Derek Halpern, over at Social Triggers, wrote this interesting post titled, The #1 Reason Why You Must Remove That Search Form From Your Site. He advocates removing your search box from your blog, but as you can see, I still have mine. I’d like to share with you why I didn’t follow his advice.
First, let’s take a closer look at what Derek has to say about search boxes.
According to Derek:
- The 100 posts on his blog aren’t varied enough to match the whim of everyone who searches his site.
- When searchers don’t find what they are looking for, they feel “horrible.”
- Therefore, most people using the search box on his blog didn’t find what they were looking for and left feeling “horrible.”
Based on this reasoning, he advocates removing your search box until you have 200+ posts, at which point you have enough content to meet the needs of those searching on your blog.
These statements seem reasonable. So reasonable in fact, that he’s convinced scores of people to remove their search boxes on these flimsy arguments.
But these arguments are based on assumptions about the visitors to Derek’s site. And assumptions can get you in deep trouble, especially when they don’t match up with facts. This is why I always advocate testing your assumptions before making decisions based on them.
Based on Derek’s arguments, we can infer his assumptions. Derek’s assumptions include:
- People are uninformed about what is on your site and are thus likely to search for things that don’t exist.
- Unsuccessful searches leave people with a bad feeling that they somehow attribute to you.
- There is no benefit to the blogger/business owner from the use of the search box.
Let’s compare these assumptions to some real data. Although I don’t have the subscribers that Derek has, the size of my blog is nearly the same as his. In fact, when I hit the publish button on this post, I’ll have exactly the same number of posts as he does: 100. I share this with you to let you know that we’re comparing apples and apples here.
Here’s some stats directly from my search box:
What do these stats tell us? First, the first 9 searches are for things that actually exist on my blog. This would seem to directly contradict Derek’s assumption that most people look for things that don’t exist. But let’s look at the data a bit closer and see what else it tells us.
One of the first things I noticed when I looked at this list was the long query: “What is a blog commenting tribe and why you should join one.” This is the exact title of one of my posts so it is unlikely to have shown up randomly. It would then be safe to assume this searcher had read this post previously and was looking for it again.
The searches for “email” and “email marketing”, occurring so close together (these are listed in date/time order), likely came from the same searcher: “email” turned up 44 results, so she narrowed the search to “email marketing” to narrow the results. Although it’s impossible to know the feelings this searcher experienced, any negative feelings that came up as a result of the initial results for the first search didn’t interfere with the placing of another search.
What about the person who searched for The Diary of Anne Frank? Well, that person was likely disappointed and may indeed have felt “horrible” as a result. But I’m not sure I care. My blog is obviously not about the subject of this book, so looking for this book here was simply a mistake.
Does the Blogger Benefit from the Search Box?
Derek also assumes that the blogger doesn’t benefit from the existence of a search box. And maybe Derek doesn’t, but I know that I do. Remember that list up there that includes the searches over the last 30 days? The first one listed is for “avatar”. I know exactly who did this search and why:
The other day, there was a discussion in my blog commenting tribe about how to set up an avatar and one of the members posted this message:
If you do want to set up an avatar, but don’t know how, you can refer to Lesa’s blog at http://www.conversation2sales……te-avatar/. That’s what I did 🙂
Maria used the search box to find the post that she knew existed but didn’t have bookmarked. The search box made it fast and easy for her to share my material with other people (Would she have taken the time to find the link to the post if there was no search box? We’ll never know…. ). And this is exactly what I believe people use the search box for: to locate material they know exists so they can share it with others.
How Can You Protect Yourself From This Mistake?
Instead of blindly following the advice of someone online — even someone with a good reputation and a large following — I checked his assumptions and compared them to actual facts. Business owners of all shapes and sizes, even some who you think would know better, can be guilty of making assumptions that are not based on fact, and then acting on them as if they were.
You can protect yourself from making this mistake by asking yourself these questions before proceeding with a change to your business:
- Is my decision based on assumptions about the situation?
- What are the assumptions that I am making?
- What data can I use to verify these assumptions?
- How can I gather the necessary data?
Long before I had read Derek’s rant about search boxes, I had installed a nifty free plugin for WordPress called Relevanssi. This tool improves the function of the default search in WordPress by adding a bit of fuzzy logic, which improves the likelihood a match will be found, even when the search terms are not an exact match (thereby reducing the likelihood of “horrible” results). It also stores a list of the queries done over a 30 day period so you can gauge what people are actually using the search box to locate.
When I read Derek’s post, I already knew more about the people who use the search box on my website than did any of the other readers. That is why I didn’t blindly follow his advice.
But What About You? Should You Keep Your Search Box?
Personally, I believe a search box is a good thing: it is a tool used by your fans to find your material to share with others. This seems like a good enough reason to have one even if only one person uses it for this purpose. But don’t just blindly believe me: prove my arguments to yourself by installing Relevanssi on your blog. The data will speak for itself.
Oh, and one other benefit from the Relavanssi data: Those queries that don’t match up with current content on your blog are a good indication of what you should be writing about (as long as the subject fits in with the focus of your blog).