We can handle information density

Memo to search engines: we're smart enough to look at more than five search results above the fold.

As the web has gotten more crowded, sites regularly expose us to dashboards crammed with information. Sometimes there are more than a hundred links or cues on a page, and we are getting very good at scanning and choosing.

Somehow, the search engines haven't figured out that sophisticated users prefer this. Perhaps it's due to their user testing, perhaps there are high value searchers (in other words, shoppers) who are more likely to click on ads if there are only five (or fewer) search results on a page.

At the bottom of this post I've included two screen shots–one from the very simple and privacy-minded DuckDuckGo engine and one from Google. From DuckDuck, less than four editorial matches, and from Google, only one! And that one is Wikipedia, which is basically on every single front page search.

I'd like to suggest a power search feature for a search engine that wants to recapture expert users (DuckDuckGo should know that the people who are most likely to switch are the power users, because power users are always the first to switch…). Show us three columns of results, with an emphasis on the name of the source behind the link and perhaps some data on how often people who click that link hit the back button. It would be easy to imagine a page with twenty or thirty easy to read and easy to follow links. A search engine that trusts us to be smart, fast and make our own decisions.

This is broadly applicable to every business that has information to display. Sometimes your customers benefit from the one, best choice as chosen by you. And other times, an information-rich display is exactly what they need.

When in doubt, treat different customers differently…

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