Does Search solves more intent than navigational sites?

[Guest post by Manas Garg. He puts forth an interesting viewpoint regarding search vs. navigation and whether search is able to answer most of user’s intent. Do share your comments and if you want to submit a post, please use this form]

When I want to get to a webpage whose URL I don’t know, I usually have two options – go to the website that hosts the page and subsequently navigate to the page by clicking here and there OR go to Google search box and type some appropriate keywords and pick that page from the list. So, if I want to download mysql for Linux, I can either go to mysql.com and follow the download link or I can go to Google, type mysql linux download and pick up the relevant search result.?

We all know that the method #2 has won over method #1. And there are several good reasons for it. The regular, good old navigation method is dying (well almost). I’ll come back to it in sometime but for now, let’s see why I go to Google for getting to my destination page instead of the website that hosts the page.?

First, there is just too much information out there for me to navigate my way through it. Too much of text to be scanned through by my eyes before I can find the link to click. Each website has its own navigation model and my mind has to get trained every time I go to a new site. And there is no predictability about how many times will I need to click before I reach the desired page.?

With Google, the interaction model is simple. I go to Google, type the keywords, hit Enter, scan the results vertically downwards, click on the link where I want to go. Predictable, fast (because Google loads fast), and my mind is trained so that repeat cycles don’t require so much effort.?

Secondly, if I am looking for hotels in Shimla, I wouldn’t even know which website hosts the page that I am looking for. How will I navigate my way through “Hotels in Shimala” in that case??

And thirdly, it’s about choice. If I am looking for “Hotels in Shimla”, I would like to do some “research” and check out multiple sites that provide relevant information.?

I wouldn’t say that these are the only reasons but these are enough to paint a picture of why I go to Google, type “mysql linux download”, click on the relevant link from the results page instead of going to mysql.com, navigating my way through the site, and reaching the mysql download page. In fact, it’s very easy to navigate to mysql download page from their home page but still I don’t do it because I have chosen a method for myself now.?

I would also like to tell a small story here. No, I am not digressing. The story is very very relevant.?

I used to stay in Bangalore till sometime back. I don’t know how bad the Forum junction is now but it used to be pretty bad 2-3 years back. Once I was talking to one of my ex-manager when I mentioned that I stopped going to Forum because I found it very difficult to drive down to that place. My manager said with a wicked smile, “Oh! But it’s very easy for me. I just tell my driver that you take me to Forum”.?

Navigating to a place in Bangalore was very easy for my manager. He just had to say “Take me to that place”. That’s what Google Search is for me. I just say “Take me to mysql download page”. Or “Take me to all the hotels-in-shimala pages”. That’s all I have to do in the name of navigation.?

So, the point here is not that the navigation is dead. The point here is that search is the new navigation method. When I am lost in Pune Camp area, I roll down the window of my car, ask the scooter guy next to me on a red signal, “hello, where is the race course road?” The scooter guy says, ?Go left, 1 km down the road, take right, skip 4 signals, turn left and immediate right?. Or he says, “I am also going there, follow me”. Ah! Such a relief!!?

That’s what search is now and that’s the navigation model in the new web. And why talk about web, even for individual websites, that’s how it’s got to be. The sooner we realize and build the navigation model of our websites around it, the better it is. We were looking at the usability of one network management product which had hundreds of screens to do hundreds of things on the network devices. One of the important feature we thought for navigation model was to have a screen search box at the top. You want to configure routes, just put “route configuration” at the top and you’d be taken to the relevant screen or a list of potentially relevant screens.?

Of course regular, good old navigation is not dead. It is still needed when one is in an exploratory mode and doesn’t necessarily have a specific objective. If I am just curious about mysql, I would go to mysql.com and would likely use the regular, good old navigation. If I am just a curious visitor to Bangalore, I wouldn’t tell my driver “Take me to Forum”. I would rather say “Show me the city” and expect the driver to provide a “guided-tour” kind of thing.?

So, search is not just search. It’s navigation especially when I know what I want but don’t know where it is. And search is not just Google search. It is search. Google may be the best way to do it in most of the cases. Good old navigation is for exploration and may be for serving 5 most common purposes for which people come to a site.?

Does it change the way I approach the navigation design for my website? Does it change the way I think about navigation on web in general.

[About the author: Manas is interested in a variety of things like psychology, philosophy, sociology, photography, movie making etc. But since there are only 24 hours in a day and most of it goes in sleeping and earning a living, he amuses himself by writing software, reading a bit and sharing his thoughts.]

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