On a website, people usually scan for trigger words first and only use the search function when they’re unable to find a good enough navigational link. This holds true for most websites, though people habitually search by default for books, DVDs and CDs, computer games; that is, products whose title or author they know.
People are better at recognizing things than recalling them from memory. It’s much easier and faster to click on a link than to enter a search term: you don’t have to spontaneously come up with the proper search expression, or worry about synonyms and spelling.
Studies and articles on why links perform better than search:
- In Navigation is more important, Gerry McGovern discusses that they “did some extensive task testing with a technical audience. 70 percent started the task by clicking on a link, 30 percent used search.” He argues that it’s faster and more natural to use the navigation links instead of typing in search queries.
- In a study to test search-preference, Jared Spool’s team at UIE found no search-dominant people. What they did find though is that 20% of the participants were link-dominant, using exclusively navigation links. They also found that search is usually used for books, CDs, DVDs and video games, and in cases the user got stuck. – Are There Users Who Always Search? and also in the UIE podcast
- The superiority of recognition over recall is discussed in the book Universal principles of design. The book also advises to “minimize the need to recall information from memory whenever possible. Use readily accessible menus, decision aids, and similar devices to make available options clearly visible.”
- Jeff Johnson discusses on UXmatters that recognition doesn’t require the brain to search in the memory, it’s instantaneous.
- This phenomenon is also reflected in the evolution from the command line interface to the graphical user interface. The former required people to recall commands from memory, whereas on the GUI, options are laid out on the screen for much easier access.
- This is Myth #6 in Keith Lang’s UX Myth list: If you Have Great Search, You Don’t Need Great Information Architecture.