Usability guru Dr. Jakob Nielsen tells us that our users have a firm mental model on search. The mental model includes a search box, a search button, and a list of results. In testing, people want search on every site to work like search on their favorite search engine (Google, Yahoo, and MSN).
Users also expect to type in a keyword or two. “In [a] recent search study, the mean query length was 2.0 words.” Search success rates also drop off drastically as users refine, from 51% on their first attempt, to 32% and 18% on their second and third attempts, respectively.
In the knowledge management and enterprise search space, most vendors are pushing natural language searches – completely different than the mental model Dr. Nielsen describes. Nielsen recommends that if that is the case, then do not make your search look like search, “…the label ‘Search’ equals keyword searching, not other types of search.”
Dr. Nielsen does not have a hard, fast rule to solving this problem, but he does recommend not using a “Search” button. Try instead using the word “Find” or “Retrieve.”
So, “When Is Search Not Search?” When you do not support keyword search.