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Search results pages on travel sites should help customers to find the best deal for them without having to work too hard.
Last year I looked at a range of search tools from travel websites, which highlighted the importance of flexibility when users search for travel.
Time spent searching for flights recently has reminded me of the value of excellent search results pages, and here I look at several examples, good and bad.
For this I'm looking at flight search, but the lessons apply equally to hotel and general holiday search.
What do people want from travel search results pages?
The answer is lots of different things. If you have set dates in mind and you're decided on your departure and destination airports, the answer is simple: you just want the best combination of price, timing and convenience.
However, if you are more flexible on timings and destinations, the search results page, in conjunction with search tools, needs to be able to adapt to different customer needs.
For example, I may have a specific period set aside for a holiday and would like to go to Spain, but am open-minded about depature and destination airports. How should a search results page deal with this?
Ideally, I'd like to see a range of options from different airports on the dates I've selected, with a quick view of prices and times.
However, on other times, my destination may be fixed, but I'm flexible on times. This presents another challenge.
The answer lies in effective filtering and sorting of results, as well as a presentation style that allows for easy comparison. It's not always easy though.
Features of effective search results pages
- Ability to sort results. Users should be able to order results according to their own preferences. This may be price and duration of flights, departure times and more.
- Presentation of results. The default display option should allow users to easily make sense of the information presented. Users should also have options to alter the display to suit their needs.
- Filtering of results. Users need a good range of options to refine their results.
- Speed. Results should load quickly, and adding and removing of filters should also be smooth.
- Clarity of pricing. This isn't always easy for third party aggregator sites, but it can be very frustrating to see what looks to be a good price, only to find lots of extras added by the time you reach the checkout.
- Quick link to change original search. Searches may produce a small number of results, or the user may not be satisfied, so make it easy for them to amend their search with a clear link.
Examples of search results pages
To be honest, it's hard to find a site which ticks all the boxes, so I've picked examples out which have something notable to learn from, good or bad.
I found this site quite annoying to use. For one, it decided to change my search criteria (direct flights only) to produce results.
This produced results that were no use to me at all.
The 'my dates are flexible' option looks useful, and the grid display is useful for a quick comparison. However, this is let down by the removal of sorting options.
Not a very impressive results page here. The presentation of detail for each flight is fine, but the lack of useful sorting and filtering options make it less useful than it should be.
The filter results options for alternative dates and airports are promising, but seem to make no noticeable difference when you select them.
I like the presentation of results here - nice and clear, while details of the flight times and duration, while the filtering options down the left are very useful.
What it lacks is the ability to view flights either side of the selected dates, to see what savings could be made.
The search results are pushed below the fold by this explanation of airpacks, which isn't ideal.
However, the presentation of results does have some useful features, such as the clarity on pricing.
Showing prices for flight only, extras and essentials is a very good idea, while the choice of three day or month view is useful for finding the best deal if your dates are flexible.
Google flight search
Ok, it's not a travel website, but it's there tempting visitors away from the aggregators and others.
It works well, and it's fast. Results appear instantly, while filtering changes are shown as you make them.
Filters and sorting options are good too, but it doesn't handle date flexibility very well. To check other dates you need to search again.
Before we get to the search results page, I'm impressed that I can search for flights to a destination from all airports in the north, or all in the UK. Very useful, and something that saves me a lot of individual searches.
At a glance I can see the prices for the three days around my selected dates, and can easily switch airports if I want to.
The 'month view' is very useful is you're flexible on dates and just want the cheapest option.
At a glance you can see which days offer the cheapest flights. There's a fair bit of variation and therefore savings to be made.
Contrast this with Google and some of the other flight searches. To see the same information on there would take a lot of separate searches.
The initial display of dates and prices looks promising, but you have to select a date and search again to see details, which just adds another step to the search process.
Expedia is one of the only sites where you notice the loading of results, though the progress bar does ease the pain.
The search results are well presented, with effective sorting options to narrow down the flight selection.
What it lacks is the ability to look at flights for the days either side, or to compare flights from different airports.
However, by keeping the search box at the top of the page, Expedia ensures that users can easily search again without having to navigate back to the homepage.
The search results pages have this view of the year ahead, which is very handy. It also has three day and three month views - handy for the flexible traveller.
No sorting or filtering options here, though it's less essential on an operator's site than an aggregator.
Many of these sites have some plus points, but it's hard to find one that pulls together all of the essential elements on one search results page.
Google is notable for its speed, but the lack of flexible search options lets it down. I like the three day and month views on sites like Jet2 and easyJet, and this is something which the aggregators could add to make their results pages more effective.
What do you think? Which of these results pages are most effective? Or can you recommend others?