Field research on docs site search boxes#

2024 Feb 19

This page contains my field research around the following questions:

See Field research methodology for background, biases, etc.

Summary#

Summary of patterns I saw in the sampled websites:

Field research#

For every site I looked at (something close to a) homepage and (something close to a) quickstart tutorial.

Libraries#

Requests#

On the Requests homepage, there’s a search box at the bottom of the site nav. There’s no placeholder text within the search box. The label above the search box is Quick Search. There’s a submit button to the right of the search box with the text Go.

_images/requests-home-20240217.png

On the quickstart page the search box is below-the-fold but other than that it seems the same as the homepage search box UI.

_images/requests-quickstart-20240217.png

Nothing happens after I type test into the search box i.e. I need to click Go or press Enter to see results.

The search results page presents the total number of matches and previews of where the search term occurs in the top matches. It seems to highlight 3 sections where there’s a match in each doc.

_images/requests-serp-20240217.png

React#

The React homepage has a search box taking up most of the header. On the far left of the search box there’s a magnifying glass icon. The placeholder text is Search. The keyboard shortcut for accessing the search box (Ctrl+K) is shown on the far right.

_images/react-home-20240218.png

The quickstart page has the same search box UI as the homepage.

_images/react-quickstart-20240218.png

Focusing the search box presents a modal. Typing test into the search box yields a list of matches. The section headings (e.g. REACT V18.0) are the doc titles. The query matches are highlighted in the brand color. The search engine is powered by Algolia. An X icon shows up in the search box after I enter text. The modal takes up about 33% of the screen’s width. Esc is the keyboard shortcut to close the modal and the keyboard shortcuts for navigating the modal are also shown.

_images/react-searchbox-20240218.png

HuggingFace Transformers#

HuggingFace is a platform, but their Transformers product is more akin to a library. The Transformers homepage has two search boxes: one in the header and one above the site nav.

The search box in the header seems to be a platform-wide search. The placeholder text is Search models, datasets, users.... There’s a magnifying glass icon on the left side of the search box. No keyboard shortcut is mentioned.

The search box above the site nav seems to be restricted to the Transformers docs. The placeholder text is Search documentation. The magnifying glass icon is in the same position as the other search box. This time a keyboard shortcut is mentioned: Ctrl+K.

_images/transformers-home-20240221.png

(Quickstart page was skipped.)

Typing test into the header’s search box shows results grouped by models, datasets, spaces, organizations, and users. At the bottom of the modal there is a Try Full-text search option.

_images/transformers-searchbox1-20240221.png

Typing test into the search box above the site nav shows a modal. The results are indeed limited to the Transformers docs. Esc is the keyboard shortcut to close the modal. The keyboard shortuts for navigating the results and selecting a result are also shown. The modal seems to take up about 20% of the screen’s width.

_images/transformers-searchbox2-20240221.png

CLI tools#

Git#

The Git homepage has a search box in the header. There’s a magnifying glass icon. The placeholder text is Search entire site....

_images/git-home-20240218.png

I didn’t notice a tutorial link from the homepage so this reference index seemed like the next best choice. It has the same search box UI as the homepage.

_images/git-reference-20240218.png

Typing test into the search box yields a dropdown of results. The dropdown is structured like a table. The first 10 or so results are git commands. The next 10 or so results seem to be section titles from an authoritative book.

_images/git-searchbox-20240218.png

cURL#

The cURL homepage doesn’t have a search box.

_images/curl-home-20240218.png

Neither does the quickstart page.

_images/curl-quickstart-20240218.png

Frameworks#

.NET#

The .NET homepage has a magnifying glass icon on the right side of the header that represents the search box.

_images/dotnet-home-20240218.png

The quickstart page has the same search box UI.

_images/dotnet-quickstart-20240218.png

Focusing the search box causes it to take up the entire header. The magnifying glass icon becomes an X icon. Typing test seems to show keyphrases related to the search query.

_images/dotnet-searchbox-20240218.png

The search results page is very similar to a Google Search (or Bing) results page. Query matches are bold in the descriptions, but not in the titles. Below the title I see the absolute path to each doc. I can filter by content type or product. .NET is not selected in the product filter, even though that’s where I came from.

_images/dotnet-serp-20240218.png

Unreal#

The Unreal homepage has 2 search boxes. In the header there’s a magnifying glass icon to the right. At the top of the content area, to the right, there’s another search box. The placeholder text for that one is Search Documentation.... It also has a magnifying glass icon.

_images/unreal-home-20240218.png

The quickstart page has the same search box UI.

The search box in the header seems broken; when I type test and press Enter nothing happens. Focusing the other search box caused a blue border around it. Typing test didn’t cause any changes i.e. no dropdown or modal appeared.

_images/unreal-quickstart-20240218.png

The search results page shows the number of results, the usual list of titles and descriptions, and query matches in bold. It also lets me filter content to only see stuff from certain parts of the ecosystem e.g. news, documentation, forums, etc. The URL of the results page suggests it’s powered by Bing.

_images/unreal-serp-20240218.png

Languages#

Rust#

The Rust homepage doesn’t have a search box.

_images/rust-home-20240217.png

The quickstart page also doesn’t have a search box.

_images/rust-quickstart-20240217.png

The search box for rustdoc, however, takes up pretty much the entire header. The keyboard shortcut for accessing the search box is S. The placeholder text is Click or press 'S' to search, '?' for more options....

_images/rustdoc-home-20240217.png

The search results page presents a table of matches. The default tab is In Names but there’s also a tab for In Parameters and In Return Types.

_images/rustdoc-serp-20240217.png

There’s also a search help modal (keyboard shortcut: ?) that shows more keyboard shortcuts and structured search tricks.

_images/rustdoc-searchhelp-20240217.png

Java#

The Java homepage has a search box on the far right of the header. There’s a magnifying glass icon on the left side of the search box. There’s no placeholder text in the search box.

_images/java-home-20240218.png

The quickstart page has the same search box UI.

_images/java-quickstart-20240218.png

The search box expands when I focus it. Typing test yields a list of documents. Each doc title is styled like a link and below the title there’s a 1-2 sentence summary of the doc. Query matches are highlighted in blue. An X icon shows up on the right side of the search box after I enter text.

_images/java-searchbox-20240218.png

Go#

The Go homepage doesn’t have a search box:

_images/go-home-20240218.png

Neither does the quickstart page:

_images/go-quickstart-20240218.png

Platforms#

Stripe#

The Stripe homepage has a search box in the center of the header. There’s a magnifying glass icon. The placeholder text is Search the docs. There’s also a forward slash character (/) to indicate the keyboard shortcut for accessing the search box.

_images/stripe-home-20240217.png

The quickstart page has the same search box UI as the homepage.

_images/stripe-quickstart-20240217.png

Typing test into the search box yields a search results modal. It seems to always return 7 results max. Below the results there’s a single code example and a link to view more code examples. There’s no dedicated SERP. An X icon shows up in the far right of the search box after I enter text. The modal takes up a little less than 33% of the screen’s width.

_images/stripe-searchbox-20240217.png

Clicking See more code examples doesn’t show a search results page but rather another modal.

_images/stripe-codesamples-20240217.png

MDN Web Docs#

The MDN homepage has 2 search boxes: a small one on the right side of the header and a big one in the middle of the splash page content. Both search boxes have a magnifying glass icon. The placeholder text in the small search box is just an underscore character (_). Typing _ does not seem to be a keyboard shortcut for accessing the search box.

_images/mdn-home-20240217.png

The quickstart page has the same small search box in the header as the homepage.

_images/mdn-quickstart-20240217.png

Typing test into the search box yields a modal with 5 results and a “view more results” UI element. An X icon shows up at the far right of the search box after I enter text.

_images/mdn-searchbox-20240217.png

The search results page shows the total number of matches and previews of where the term occurs in the top matches. It also presents options to filter by relevance or popularity. Presumably the “best” filter is a combination of relevance and popularity? The snippet of content from each doc is italicized.

_images/mdn-serp-20240217.png

Amazon Web Services#

The search box on the AWS homepage takes up most of the header. There’s a magnifying glass icon and the placeholder text is Search in AWS documentation. No keyboard shortcut is mentioned.

_images/aws-home-20240218.png

Typing test into the search box shows a dropdown of results. The results seem to be queries that other users entered? An X icon shows up at the far right after I enter text.

_images/aws-home-searchbox-20240218.png

The quickstart page that I arbitrarily picked has only a magnifying glass icon to represent the search box. The location of the search box moved to the right.

_images/aws-quickstart-20240218.png

Typing test yields a dropdown of results. The results seem to be organized by content type e.g. “blogs”. The search engine seems to look for the query term in the doc title.

_images/aws-quickstart-searchbox-20240218.png

The search results page highlights query matches in bold. Products like Hourglass Smart Test Job Runner seem to show the price of the product below the title. I can narrow my search by content type (Documentation, AWS Blogs, etc.). I can sort by relevance, title, or date. The results page shows me how many query matches there were and it lets me choose whether to show 25, 50, or 100 results per page.