Phillip Oldham

Navigating the Complexities of Effective Website Search

Phillip Oldham

5 min read


Search on is an important feature that has been lacking in usability, and the behaviour was changed during the recent redesign. In this article, we’ll dive a little deeper into the complexities of website search and review why this change was implemented.

Creating a robust search function on a website is a challenging task that can make or break user experience. While it might seem like a straightforward feature, the nuances involved in delivering accurate, relevant, and timely search results are immense, and can be compounded when changing the search behaviour of a well-established website such as

Let's delve into why getting search right is so complicated and explore some key considerations that can help enhance this critical feature.

Understanding user behaviour

The first hurdle is understanding how visitors interact with search. People search in different ways: some use specific terms, others type out questions, and many include spelling errors or ambiguous phrases. Being a technical website, we must also be mindful of abbreviations, acronyms, and “accepted” spelling errors (“referer” vs. “referrer”).

Ensuring a smooth user experience

A good search function is not just about accurate results; it’s also about providing a smooth and intuitive experience. Visitors should be able to find what they're looking for quickly and easily once they have been presented with a result set.

Design plays a crucial role here. A clean, intuitive interface can significantly enhance the user experience. Search also needs to be fast. Slow results can frustrate visitors and lead them to abandon their search, and thus fail to find correct information when visiting our website. This can add additional workload to other RIPE NCC teams as they respond to calls and emails.

Accessibility in search

Accessibility is another critical factor that often gets overlooked. All visitors should be able to use the search function effectively, regardless of the device they’re using. This includes those who need to use assistive technologies, which means designing the search input and results page to be navigable via keyboard, following W3C guidelines, and ensuring that results are readable by screen readers.

In April 2019, the European Accessibility Act took effect, and the requirements of this act must be  implemented by 2025. This was a key driver for the transition of to a new platform, where we are better able to make changes to ensure our compliance with the act.

However, accessibility isn’t just about compliance; it’s about inclusivity and ensuring that every visitor can benefit from search on our site. This aligns with our organisational objective of supporting an open, inclusive and engaged RIPE community.

Providing useful results

One of the trickiest aspects of search functionality is delivering useful results when visitors provide minimal context. Visitors often type in vague queries and expect the search engine to provide exactly what they were looking for.

This expectation puts a lot of pressure on the search algorithm. It needs to be smart enough to understand synonyms, context, and intent. For instance, a search for "ipv6" should ideally recognise whether the user is looking for information about standards, availability, usage statistics, or training courses. Meeting these expectations, without additional context, is a challenge.

Behaving as expected

Usability is often linked to following established behaviours, so that the user is not surprised during their visit. One of the behaviours we changed was the immediate redirect of some queries to the RIPE Database. While this was a useful shortcut for many of our visitors, for those unfamiliar with the functionality it was a shock to be moved to a completely different website.

Additionally, our testing during the transition to the new platform found that valid search results would be skipped completely because of the jump to the RIPE Database. This was seen as a clear failure of the search functionality: we simply couldn’t provide valid results if we took visitors away from the website.

To ensure a good user experience for all, we now ensure that there is always a valid search response with a direct link to the RIPE Database as the first result.

Looking ahead

The changes we made to our search during the redesign mostly focused on improving on the previous search results, making them usable, accessible, and relevant. There is still much to do, and we are always looking for input on what the community would like to see.

Here are some of the features we have planned, and some we are exploring:

Filtering/excluding results based on “tag”. For example, requesting only News results, or excluding RIPE Documents from the result set.

Adding prompts to refine search results. For example, searching for “ipv6” would provide helpful refinement suggestions, such as searching for “IPv6 fundamentals training” or “IPv6 Address Allocation and Assignment Policy”.

Displaying snippets with results to improve usability by providing contextual information for results. By displaying snippets of content around highlighted search terms, visitors can more easily identify which results are most relevant to them.

App integrations, such as providing RIPE Database query results directly in the page where relevant. We are already working with various RIPE NCC teams to investigate what useful and relevant information we could add to enhance our search results, and hope to have more details in the coming months.


Search is hard. Getting it right on any website is no small feat, even more so on a website with over 30 years of content. We’ve made some great progress so far, and we are really excited to improve this feature for our visitors from the existing foundation we now have in place.


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About the author

Phillip Oldham Based in Amsterdam, Nederland

Phillip Oldham is the Manager of the Web Services Team at the RIPE NCC. He has over 25 years experience in the tech industry, with a focus on Usability and Accessibility on the web.

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