A Look at Autosuggest

At Bing there is no finish line, we are continuously looking for ways to improve the search experience. Sometimes the changes we make are bold and obvious, other times they are simple things that can go a long way to help you get more done. Today we’re showcasing a subtle change and the interaction design behind it. Specifically, we’ve made it faster to search by completing your query when we’re confident we really know what you’re looking for.

Two big themes always emerge when we look at patterns and behavior people use when searching:

1) the desire to navigate to a specific website (Navigation)

2) the quest to re-find something you’ve found before (Search History)

But these themes aren’t new. Search engines have plenty of features aimed at optimizing Navigation and recalling Search History. The latest development is called Autosuggest Ghosting.

Autosuggest algorithms are able to determine just how likely it is that you want the #1 suggestion with various degrees of confidence. This confidence is highest in the two major patterns: Navigation and Search History. Ghosting is a way to pre-populate the query most likely to be used in the search box (blue selected-text style below) in an effort to speed up the time it takes to express your intent and get to your destination. This has seen to help users speed up by over 16%.

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The design challenge was to focus on simplicity and intuitiveness. The interaction should feel natural and instinctive when you need it, and easy to work around when you don’t want it.

The simplest solution is to grey-in (or “ghost”) the high-confidence suggestive text and hope you notice. The problem then becomes – how do you accept the suggestion vs ignore it? Google’s model complicates this by not being clear about what happens when you hit <enter> to submit the query. Will the search be for “bed” or “bed bath and beyond”? Turns out the query is only “bed” and you need to press <tab> or <down> to select the full query.

Our design philosophy is different because it’s not grounded in taking something strange and making it familiar but by applying already-learned interaction models. Major web browsers like Internet Explorer, Chrome, and Safari, all behave similarly when you are typing a high-confidence query or URL in the address bar. They try to complete it by injecting the suggested terms.


Internet Explorer example of Ghosting

You can either press <enter> to accept the suggestion, continue to type through it with something else, or press delete/backspace to remove the blue suggested text. Most of the interactions here are borrowed from word processing programs and are a standard way to manipulate selected text. So it only made sense to have search work the same way.

When we released Autosuggest Ghosting to a sample set of users, we saw a marked improvement in people’s ability to get to their results faster and with greater confidence. Give it a try and let us know what you think below. Just start using the search box on Bing.com

– Dan Marantz, Senior Program Manager Lead, Bing Experiences and Query Formulation Team

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