Colin Devroe

Reverse Engineer. Blogger.

Using search as the location bar

December 25, 2011

Joseph Parish on The Verge:

“Experian Hitwise has released its yearly search term statistics and once again, Facebook and YouTube top the list. The remainder of the top 10 includes three more Facebook-related terms, a couple of Yahoo! variants, craigslist, eBay, and MapQuest. Of course it’s highly unlikely that all the millions of people putting those terms in the top 10 are actually looking for information or the latest news about them; they just want a quick way to the site without having to clumsily type dots and slashes.”

The fact that people do this boggles my mind. I remember the first time I saw it – when I was doing support for a local ISP as one of my first jobs in IT – someone searched for using the Yahoo search field. I nearly fell to the ground. I asked them why they searched for instead of just typing it into the location bar. They said “What’s the difference?”

I agree with Parish that people aren’t searching for information about Facebook, Youtube, etc. They are, in fact, using search as the location bar. But I disagree that people are doing it as a way to get away from the confusing “dots and slashes”. I’ve seen people type in “.com”. They simply do not know the difference between the search field and the location field.

Think about it. Most modern-day web browsers combine the location and search fields. Safari doesn’t but it only maintains a small marketshare. Internet Explorer, Chrome, and Firefox combine the search and location fields into one field that you can type just about anything in and the browser will figure out what you are looking for. So, are they searching for information about Facebook when they type in Facebook? Or are they simply hitting ‘Enter’ too quickly and they really want to navigate to that URL?

I’m sure extensive user testing would be needed to determine the plethora of habits of people; novice and expert alike. One thing is sure, the browsers should be doing a much better job of taking people to web pages instead of search results in different situations. But, why would they? They make their money on searches too.