Baby and bath-water comes to mind.

Recently we had some stats produced by our very excellent stats system* . On top of the stuff we normally get, we set the system up so as determine information on our search; we have recently moved search engines you see and we  were just curious.
Perhaps, well not perhaps, definitely, we should have looked at this area before but there is only so much you can do. Anyway the upshot was that it showed the percentage of visitors who used our search is around the 10% mark with a very low percentage of failed searches.
Blimey we thought that’s a small amount of people who use the search. Especially given the search results  page is in our top five pages by number.  We thought the percentage of users who found their information that way would be high, much higher in fact, than was shown.
We contacted Nedstat so as to ensure the code is right and to ask their opinion on the percentage. “Oh no” they said, “that percentage would be considered slightly on the high end of the 7-10% average”.
We were shocked. Here we were believing our navigation is pants and people could not get to stuff they were looking for at all. We’ve had the odd comment on this of course but the odd comment amongst millions of users is no indication. And the facts disprove our assumption.
We, like many of you, will have realised providing a navigation system for content as widely varying as that provided by local government is never going to be easy – but did any of you realise we (local government) are seemingly quite good at doing it?
A while back, well 6 years or more, I threatened to produce a site with no navigation just a giant search box, like Westminster in fact. I was pilloried by my internal colleagues. Unbeknown to them, and indeed me, they were right. I would have seriously annoyed 90% of our customers who get to their data by navigation, or direct link of course.!
Back to those that do search… vast amounts of pages are discovered this way. So there are, relatively,  not many people who do search, but the amount of pages viewed that way  is vast.
So what’s the moral of this story?
  1. Navigation probably works better than you think, it seems.
  2. Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water when re-designing your page navigation.
  3. Make your search as good as it can be.
Both work for different people and both are of major importance.
*we use Nedstat to provide our statistical information.
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6 thoughts on “Baby and bath-water comes to mind.

  1. Interestingly we found similar enlightenment when we surveyed our customers in 2008 and 2009.

    We were expecting to find a preference for navigation to aid our design process but the results of our consultations showed that our customers used the different methods of navigation equally! Around a third of customers insisted on using the search, a third used the A to Z and the remaining third preferred using the main navigational structure.

    More interestingly they all seemed insistent that the other methods of navigation were not needed as everyone used the same method as they did.

    We have since designed and launched our new site with a greater emphasis on providing direct access to services and it will be interesting to see how our new ‘quick links section’ will effect the way people prefer to browse our site.

  2. Following on from the previous comment our Google Analytics data indicates around 70% of all visits to our website originate from an external search engine.

    Having said that once people are on the site our statistics are pretty much the same as Peter’s – with only around 10% of them using the site search.

    • We find that many people, including staff, wouldn’t dream of using our site search. They expect to find exactly what they want linked from the centre of the homepage. However for any non-council needs they’re happy to go to a search engine such as Google. They don’t expect to know the website address and to find what they want linked in an obvious manner. Similarly, they may use the A-Z on a council site but wouldn’t expect to find this function on a non-council site. It’s really frustrating when users say they can never find what they want but aren’t prepared to try a search, especially as we’ve put in effort to boost ‘recommended’ results.

  3. Our experience is similar – the Bristol City Council site had around 6% of visits using the site search last month.

    To put this in perspective:

    About 300,000 visits in the month.

    70% came from search engines
    16% direct
    12% from links

    25% entered via the home page

    Incidentally, only 0.5% of searches (not of total visits) were using the advanced search form.

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