Often times, search doesn’t work well. It is not uncommon to get a Search Results page with a message reading “no results found for [your search term]”. That’s why it’s important to not rely on Search; rather, to have it be supplemental to navigation. Thus, when weighing the relationship between search vs navigation, it is key that navigation educates and leads users to find the essential content in a web site or application; and search is a bonus treat for power users that know what they are looking for.
Let’s take a look at how Amazon.com educates their users using meticulous navigation. The search filters in the Category Landing Page in the example below show us that the products come in a ‘waterproof version’ and an ‘800 yard’ version.
A user who knows exactly what they want to buy will type into search ‘waterproof rangefinder’. However, a person whom is browsing for rangefinders might land on this page, and then realize that they exist in a waterproof model. That kind of discovery is great UX because it leaves the user feeling empowered – they have gained knowledge, and thus feel smarter. And it’s better for business too, because an educated user is one that’s more likely to revisit t the product for future purchases – and/or make the current purchase they are contemplating.