Using Eye Tracking to Evaluate the Usability of Search Forms

In the second in his series on using eye tracking to evaluate user interfaces, Matteo Penzo examines the “usability of search forms”: in the January issue of UXMatters.
He compares how novice and experienced users tackle search forms on Google, Amazon, eBay, Flickr and (!) and arrives at some interesting (but not entirely unexpected conclusions).

# Label search forms accordingly
# Avoid using drop-down lists where possible (the K.I.S.S rule)
# Keep search forms compact
# Place search forms in a standard location (e.g. top right)
This is an interesting study. I’d love to see it expanded to advanced search forms to see how well those are used by people with different levels of experience.
When I think about search (which I do a lot as it is such an important part of a large site) I’m reminded of the words of Jared Spool, who said that search is the option of last resort. By this he meant that as users typically use search so poorly, it should not be relied upon for them to find what they need on your site.
I couldn’t agree more. I’ve “looked into the search logs”: on our hospital web site, and it’s crazy some of the things people search for and the terms they use.
[via “Column Two”:]