In this web writing tutorial, we look at how to improve the text displayed when a search engine returns no results.
In other words, we are going to write content that will help the user find the content on your website by suggestion how they can improve their search query, alternative methods to search the site, and, if all fails, how to contact you.
How to Write Better Search Engine “Sorry, No Results” Webpages
Let’s start. We all know that feeling. You visit a website. Yesterday what you were looking for was there. Today, it’s gone.
The search results say ‘no results’ for what you’re looking for.
What’s gone wrong?
It could be several things:
- You typed in the wrong word. Form instead of from. Gogle instead of Google. CSV instead of CVS.
- The content has been removed in the meantime.
- The search engine index is updating behind the scenes.
- The connection to the web server timed out.
In either case, you loses patience. May you try again. Maybe not.
If it’s your job to write the text for the ‘No Results’ page, think about the visitor for a moment.
- They’re in a hurry
- Possibly using a small awkward device
- Possibly reading small text
- Possibly not a native English speaker
- Losing patience…
How can you help them?
Avoid the banal, ‘Sorry, no results were found. Please try again.’
What would help?
- Consider where they are, how they’ve searched, the mistakes they most likely are making
- Confirm that there’s no results, but
- Help them find the information, possibly in other ways
- Suggest they change the word, phrase
- Display suggested spelling in case they user typed the word incorrectly
- Links to FAQs
- Provide a details text only site map on the search results page.
- Remove filters if they’ve used them
- Link to Customer Service and include the search terms
Examples of “No Results” Pages
Microsoft makes three suggestions, including to use the autocomplete option.
Can’t find it?
Here are some options:
- Change your query to use different or fewer keywords.
- Check your spelling. Tip: autocomplete on the search box can help you spell difficult terms.
- Try asking a question in MSDN Forums.
Gov.uk politely asks you to:
- searching again using different words
- removing your filters
It also points out that older content – not sure how old is older, btw – may be on a different site. It includes a link to this site on the no results page.
Not all government content published before 2010 is on GOV.UK. To find older content try searching The National Archives.
Sorry, there are no results for asdasdasdasda.
- Make sure that all words are spelled correctly.
- Try different keywords.
- Try more general keywords.