Museum Search: Recommendations

June 5, 2010

About four weeks ago, I played around with a huge log of people’s search data from a museum/gallery/collections website. Lots of interesting little findings ‘fell out’ of the analysis, that I thought I’d quickly share with you:

  • Museum search boxes should be at least 20 characters wide. It’s diminishing returns after that.
  • Museum searches should fall-back to SOUNDEX() searches against painter names, if 0 results are found for the initial search. About 80% of the top 10 searches are for painter/sculptor/creator names – i.e. this is the most popular ‘type of thing’ to search for. However, the search logs show 58 variations of spelling for ‘Picasso’. Many of these could be picked up if painter names were stored alongside a SOUNDEX() of their name, then when no results are found for the initial search query, a SOUNDEX() of the search query can be compared against this pre-stored value, to find painters that ‘sound like’ the word that was typed in (e.g. Picaso, Piccaso).
  • Advanced operators/wildcards aren’t really used that much (0.3% of searches used * or “”), so they should only be implemented if they don’t require substantial investment. Similarly, instructions/notes about how to use them don’t need to be prominent (or perhaps this is why they don’t get used!).
  • Museum searches should pre-load and predictive suggest (via Javascript) the top 10 search queries, which account for 7.6% of all searches.
  • Client-side validation should be used (Javscript) to check the validity/specificity of the search query. In this data, numbers 2 to 5 of the most popular searches were: (blank) – i.e. no value, the, van, john. None of these are really specific enough to return useful results to the user; these type of common, non-specific queries could be detected on submission, and the user challenged to be more specific (rather than them waiting for the search results page, finding nothing of use, then having to hit back and try again).

Here’s a nice little graphic for you, to finish off the post:

Museum Search Data Analysis

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