To search or not to search: that is the question


It feels like the world is divided into two types of web users; there are the people who like to search for what they are looking for and then there are the people who like to browse a site to see what they find.

But which is more popular and why?

I search, so it must be right…right?

When we talked about this in our team, I was certain that everybody would be just like me, a searcher.

Why wouldn’t you search? It allows you to type in exactly what you are looking for and is surely the quickest way to find the information.

For me, time is a premium and I need to be able to find what I’m looking for in the shortest time possible.

Then someone asked, ‘what if you don’t know what you’re looking for?’

Enter the browsers

Imagine my surprise when I discovered that not everybody searched like I did.

We had some browsers in the team. I was quickly reminded that I wouldn’t always know what I’m looking for which can cripple even the best search function.

Browsing would allow me to organically discover everything the website had to offer, and who knows, I may even uncover a hidden gem.

So, what does the research say?

The surprising truth is that each of us will use a combination of search and browsing depending on the situation, and our gender may play a role too.

Research has found that:

  • People who use the search box know specifically what they are looking for
  • People who navigate explore more related content
  • But, conversion rates are typically higher for searchers because they are more likely in the late stage of buying and have already gathered their information (probably from browsing)
  • Women are more likely to navigate; men are more likely to search
  • People are more likely to search when using their mobiles
  • Search is the user’s escape when they are stuck in navigation
  • Approximately 50% of visitors to a homepage go straight to the search function

What does this tell us?

Whether you identify as a searcher or a browser, the truth is we all do a combination of both. Rather than being two separate features, the search function and navigation support each other by offering what the other is lacking.

For this reason, the best websites for user experience are designed with both the search function and navigation in mind to accommodate both types of users.

When these features work together, they create an intuitive and functional website that will have users coming back for more.