The Psychology of Searching

In an effort to make my web sites better, I’ve read pretty much everything I can get my hands on about web usability. One of the things I’ve read in articles and books by Jakob Nielsen and other is the limited value of site search engines. People tend to misspell words, picking concepts and words to search on is often difficult, etc.

I have recently encountered another problem — people will often use search terms which are so expansive that I have to wonder what they’re thinking. I would not mind, except in recent weeks I’ve gone through periods where this has just killed the performance on my server.

Take my Animal Rights site. I don’t think I’m just bragging when I say it is probably the most complete and extensive site devoted to the anti-animal rights argument. There are hundreds and hundreds of articles there, almost 40,000 discussion forum messages, and a whole lot of other stuff.

For some reason, though, a surprising number of people will go the front page and simply type in “animal rights” into the search box. That search will potentially return a list of pretty much every message on the site. And it is kind of perplexing, since the entire site is devoted to animal rights.

Similarly, not a few people go to my Overpopulation.Com site, and do nothing more than search on “overpopulation.” Again, I’m not quite certain what they’re thinking. Thankfully that search does not degrade performance much, since there are not a lot of articles there that deal with overpopulation per se, but rather most of the materials deal with some aspect of the topic such as abortion or malaria or oil supplies.

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