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Chapter 9: Search
If browsing is about following predefined trails in a Web site, then searching is going off-path, blazing your own direction through content. While it would seem that search facilities appeal primarily to power users and frequent visitors, the fact is that novice users are familiar with public search engines and rely more and more on sites like Google for searching. Understanding how public search engines work and are used is the first step in designing a local site search facility. Designers should also understand how users move from public search sites to local sites and attempt to guide users to what they are looking for. Search facilities must be designed with the user in mind. The best way to do this is to consider what users would actually want to search for in a site. Do not fall into the trap of blindly imitating the free text search qualities of global Web search engines. When providing local search, make sure to provide both basic and advanced search forms. Format the search form carefully and provide instructions. This will help users form good queries, but in case things go wrong, make sure the negative result page provides extra help to get users back on track. Once users do get a positive result from a search engine, make sure that enough information is provided so they can narrow down the potential choices. Having too much data is nearly as bad as having none at all. However, always consider that searching isn't everything. Like all forms of navigation, searching is a means to an end, not the end itself. There are many ways to help users find what they are looking for. The next chapter will present a variety of other navigational aids, such as site maps, site indices, and help systems.

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