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Interfaces for Search No-Matches Pages: a Pick and a Pan 
8th-Feb-2010 12:14 pm
searchtools.com
On your site, intranet or enterprise search engine, what happens if a search engine finds no match for the search terms?

Below the cut are two different approaches, one slightly verbose and the other so terse as to be baffling. Look a them, look at yours, look at my page on good things to do with the no matches page, and see if there's something you can do better.


Good: Do This!!

note on results as transcribed below

I like the way the explanation is conversational without being too informal:
"If you were searching for a movie title and found no results, it is either because Roger Ebert never reviewed the film (the archive is from 1967- present, plus classic "Great Movies"), or the review itself hasn't been formatted and imported into our database yet. We're working on it. The search engine first looks for titles and names, then for any matches in the text. So, any seemingly incongruous results that appear above have your search word(s) in the body of the article."
I would advise the site designer to make the font size larger, and text into lines or bullet points and put it right in the middle. Being so small makes it look a little like boilerplate.

Bad: Don't Do This!

nearly blank page for results

There' s nothing but a big white area and the uninformative text: "Please report any problems to ssearch-help@salon.com". It's so bad as to be user-hostile. Here are likely user responses to this interface:

Why am I on this page? It doesn't even say 0 pages found, so this is real dead end.

Where is the word I searched on? How can I continue if I can't even tell what I did wrong?

Where is the search field? Way up on the right, with no hints about how to search more effectively

Did I break the search engine? Did I break the site? The page worries me, all that blank white.

What does "report any problems" mean? This really is useless. There should be several blocks of helpful text and perhaps a feedback form.

Readers: if you have any good or bad examples, or "before" and "after" screenshots, link me to them, please! I'll post the best ones, by which I mean both good helpful interfaces and really awful ones.
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