Michael Verdi

Firefox tab-to-search

For a long time Firefox has had a feature that lets you change your search engine on the fly for one search at a time. So imagine you’re going to purchase a book from Amazon and you can switch your search engine to Amazon for a moment while you look for that book. It saves a step but it’s a little difficult to understand and kind of out of the way. We thought we could make this easier for people to use and diversify our search revenue along the way.

The Challenge

The goal I set for all of our search work was to give people new capabilities for finding and making sense of information without forcing them to adopt new ways of working or feel like they need to learn to use a browser again. Things should be discoverable with routine use.

My Roll

Initial Explorations

The Firefox address bar has had keyboard shortcuts to search things like your bookmarks (*) or your open tabs (%) for a long time. So one easy place to start was to create keyboard shortcuts for search engines. We took inspiration from messaging systems and came up with @amazon, @bing, etc. Then we explored tabbed interfaces right under the address bar but these were too heavy-handed. This isn’t something people need to do all the time. It’s more of a once-in-a-while operation.

A Small Success

We scrapped the tabbed interface and came up with a streamlined version of the previous UI. Together, these worked pretty well but they were only marginally more discoverable than the previous design.

Here it is in action today:

Add An Option Along The Path

The big problem here is habit. Most people, if they want to buy a book from Amazon, will navigate to amazon.com and then search. So we added a prompt for the search function in the moment just before you navigate. The default action is still to navigate because we’re not trying to force a new workflow - just suggest that another is available.

Now the interaction works like this:

  1. Type “a” in the address bar, amazon.com auto-completes (the default option), and “Search with Amazon.com” slides in as the second option.
  2. Hit tab or click to switch your search engine to Amazon.
  3. Enter your search query and hit enter.

Here it is in action on both desktop and mobile:

This works exceedingly well for a once-in-a-while workflow. It’s an easy and helpful interaction for people and many more searches that would normally skip the address bar, now don’t.