Best Practices for null Search Validation

As long as I can remember, I’ve always seen sites with search functions where the user can search the entire site they are served. I’ve always thought what would be the proper treatment to pass null values into the search query.

Usually, validation messages are in place to treat the negative cases involved in testing the Search Feature that you can find on most sites. I’ve seen so many different treatments of how these fields should be validated, but the same rules always apply to the leaders in the game. The game becomes more interesting as there is usually no real estate to put in Search Validation messages.

What does this mean for us testers? We have to observe and explore flows of the folks that have somewhat standardized what the expected behavior of this commonly used function should be.

Let’s see the results:

1. AOL -Search nothing happens when you click Sumbmit, meaning you’re starting from scratch.
2. Yahoo – Directs you to the an alternate Yahoo search page similar, where you can do a ‘formal’ search. (I have a feeling some serious searching is about to be started.)
3. Google – Hitting submit with a null value will get you nowhere on Google as well. You’ve searched for nothing, so you’ve got zero results.
4. Bing – Hitting submit with a null value will also get you nowhere on Bing. You’ve searched for nothing, so you’ve also got zero results. Bing does give you some interesting rollovers to interact with though.
5. eBay – eBay get it’s really right in the fact that if you enter in a null value, it will take you to the site map with every category you possibly could ever want to navigate to and may also prove intuitive to optimize your custom search results to what categories are displayed.

So what’s the best solution? Judging by what these guys are doing, it’s safe to say, your target should end up in either the target’s sitemap OR nothing should happen as the user has not searched for anything. Mobile users hate typing especially on a moving train. It makes them unconsciously nervous to have to think about typing on such a small device.

With that said, No. 1,2,3,4 are all good options. They give you what you searched for; which is nothing. eBay however, gives you a sitemap and the ability to do the same search again; therefore offering you more options than one.

What shouldn’t happen is having your Search results based on the keyword (Search). I did this on NYPOST.com and got the following:

NYPOST.com Search

2460 Results for the term ‘Search’.

This is a lot to sift through.

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