single item that matches the customer's search. For example, if you search on for something super specific, like "Beginning Django E-Commerce" in the Book category, you'll be taken to search results page that contains a single result. From there, you can click on that single result and be taken to that book's page on Amazon.

However, if you perform that same search on, it only returns a single result, but instead of showing that single result to you on a "results" page, it skips that step and just redirects the user to the book's page. It assumes that if there is only one result, that the customer would have clicked on it, and they're trying to save them that step by just forwarding them automatically to that book's page.

I think there are benefits to the "skip the results" page that uses, but I always thought that it would be confusing to some people. After they get used to clicking "Search" and getting a results page, they'll enter one search and suddenly they're on a product page. For technical people who are searching the site, it's pretty easy for them to figure out what's going on. But to the average person, isn't it better to leave the user in control of where they are? Isn't it a better approach to keep them oriented, and let them choose whether or not they click through to the single result?

I couldn't find any definitive answer to this question, and I know better than to trust my own opinions. Has anyone ever had any experience in testing this two alternatives as a usability issue? Is there any overwhelming consensus that the way is better than the way does it, or vice versa?