How To Build a Search and Content UX That Hooks Users: 9 Best Practices

Not long after Google was just a few boxy computers in a garage in Menlo Park, California, co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin wrote a guiding document — “10 Things We Know to Be True.”

Today, Google is the world’s most-visited website. It’s one of the most valuable companies on the planet with a market cap of more than $1.5 trillion. “To Google” is a dictionary-defined verb.

So what was the first guiding principle Google ever etched in digital stone? 

No. 1: Focus on the user and all else will follow.

From the jump, UX — the experience a user has on an app or website — has been critical to tech success from giants like Google to indie app developers. And it’s not hard to see why. 

As phone screens continue to dictate more and more of everyday life, the importance of rave-worthy UX has never been greater. But despite its impact, only about half of all companies are conducting any UX testing.

For a UX that blows past user expectations and stays a few swipes ahead of the competition, optimizing for search and content functionality is crucial. But mastering those functions doesn’t come without its challenges. Mobile users are multitaskers, and hurried search results are often riddled with errors. Large data sets make it challenging to provide the demanding blend of speed and accuracy. And to make matters more difficult, every functionality must be optimized for 6-inch screens and miniscule keyboards.

So how can you design an app to provide a search and content experience that keeps users coming back for more? Read on for 9 best practices. 

1. Meet users where they are 

While complex in practice, effective search is simple in theory: just help your users find what they’re looking for. For apps whose users already know what they want, this may mean designing a prominent search bar that makes it easy to search, type and purchase. 

If your app is more focused on media than commerce, it may be wise to prioritize contextual search over a search bar to encourage content browsing, increase personalization based on viewing history, or improve engagement by providing quick access to related content without users having to leave the screen. 

2. Prioritize intuitive navigation

According to data from Quettra, the average app loses 77% of its daily active users within the first three days after install. To keep users coming back, a flawless UX is a must. And unlike clever marketing or flashy designs, the most effective UX is often intuitive, invisible and unnoticed.

With the constant use of mobile apps, certain navigation patterns have become second nature for users. UX placements like navigation drawer buttons in the top left-hand corner or bottom-screen navigation bars help users intuitively navigate newly downloaded apps.

By providing functionality that users are already familiar with, you can quickly give users the content they’re looking for, making it easy to complete their searches or tasks.

3. Include voice search

What’s more intuitive than talking? Adoption of hands-free mobile use is increasing, evidenced by a PwC study that showed 65% of consumers aged 25-49 talk to their devices on a daily basis.

Developers who include voice search can accommodate the growing group of users who frequently speak to their devices. Failing to include voice search risks the possibility of losing users who prefer apps that can be used just as easily with voices as with thumbs.

4. Feature dynamic search 

Various UX search elements can help users quickly find what they’re looking for — even if they’re not sure what they’re looking for. Here are a few dynamic options for an optimized search functionality that keeps users coming back: 

  • Faceted search: By enabling users to refine search results by applying criteria filters, users can quickly navigate and narrow down large data sets to the most relevant results. 
  • Query suggestions: Developers can insert query suggestions, offering users popular pre-defined results tied to relevant queries around the topic the user is searching for. This can help users refine their search and explore specific topics in real time. 
  • Instant results: Similar to query suggestions, instant results are ideal for smaller data sets as they dynamically display actual search results (as opposed to suggestions) as the search query evolves. 

5. Reduce friction 

Make it as easy as possible for users to take the next step. To mitigate the negative effects of searching on small keyboards, developers can include features like autocomplete and typo tolerance. Additionally, adding elements like one-click ordering and highlighted search-result text for easy scanning can create a more rapid experience. These features provide a hassle-free user experience that increases user satisfaction, retention and conversion rates. 

6. Optimize for physical preferences

While it may be our feet that move most of us, it’s our thumbs that drive us. How users physically hold their phones is a key consideration for mobile UX design. 

Since users prefer the center of their phones, developers should place key content in the middle of the screen. Most users only use one hand, so a good rule of thumb is to keep the most important interactive elements within that thumb’s reach.

7. Enhance app performance

Satisfied users are engaged users. And engaged users are valuable users. To increase the long-term value (LTV) of users, it’s key to provide a search result experience that users are happy to come back to. While slow load times and glitchiness will turn users away, optimizing performance with faster response times and smoother interactions leads to more loyalty, more app use and ultimately better LTVs.

To enhance app and search performance, developers should consider the following techniques: 

  • Lazy loading: Instead of loading everything on a page at once, lazy loading only loads content that’s needed.
  • Image optimization: Compress images without compromising quality. By optimizing image formats and sizes, developers can reduce load times and improve the user experience.
  • Caching: With caching, apps can store and retrieve local data on a device, speeding up load times by minimizing repeated network requests.

8. Implement gestures 

For a more interactive, more fluid experience, developers must go beyond scrolling and tapping. By adding gesture functionality — things like swiping right or shaking the device — you create simple, lightning-fast access to key features. On Android devices, this may be leveraged by creating a swipe-right screen that pulls important user content from multiple locations all into one place. 

9. Listen to your users 

The most effective way to nail best UX practices? Let your users tell you. By gathering reviews and feedback from your users, you’ll get a clear roadmap for what they want.

So while most apps prioritize easy navigation and engaging visuals, how many UX features focus on combining all your email provider accounts into one screen? Taking stock of UX best practices is always a good bet — but often, the groundbreaking practices come from the minds of your users. 

Making the complex simple

The data is clear: effective search and content UX features are key components in building a loyal user base, boosting the LTV of your customers and speeding past your competition. Focusing on consistent UX best practices that promote fluid search, adaptive results and ease of use creates an experience that increases user adoption and engagement.

By listening to your users and conducting internal and external testing, you can also make fast-paced changes depending on the shifting needs and wants of your audience.

In short — the intricacies of UX can be nuanced. But the guiding principle couldn’t be more straightforward: 

Focus on the user and all else will follow. 


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