MSN UK was running an experiment where they pre-filled the search box with “of the day” popular terms, such as “Apprentice BBC” or “Cricket World Cup”, hoping it would prompt users to take advantage of the search box a little more. Well, after a few days, the experiment has been retired and dubbed a bad idea. Many users thought it was spam or an advertisement, few found it useful, and Microsoft actually saw click-through rates drop slightly.
So, is prepopulating the search box that bad? Well, it can be pretty annoying for users, especially when the text needs to be deleted before they can run a search (especially if the text is “search”), and confusing when the text is automatically deleted. What might not be a bad idea is to feature faded pre-filled text that dissapears on a click in the search box, but executes if the search button is clicked, and is properly edited so as not to look like spam. Something useful, likes tips and information, and less pop culture-filled, might jar users a little less.
I’d like to see them tr this experiment again, just a little smarter next time.
Something really cool Microsoft tried: If you run Firefox with the Google Toolbar installed, and visit Windows Live Search, you are prompted to install a custom button on the Google Toolbar to search Windows Live Search from Google’s toolbar! That is pretty smart, encouraging users of the competition to still install a button for your search engine, and streamlining the process. Still, the only reason they’re trying to get on Google’s toolbar is because they don’t have their own Firefox toolbar, which might be a mistake in and of itself.