In computing, search is a mechanism that has just three components: Find, Filter, and Sort. Even when you’re searching sounds with the Shazam or SoundHound apps, or searching images with TinEye or Google Images, these very advanced search systems are still ultimately just matching up the information you put in and sorting the matches.
We’re not here to talk about that, though.
Because the mechanism of search is so simple — though you can implement the three search components in very sophisticated ways — what we need to talk about is information architecture. Being able to search is one thing, but it’s also crucial that people who supply information make that information more searchable. It can take a shocking amount of planning and forethought to achieve this.
Take Amazon.com for example. When you go there and search “usb cable,” you’ll get a list of results, and you’ll see options for sorting and options for filtering. If you only want to see white 12-foot cables, you can check the “10 to 14.9 Feet” and “White” checkboxes! Directly and/or indirectly, Amazon had to apply the information for each such option to each product in their massive catalog. They had to design the way they operate, in terms of dealing with new products and adding them to their databases, with advanced search in mind.
Newegg.com is someone who does an even better job of this. If you use their Power Search for, let’s say CPUs, you’ll get 20 different information categories for filtering your search for CPUs. You can narrow your search to only show you CPUs built on the processor core design that has the codename “Skylake.” That’s impressive. And it takes a level of discipline at Newegg for making sure all of the information they supply is highly detailed and accurate. But both they and Amazon still have room to grow in this area. For example, a filter option you would expect for a type of product might be missing, or the product information may be incorrect. Staying on top of these things is all part of advanced search.
The more information on the Internet is designed to work this way — by increasing availability of such pieces of information and by building relationships between the pieces — the more powerful the information, and the Internet, will become. Maybe you don’t want your data stores to become unwieldy. But as a general rule, the more people are able to get specific with these “options” for finding, filtering, and sorting your information, the happier they’ll be with you. If the technology experts in people’s lives know that a certain model wireless modem is the best one out, and they know your website can filter smartphones by wireless modem model, then you’re going to sell a lot of people a lot of phones. And because no one is doing this right now, your website would organically establish itself as a de facto authority on which phones have what modems.
And these options aren’t just searchable; they’re discoverable. Maybe you didn’t know when you searched “brooms” at Amazon that you could get a sotol fiber broom. Maybe you didn’t realize when you went to Newegg that FreeSync adaptive sync monitors were available yet. This information may be actionable within the software, but it’s also very informative of itself and is a part of the search result. As the supplier of this information, you could gain even greater data on what people are looking for, making it informative even to you. Perhaps you even release some feature which allows people to make suggestions for such options.
Each additional option for Find, Filter, and/or Sort represents a win for search. It’s extremely powerful to be able to say something like: “I’m looking for a red two-door manual coupe with black interior from 2014 to 2017 that’s within 75 miles of 23320 and has under 30,000 miles on it. Make sure it has a backup camera and Bluetooth, and I only want to deal with private sellers.” Where possible, everything on the Internet should work this way! Thanks, Autotrader.