Making discovery difficult

The problem of search

Today while doing some errands I decided to visit Home Depot's web site to get information on replacing some parts of our grill. The resulting process shows one example of how not to present search to users. On the surface it looks pretty but as the screen captures below show something on the back end needs to be tweaked.

Searching for the term "grill"Immediately upon entering a few letters the first match that comes up is propane grills. I assume that if I were to select this that it might take me to an informational page on grills. When I hit enter the following screen shows what actually happened.

No results for "grill"Not only does this page provide conflicting information (there is really nothing on the Home Depot web site about grills?) but it provides no other options except to search again. If I did not know that what I was looking for was available I would assume that this was the end of the road. As it is I am now more likely to do use a third-party search engine like Google to develop a scent.

Some solutions

The problem could have been avoided in a couple of ways. While the autocomplete feature is definitely helpful there appears to be a disconnect between the terms there and whatever is in the search index. By including these keywords I would have been directed to the right place.

Another suggestion for those developing interfaces is to avoid dead ends. Instead of No results found offer up alternative suggestions. If there really is nothing to suggest then provide a list of popular search terms or a way to get help. At no point should the experience hit a dead end unless that is a key feature of the interface.

One takeaway lesson from this experience is that there is no such thing as the perfect interface. Maybe I am an exception to the rule - I have to imagine that at some point Home Depot did some usability testing on their system. On the other hand it does show there is always room for improvement. Here's to hoping that Home Depot is one of them soon.