Exorbyte continues to see interest from customers in Ecommerce and beyond for its autocomplete capability. The trend is not surprising as its been endorsed by some of the largest companies online.For instance Google surprised many analysts when it turned what many saw as a mere widget, its Google Suggest (see pic to the right), into a new core search interface: Google Instant Search.
I must say we at Exorbyte were not surprised at all. We have seen first hand that instant search interfaces (also called autocomplete, incremental search, suggest, auto-suggest, search as you type, typeahead, etc.) are capable of changing and enhancing the search process entirely. They bring a boost of ease of use and finadability to conversions for ecommerce and to just about any other application featuring a search feature. Our whitepaper on the topic of advanced autocompletes (Ajax Incremental Search) is worth a read if you want to know more.
But just to put this in context here are a few rules to help the business-focused person make sense of the differences. Ask the following questions:
- Are the search suggestions returned straight from real live (indexed) content or just popular search query suggestions?
There is a huge difference here. Real search suggestions from content can be hard to return every 10 ms after someone types the next character but they are infinitely more valuable to the user because they cut through the search process straight to relevant results.
- Are the search suggestions returned with a high degree of error-tolerance? Does it allow for phonetic similarities, aliases and synonyms, complex misspellings (a letter difference or 3 right in the middle or at the start of the word) , multi word queries, can the user erase and re-type, is the system available on search results pages too, etc.
Error-tolerance, or the ability to find close matching suggestions whatever the source of the error (unknown spelling of someone’s name, typo, bad spelling in the content itself, is a huge benefit here. The reason is that autocomplete suggestions happen at the very beginning of the search process as the user has yet no specific idea of what an ideal query for his desired result(s) (disambiguation process). Therefore error-tolerance is just not a nice-to-have here.It’s a must have because that’s exactly what the autocomplete is for: preventing errors that will return too much irrelevant results (noise) or zero results (silence).
- Does the autocomplete return results in an advanced interface? Is it configurable to include actual matches from content but also suggested categories, or other facets, images, etc?
Having a list of items is not enough. The autocomplete needs to also help the user disambiguate him/herself. Having a simple list doesn’t help as much as an organized list that also displays associated data (ie. prices of suggested items in an online store). The addition of images is a big plus but needs to be done only at no cost to the speed of the system (which requires a special image server like that of Exorbyte).
Hopefully, you will find these suggestions useful and you apply them the next time you are choosing a search system or offered a UI with an autocomplete that does or doesn’t meet these criteria. See Exorbyte’s own autocomplete at work on our Exorbyte Commerce Demo now if you need an illustration and don’t hesitate to leave us comments or questions below.
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