Disagreeing with Dr. Nielsen: Google’s Dynamic Search Box

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Google’s toolbar offers predictive queries for searchers in a dropdown, as users enter the words of a search. If you type something into that search box, you may notice the word “suggestions” next to those suggested results.

The toolbar also provides prior search queries through a browser history, with the word “history” next to them. It wouldn’t be too far of a stretch for the toolbar to start offering spelling suggestions and query refinements, either (I’ve noticed spelling suggestions, but no label that they were spelling corrections).

In Interview with Jakob Nielsen on the future of the SERP (and other stuff), Dr. Nielsen claims that search results haven’t changed all that much since 2003. I disagree.

The inclusion of a wide variety of information from different databases into search result sets seems to say different. These include amongst their number such things as news, images, videos, definitions, Q&A results, products, books, music, maps, maps with business listings, weather, travel booking dropdowns, and more.

The addition of those provide a much different set of search results from those provided by search engines in 2003. (keep an eye out for some other potential additions in the Google Experimental section of Google Labs.)

Add to those query refinements based upon actual user behavior in the middle of pages, query refinements taken from Google Base labels and custom searches, and sitelinks for some top results that try to help searchers go to a final destination page within the domain of the site, and you do have a number of significant changes.

Not all of the user interface changes are to the search result pages themselves. Some changes are implemented in places like the Google toolbar. Suggested queries in toolbars, taken from search histories and predictive queries from users’ interactions with the search engine are also things that weren’t around in 2003.

A patent application published this last week from Google details how the toolbar searchbox can offer choices from past searches, predictive future search queries and query refinements, and spelling corrections. Not all search interactions need to happen on search results pages. Note that the “dynamic search box” referred to in the patent application can also refer to the search box presented on the pages of Google, or even on sites that offer a Google search outside of Google.

Dynamic search box for web browser
Invented by George Djabarov
US Patent Application 20070162422
Published July 12, 2007
Filed: December 30, 2005


A system may receive one or more terms of a search query. The system may automatically identify prior search queries that include the one or more terms of the search query from a history of prior search queries. The system may automatically identify possible spelling corrected search queries based on the one or more terms of the search queries. The system may automatically receive remote server-based query completion suggestions including the one or more terms of the search query. The system may present query refinement options, the query refinement box being populated with the prior search queries as suggested queries for possible selection by a user, the identified possible spelling corrected search queries, and the received query completion suggestions.

A few of the other aspects of a dynamic toolbar described in the patent application:

1) Links for different types of searches, such as web search, product search, image search, may also be offered in the dropdown from the search box (not presently being done, but an interesting idea).

2) The size of the toolbar textbox may be dynamically widened for longer queries (I noticed this lately, and wondered if it was something new, or if I just hadn’t noticed it before).

3) If the toolbar offers spelling suggestions, it may show a “did you mean” to the right of that suggestion, the way it presently shows the word “suggestions” now.

4) The dropdown may offer an “actions” section, which presents such options as explain query, clear history, and a return to a web search option. I’ve seen the “clear history” link at the bottom of the suggestions before.

5) Another option of things that could be listed in the dropdown are “local bookmarks,” as a search context.

6) The query history used could be set up to be a shared history for selected people.

7) The dynamic search box might also provide query syntax highlighting, such as pluses, and minus signs, and other search operators, which may include tooltips to explain what they do.


The toolbar search box offers a number of the methods described in the patent application, and I’d be interested in seeing them offer more, such as the chance to decide from there whether I wanted web results or news results. I mentioned that search results pages are changing above, and the path to those search results pages are changing, too.

This kind of dynamic toolbar interaction makes it easier for people using handheld devices, for people looking for results from previous queries that they might not quite remember, and can make the path to a page filled with results from a spell corrected or refined query one step faster.

When someone performs a search for a particular phrase, they may be offered other options through the search interface and the dynamic search box. It’s interesting to see the different results that Google offers when you try different phrases.

Search result sets are no longer confined to search engine results pages. That’s a big change from the search results pages of 2003.

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8 thoughts on “Disagreeing with Dr. Nielsen: Google’s Dynamic Search Box”

  1. You’re completely right, search results are moving forward rapidly – although the staple format is still the same, and perhaps this is what Nielsen’s getting at. Do you think it works well enough?

  2. I’m not completely sure what Dr. Nielsen is getting out, but thought that his interview was filled with some misleading information.

    Of course search results pages include titles and snippets and URLs that lead to Web pages. That’s what makes them a search engine.

    But there’s a lot of other potential information showing up on those search results pages these days, and the method by which the results are chosen to appear have likely undergone some changes, too.

  3. Call me old-fashioned, but everytime I notice personalized searches, it makes me feel like I’m logged in and being watched. Then I log out ;)

  4. Hi Solomon,

    I was surprised by Dr. Nielsen’s answers to the interview questions. They weren’t what I expected at all. I do think that there are significant changes to search results over the past 4 years, and I agree with you that search is evolving more quickly than ever.

  5. Video and news results being brought up in regular Google queries, this alone represents a fundamental difference. You can watch youtube videos directly from the results page of a keyword search. How can he even CLAIM that they haven’t changed much? When you add in all the stuff you’ve discussed I think search is changing more rapidly now than ever before.

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