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How Kids Search

Kids and adults use Web search tools differently. Kids fail more often, because they often don’t have enough knowledge or experience to search using the right keywords, or understand search results.

If you’re designing websites for kids, remember that they use search tools differently than adults. Kids prefer surfing over searching. If kids can’t easily find what they want, they will likely:

  • Miss important content
  • Become frustrated
  • Leave your website and not come back

Help Kids Search Successfully

If you’re thinking about putting a customized search engine just for kids on your site, you should understand how kids use search engines. Some best practices for designing for adult users also apply to kids, but many do not.

Kids think they know how to use search engines, but they fail to find what they want most of the time when they search, because they:

  • Don’t know that search engines will only look for Web pages with the exact words they search for
  • Have difficulty just typing and spelling (especially children under 11) so they can’t create effective searches
  • Do not scroll, so they miss search results below the fold
  • Get frustrated with multiple results because they can’t choose the best or most relevant result
  • Don’t understand the results page and don’t know why they got more than one result
  • Almost always select only the first result

To help kids use your search engine, and find the content they need:

  • Explain to young users what the search engine does with the words they type in the box
  • Limit results from keyword searches to five per page, since kids rarely scroll
  • Explain what the results mean and why they should try them all
  • Don’t rely on a help page to explain search, because kids, like adults, won’t use it. If you do create one, explain how to turn a failed search into a successful one by using different search terms
  • If you can, create simple content that appears when an important, common search term is used, such as is done for this search of “hurricane” on USA.gov
  • Offer results from “related searches” to help kids come up with new and useful search terms. (Note, most kids won’t find these if they are placed at the bottom of the page.)
  • For children who can’t spell well, auto-complete is a big help
  • If you can, use a brief video on your search page to explain how search works

If your website is organized by topic, younger children (under age seven) will likely have problems understanding the site’s organization (taxonomy), and will have a difficult time finding information.

To help kids use your directory:

  • Create A-to-Z directories for both topics and subjects. This helps kids find topics they can’t spell
  • Use subject headings that repeat school subjects, such as history, science, and geography
  • Create a picture of your directory, such as a tree. This will help kids understand how you’ve organized the information
  • Test your categories to make sure that you’ve collected the right top tasks and that kids can find certain types of information

Young children are literal. They are learning to tell fact from fiction, and are on the lookout for what they think are tricks. For example:

  • Do not use sarcasm. Kids can’t judge beyond the words because they don’t have enough experience evaluating tone or meaning, and they’ll interpret as fact.
  • Do not use silly or dumb characters to convey true facts. Kids are alert to tricks and will not trust your silly characters. Consider “Sesame Street” as an example of what works: on this show, the human adult characters tell the silly monsters the right way to do things.
  • Use icons that match the ideas you’re trying to convey. Kids are put off by wrong icons and won’t trust your page.

References and Additional Resources

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