Does advanced search sound too advanced?

In Advanced Search: Is The Name A Problem?, Anders M Olausson notes that very few people tend to use “Advanced search” and suggests a way of changing that.

I think that people not using the “advanced search” on websites may not be a problem in itself. If, however, it means people can’t find what they are looking for because they don’t use the options available in the advanced search interface there is a problem.

Anders suggests that calling it “Advanced search” could be part of the problem since the word “Advanced” may scare some people off. It sounds likely to me, but using “Advanced” is very widespread. Even people who think a lot about usability use it. For example, in Search: Visible and Simple, Jakob Nielsen states:

Do not offer advanced search from the home page. Advanced search leads users into trouble, as they invariably use it wrong. When it makes sense, offer advanced search as an option users can link to from the search results page: “Didn’t find what you were looking for? Try advanced search.”

It makes sense to only show the advanced option once the user has performed a search. But nowhere does Jakob mention that we could call it something else.

Anders says:

I want visitors to understand that Advanced Search actually is Easy Search or Better Search.

Whether it really is easier or better depends a lot on the search engine and its user interface, but assuming that is the case, how can we get people to use it more? Changing the name is one way, and a few different names that come to mind are “Refined”, “Extended”, and “Enhanced”.

Do you think it matters what “Advanced search” is called? What do you think we should call it? Should it even exist?

Posted on November 21, 2007 in Usability


  1. Ideally, your search function would just find whatever the user wants from a word or two, like Google does.

  2. I’ve always liked “Detailed Search” or “Narrow your search.” Problem I have is the usability of advanced search features. Many times it’s as if a developer threw as many possible search parameters on the page without a single nod to usability. Not only is the word ‘advanced’ daunting, sometimes the advanced search form is as well.

  3. November 21, 2007 by Chris Griego

    “More options”

  4. I agree that the name could well be a problem. I think many users would assume “advanced” means complex. I like “enhanced”, doesn’t sound as daunting.

    Do not offer advanced search from the home page.

    I wouldn’t agree with this. Although it makes sense for a first time visitor/searcher, for someone coming back to the site, who already knows how the normal and advanced searches function, they may well want to head straight for the advanced search. Forcing them to make a normal search first is surely bad for usability? Of course, this depends on the site and type of data being searched.

  5. We’ve spent the last month and half at our company focusing on search, and this very point was brought up.

    On our site, we search for locations. It seems that our ‘advanced search’ screen was actually a ‘lets simplify this as much as we can’ kind of page, so ‘advanced search’ was not an appropriate name.

    Also, we were looking to provide not just more inputs to drive search results, but more ways to search, like by a map, or browsing a directory, so ‘alternative search options’ was the term we’ve been floating around. I’ll be keeping an eye on your comments for more ideas.

  6. Some excellent points.

    “More options” is the term I think that works best. John B suggests “Detailed Search” or “Narrow your search” - I think the first works well also, but I don’t think narrow is a good idea, as sometimes you’re not actually looking to narrow your results but expand them.

  7. “Enhanced” seems to cover more use cases and is very intuitive.

  8. “Narrow your search” I like because it implies more controls, filters or tools for getting exactly what you want.

    pauldwaite points out a problem for anyone with a search tool: Google. Google will return a pretty good set of results from a single field. I’ve seen folks complain that an advanced search exists at all. They’d rather find what they’re looking for straight from a single text-input. i.e. Why can’t I find red, merino wool, sweaters, size M for $15 from the simple search?

    Maybe the solution is calling the advanced search something other than a search? We have an advanced search that finds companies or people. Our customers build lists of prospects or partners. We called the tool “Build A List”.

  9. I guess “Narrow your search” is a reaction to Google. I don’t need bazillions of search results, I need to be able to narrow it down to the most appropriate results. I guess “refine,” as Roger suggested, would be better than “narrow.”

  10. Heh, Ant beat me to it.

  11. November 21, 2007 by katylava

    It scared me off for a long time way back when I was new to the internet. I remember thinking “I’m not advanced, I’m a beginner”.

  12. I’d suggest that Advanced Search, while not perfect, is a convention so a lot of thought should go into whether to change it and if so what to change it to. But that’s obvious…

    Would calling it “Refined Search” or “Detailed Search” or anything else actually improve the feature (and usability) or would it simply generate more people clicking through to that page due to the new term? I’m not sure. Ultimately the issue with Advanced Search I’ve noticed is that many people have no idea and the interface can appear overwhelming if you’ve never used Advanced Search before. Which is a lot of users.

    I think in a way Google has spoiled us with our search expectation and that is a hard one to beat. People are expecting to just enter phrases and get an appropriate return. Clicking to Advanced Search (or by whatever name we put to that) will always confront the new searcher with information learning curves. Very often in this ‘give it to me now and fast’ culture they will run away. Too hard. Too complex. That’s to be expected.

    But I don’t think renaming is necessarily the answer as it doesn’t make advanced searching any easier to achieve for the user.

    A similar conversation involved the proposed renaming of ‘Accessibility Statement’ to ‘Site Help’. While more people clicked through it didn’t necessarily mean that Site Help was better. First, why did users need help? Second, the information at the other end of the link was still an accessibility statement.

    Anyway, just my 2 cents in passing Roger. I’m not sure I have the answer to how to make advanced searching easier for the user.

  13. November 21, 2007 by Alejandro Moreno

    I like “Detailed Search.”

    If I’m in my Library website looking for a book, I think it would be safe to say that a note like: “Can’t find what you’re looking for? Try our Detailed Search,” would give me a pretty good idea of what this detailed search looks like, possibly eliminating any fear I might harbor towards “advanced” things.

  14. Why not just integrate the two?

    For example: submitting a ‘normal’ search query leads to a page displaying both the ‘normal’ search results, and ‘advanced’ search controls together.

    This way, if initial results prove insufficient, people can fine-tune their search immediately, without having to click through to another page.

  15. November 22, 2007 by Chester

    One thing that trips me up is not knowing whether a search system works in AND or OR mode by default. Depending on what I’m looking for, I could want it either way. But I hate going to the Advanced Search page to get the option of choosing. I wish all search forms had a simple radio selection nearby that set the mode of the search.

    I agree that “Detailed Search” is the most applicable name because what you’re really doing when you go to the page is being more detailed in your search effort.

  16. “Advanced Search’….Oh, gawd, it’s got more than one text box to fill-in, and three tick-boxes, and I have to use at least three words! Oh no, no, no! That’s far too complicated!!!”

    Users want advanced search results from a simple search input. ‘Advanced’ implies complex to some people.

    I think this relates to those comments about Google. But my comment uses more exclamation marks. ‘Deep Search’ - how about that for an idea? No?

  17. I too agree with the first comment. But not everyone has the technology that Google has. I often veer from advanced searches anyhow, because even being the advanced person I am, I become brain dead when I see advanced search forms because some forms are in fact very scary. If I couldn’t find something with the regular site search, I generally turn to google and do “bla bla”

    Never the less, the original point of the article is still something new to me - and a good point it is.

  18. I ‘d prefer terms like “Specific search” or “More specific search” to the ‘advanced search’ term.

  19. What, nobody’s suggested “Extreme Search” yet? Or better yet, “eXtreme Search!”

  20. “Power Search” could work on some sites. For more general audiences I like Detailed Search, mentioned above.

  21. At work we use Detailed search. This happens at the bottom of each page of search results. The downfall with our advanced search though is that one of the options is that you have to know which server your material may live on. This isn’t the only option and I would think not much used.

  22. Wow. I seem to be one of the few that think access to advanced search should be easier than it is. Take the case of real estate.

    I already know that my ideal property would have a certain amount of bedrooms, certain amount of bathrooms, certain price range, certain location range, certain car park spaces and type, with certain keywords, and how I want all matching properties listed listed (by price, location, listing time).

    It annoys me no end when the advanced search is four clicks deep, each one a long time to load.

    I don’t always use advanced search. In some cases however, it is really handy to have, and it is really handy to have relatively easy access to it.

    It’s not necessarily that the search is more advanced, but is more specific. If there is a term to suggest increasing specificity, then perhaps that would suffice?

  23. I can understand this. Often there are software options interfaces that offer an Advanced button (under options or preferences, and sometimes during install). That’s a button many have grown used to not touching it, grown wary of it, fearful of it — it’s no-man’s land — it’s advanced. Some might expect to see an alert dialog box asking “Are you sure?” when activating it.

    I really like “Enhanced” search. It says a lot but uses a much friendlier word. “Enhance” doesn’t warn, it promises an improvement. It’s an optimistic word.

  24. I think we shold ask ourselves “How do we search?” first or “What is the problem with search?”

    I see two problems. 1. There are too many search results 2. There is no (meaningful) search results

    In a first case more detailed (advanced) search might help and be effective. In the second case advanced searc wouldn’t really help would it?

    So, in the first case we want to narrow our search and in the second case we want to broaden the search.

    I think that advanced search was always made more for narrowing the search. But we should also find a way to help user broaden the search. Any ideas?

    Maybe we should offer two advanced searches “Broaden your search” and “Narrow your search”. You think this would be better?

    I still don’t have an idea for creating a mechanism for broadening the search.

  25. I have to say even I hate using adavanced search. They all to often over complicate matters. I think the ideas disscussed in this article however are brilliant. If results aren’t found then advanced search (or detail search :D) should be provided.

  26. What about calling the advanced search just ‘search’ and the non-advanced search ‘quick search’ or ‘basic search’? I think ‘refine’ and ‘more options’ are also good phrases to use.

  27. I’d stick with ‘advanced search’. I think it’s so ubiquitous now, people expect it. It’s just that most people can’t be bothered.

    If the information on your site/application isn’t sufficiently easy to find that it can be located by a simple search, then frankly that’s the site owner’s fault, not the user’s.

    At least, that’s what I would tend to think. Along with “tccch, if they can’t organise a proper search facility, the information isn’t likely to be of particularly high quality either”.

  28. I like Advanced Search.Many times it helps me to find the exact I am looking for.

  29. November 22, 2007 by Stevie D

    It makes sense to only show the advanced option once the user has performed a search. But nowhere does Jakob mention that we could call it something else.

    I disagree. There are sites that I go to regularly where I know I will want the advanced search - Google Groups is one example - so forcing me to go through a regular search first is unhelpful.

    “Advanced search” is, as you say, a very widely used term, and I think it’s fairly well understood. I wouldn’t change it to “detailed search” because that changes a word that is well used and understood for one that isn’t, and is less descriptive of the action.

    If you have to change the term, I would go for “More search options” - it’s descriptive, accurate, and less threatening.


    Ideally, your search function would just find whatever the user wants from a word or two, like Google does.

    Sometimes it does. Other times, you need to use the more advanced search features that Google offers to get a specific page.

    Yes, the quick search is the one that most people will use most of the time, but there are times when it just doesn’t find what you’re looking for, and you need something more sophisticated.

  30. I’ve witnessed people being put off by “advanced search” in usability studies. They were novice internet users and were not confident using computers.

    An alternative phrase would be: “More search options”.

    Also ask yourself whether an advanced search page is really necessary. The most frequently required search options should be shown in the standard search form. Only the more advanced features should be in an advanced page.

    The “advanced” options could also be shown as filters on the search results page. The benefit of this is that search options are not hidden on a separate “advanced” page, they are clearly visible to the user.

    To make the original search form look less daunting, JavaScript could be used to show/hide options depending on what the user chooses in the early part of the form. This could even do away with the need for an “advanced” search.

  31. Good points.. I would say extended search would be my personal favourite then followed by more options, as that is what you are doing. Giving them more options with their search!

  32. I’m with Rob L.: “Power Search”. It’s like a videogame powerup for your searching!

  33. It’s better to use a filtering system than an advanced search, like Spotlight:

  34. November 23, 2007 by lyhana8

    Hi, If i had a choose to do, I’ll consider look for :

    • a descrpitive text ;
    • simple words, enough to be understabded by non native-english speaker (web is worldwide :) ;
    • what is common use on high ranked website or website on the same topic ?

    This lead me to choose “More options” (cf. Chris Griego).

    ps : “More search options” would be better for screen-reader users (use a span to hide ‘search ’ to graphic browser users if you want).

  35. Call me a tech snob, but I like that “advanced search” scares people away. It separates the “haves” from the “have-nots”. It allows those of us who are willing to take the 30 minutes or so to learn advanced search techniques to be search gurus among the ignorant masses. This can be a huge asset in information-related professions because it means having a rare and valuable skill set. It’s not like it’s an elite order or anything, but most people are too lazy or apathetic to dedicate a few minutes of their time to become proficient at something truly useful. So be it.

  36. The other issue is all searches aren’t equal… if you are offering advanced search can you offer advanced results? Otherwise your advanced search (power search, detailed search, whatever) will depreciate from the users experience of your site.

    Maybe in many cases by the time you are offering advanced search you might be considering using Google’s advanced search rather than implementing your own. In the end I would prefer results over branding if I’m that stuck for information on a site.

    … ok I admit I’m just too lazy and apathetic to search effectively on most occasions :)

  37. November 25, 2007 by Mihai Alexandru Bîrsan

    Personally, I would choose either of “Refined search”, “Detailed search” or “More search options”. Whichever the final choice would be, I think the context should be taken into consideration.

  38. I would go even further and introduce an apartheid systeem for search engines. Seperate your search presets into general(present system),commercial and public(official non-commercial sites)),this might create better search relevantes improvements for searchers

  39. November 26, 2007 by michelangelo

    The answers to the questions you pose would depend greatly on context. Who are the users? Are they experts on the domain? If we’re talking about a vast, generic audience, advanced search probably doesn’t help, whatever we call it.

  40. Just noticed this one on another site:

    Smarter search

  41. November 30, 2007 by David R

    Didn’t read through all the comments and this may have been suggested. “Search Options” — essentially you are giving the user searching options, doesn’t sound as daunting and options is a common web word I think a lot of users are comfortable with.

  42. Do you think it matters what “Advanced search” is called? What do you think we should call it? Should it even exist?

    Firefox 3 - I’ve heard - integrates history and bookmarks into an sql database - so all sorts of searches built-into the address bar: history, bookmarks, keyword searches.

    And more functionality will be included as add-on hackers get ideas about how to use all that power.

    I already use many keyword searches so I don’t have to play hunt-and-peek (aka search) to figure out (or try to remember) how search works on a particular site.

    I think FF 3 will help improve the “ordinary” way people get from -A- to -B-.

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