24/7 TV news websites: Part 12 - Search III

 by Martin Belam, 24 January 2008

Over the last couple of days I've been specifically looking at the search features on the web sites offered by the Al Jazeera, BBC, CNN, Euronews, France 24, ITN, Russia Today and Sky News sites.

Or, in the case of Euronews, not looking at them.

I've put together a feature comparison chart of what I saw, but before getting to that, I wanted to look at some general trends I noticed.

Search box placement is nearly uniform

All of the sites put their search box towards the upper-right portion of the page. Although there is no complete over-lap, this diagram illustrates how closely the sites place their search on the page.

Search matrix

Site search doesn't need URLs

When user testing interface design for web search, the URL was an important component of the result set. Users could make an initial judgement on whether they trusted a result or not just from the domain name.

This isn't so important for site search - and in fact of the 7 sites with a search facility, only France 24 displayed the destination URL.

Noticeably, Sky, CNN and the BBC all offer web search as well as site search, and all of them hide the destination URL for site search, but expose it for web search.

Not defaulting to news is odd

Euronews, without a search facility, didn't default to searching anything, but it was noticeable that probably the two largest international brands, the BBC and CNN, were the two sites that didn't default to searching their own news content when you first enter a search term.

Both included links to news stories on their results pages, plus a way to navigate to a 'news only' view, but I must say I find this a very odd user experience decision from both of them. To imagine that someone has navigated to your news site, and yet doesn't want your news when they type terms into you search box seems quite unfathomable to me.

Highlighting search terms

Interestingly, the only sites to highlight search terms in the results set were the three sites publishing English language news when it was not their native tongue - Al Jazeera, France 24 and Russia Today all had this feature. I don't know whether that is just a co-incidence though.

Advanced search is dead

Of all the sites I looked at, only Sky News still retained a bespoke 'Advanced search' form with features for refining search. In this case it looked a little neglected as well, as the primary navigation hadn't been updated with the latest site re-design, and the category selection didn't match the main categories being published on the site. Everybody else, where there were options, restricted themselves to offering users the chance to sort the results either by date or relevancy.

Feature comparison chart

Search features on 8 English language 24/7 news channel sites
  AlJazeera logo BBC Newslogo CNN logo Euronews logo France 24 logo ITN logo Russia Today logo Sky News logo
Homepage search box No Yes Yes No Yes Yes Yes Yes
Story page search box No Yes Yes No Yes Yes Yes Yes
Defaults to searching news* Yes No No No Yes Yes Yes Yes
Search terms highlighted Yes No No No Yes No Yes No
Destination URL shown No No No No Yes No No No
Timestamp shown Yes Yes Yes No Yes Yes Yes Yes
Sort by date / relevance option No Yes Yes No No No Yes No
Related tags No No No No No Yes No No
Search RSS feeds No Yes No No No No No No
Advanced search interface No No No No No No No Yes
Message board search Yes No No No No No No No
  *For the purposes of this comparison chart I have listed the features for the BBC and CNN once the user has navigated to their news content search, rather than the default search features.

Next week...

Next week I'll be looking at some of the navigational features of the sites I've been reviewing.

Keep up to date on my new blog