D1/E1. Difficulty detecting or locating search results

Situation Definition:

A situation that arises from one of the following difficulties: detecting the outcome of a search, including whether or not the search results are displayed; finding the search results; and determining whether the results returned reflect a recently modified search or are still the results of a prior search

Factor(s) Leading to the Situation:

    • Inadequate knowledge:

    • Inadequate support:

Guideline or Design Recommendation:

    1. Clearly label the results section for recognizability
    2. Provide a shortcut to the DL search result list
    3. Notify users that the query has been processed and results have been generated
    4. Provide guidance on how to recognize whether search results have been generated or changed

Rationale and Objective:

DLs have complex navigation structures; therefore,

users need to explore a search result page to determine whether the results have been displayed. Applying a short sound indicating the presence of search results can be helpful for a BVI user to recognize that search results have been generated in a DL. In many cases, when BVI users modify their search terms in the search box, they are unable to determine whether new results have been generated. Providing an audible progress indicator would help BVI users to predict how long they should wait to get updated search results and/or whether search results have been displayed. Search instructions or tips can describe this. A description near the top of the page or search box specifying that search results were generated is a significant marker for a BVI user to recognize that the search results have been generated and are accessible. Applying a heading of “search results” at the top of the results list can facilitate ease of navigation.

Techniques and Methods:

1.1. Add a heading tag to the section title of search results
2.1. Provide skip links and section headers as shortcuts to the search results
3.1. Use text or sound alerts to indicate the status of the search progress
3.2. Add text and/or sound alert to indicate that search results have been generated or updated
3.3. Display a notification near the search box indicating the status of the search results
4.1. Provide help in recognizing when search results are generated
4.2. Include search terms and the number of results in the Search Results heading. An

live region might be used to speak short text with the number of search results returned, for example: “page loaded, 2 results.”

Recommended Features:

1.1. Search Results section heading (See example 1.1)
2.1.A. Skip links (See example 2.1.A)
2.1.B. Section headers (See examples 2.1.B.a. and 2.1.B.b)
3.1/3.2. Sound/text indicator (See example 3.1/3.2)
3.3. Status notification (See example 3.3)
4.1. Tips and help (See example 4.1)
4.2. Search term(s) displayed in results heading (See example 4.2)


1.1. Search Results section heading: Good design

The search result section of Artstor applies a heading.

Example of search results page from ArtStor: "22261 results for "water" from Public Collections."

Code for Artstor search results page with <h1> element applied to "22261 results for "water" from Public Collections."

2.1.A. Skip link: Good design

DPLA provides a skip link to the main content at the top of the page right after the user clicks the Search button and receives a result.

Code for DPLA search results featuring a skip link: <div class="SkipToContent_skipLink_1DHoY" tabindex="-1"><a href="#main"> Skip to Main Content </a> </div>

2.1.B.a. Section header: Good design

DPLA adds ARIA attributes (role=main) in a result section.

Code for DPLA results section which assigns ARIA attribute (role=main): <div id="main" role="main" ... >

2.1.B.b. Section header: Bad design

In the main content section (Search result section), HTML code section is applied (main id=”main”), but it does not apply an ARIA attribute.

Example code in which no ARIA attributes have been applied: <main id="main">

3.1/3.2. Sound/text indicator: How to example

Sound indicator for a webpage update (pseudo code)

<script> function playSound() {  // code for play routine } </script>
<body onload= “playSound()”>
<h>Play a sound whenever the webpage is updated</h>

3.3. Status notification: Good design

A description for “No Results” (Smithsonian Institution) can notify users of the status of their search.

Message the reads "Your Search Return No Results Your search did not return any results. It's possible we don't have what you are looking for. You could try using shorter terms, fewer terms, or use the links below to browse by category. Here are some suggestions based on your search:"

4.1. Tips and Help: Good design

HathiTrust provides tips for skip links so that users know what kind of skip links they can use.

"Tips for Navigating the HathiTrust Digital Library - Skip links - If you're using keyboard controls to navigate, we've incorporated skip links to allow you to get to the main content of the page much faster. Search results page: A "Skip to search results" link is the first link you encounter on the page. Selecting this link will allow you to skip the page headers and the option to Refine Results. Reading a book: We've implemented three skip links, which are the first links you will encounter when you open a book. "Skip to page content" will allow you to go directly to the pages of the book and control them with your arrow or access keys. "Skip to text only view of this item" will allow you to switch to an unstyled interface with few interactive options. Read more about this mode under "Customize your reading experience." "Skip to search in this text" will allow you to search in the book."

4.2. Search term(s) displayed in results heading: Good design

In a result header, a user’s current search terms are displayed so that the user knows what they searched.

Search results page with emphasis box added to results header that reads "You've searched: March on Milwaukee - Civil Rights History Project"

Related Resources:

    1. Barbich, N. (2017). A Comprehensive Guide to Web Design. Retrieved from https://www.smashingmagazine.com/2017/11/comprehensive-guide-web-design/
    2. Smithsonian Digital Library. (2018). No search result page. Retrieved from https://library.si.edu/gsearch/dianosau
    3. W3C. (2018). WCAG 2.1 3.2.5 Change on Request. Retrieved from https://www.w3.org/WAI/WCAG21/Understanding/change-on-request.html

See Also:

Help-seeking Situations > D. Difficulty locating specific information, items, or features

Help-seeking Situations > E. Difficulty identifying current status, path, or cursor mode