Internet Explorer 8 Search Suggestions

Microsoft released a second beta of its upcoming Internet Explorer 8 browser yesterday afternoon. The new browser will reach full release by the end of the year, changing the way most Windows users view the Web. There are many new features of IE 8 for web developers, including completely new ways to light up the browser chrome. Microsoft has extended the OpenSearch protocol with a new search suggestions data formats expressed XML or JSON. The new format will display real-time search results, summaries, images, and even search result classifications inside the browser chrome for any site owner supplying the appropriate format. In this post I’ll teach you how to add search suggestions to your OpenSearch description document for instant search suggestions in IE8.

  1. Search Suggestions
  2. Suggestions Format
    1. Quick element definitions
  3. Summary
Internet Explorer 8 instant search

Internet Explorer’s Instant Search provides suggestions based on text already entered into the search box. The functionality is very similar to Google Suggest and its JavaScript feed expanded for multiple categories, graphics, and short descriptions.

The new format covers search suggestions and not necessarily search results. Syndicated search results should continue to be exposed as a Url element of attribute type of Atom or RSS.

Search suggestion data files are exposed through a new MIME type referenced in a OpenSearch descriptor’s Url element: application/x-suggestions+xml.

<Url type=”application/x-suggestions+xml” template=”http://example.org/suggest?q={searchTerms}” />

Suggestions URLs should follow the same fill-in-the-blank parameters defined by OpenSearch such as result count or language scope.

Suggestions Format

How do you make your site light up with pretty pictures in the search box? Just add XML descriptors of possible intended searches.

<?xml version="1.0"?>
<SearchSuggestion>
  <Query>ajax</Query>
  <Section>
    <Separator title="Web Development"/>
    <Item>
      <Text>AJAX Developer Center</Text>
      <Description>Asynchronous JavaScript and XML</Description>
      <Url>http://developer.mozilla.org/En/AJAX</Url>
      <Image source="http://example.org/ajax.jpg" alt="AJAX Web Development"
             height="50" width="50" align="middle"/>
    </Item>
    <Separator title="Soccer"/>
    <Item>
      <Text>AFC Ajax</Text>
      <Description>Amsterdamsche Football Club Ajax</Description>
      <Url>http://english.ajax.nl/</Url>
      <Image source="http://example.org/afcajax.jpg" alt="AFC Ajax"
             height="50" width="50" align="middle"/>
    </Item>
    ...
  </Section>
</SearchSuggestion>

In the example above I provided search suggestions broken into two sections with Separators: web development and soccer. Each section has a list of Items defining title text, a short summary, and a related image.

Internet Explorer 8 also supports results in JSON format if you prefer.

Quick element definitions

Separator
A distinct grouping of your search result set. Correlates well with site categories.
Item
An individual result wrapper.
Text
Your result title. Internet Explorer will highlight text in your result title matching the text entered in the search box.
Description
A short summary of the search result. Similar to a HTML meta description or search result snippets.
Image
An image you would like to display alongside the search result. Internet Explorer 8 will pass along height and widths in the drop-down configuration — max width, row height, and section height — if you setup a few extra parameters in your OpenSearch description. The image should be relatively small to fit alongside a search result title and description (~75px).

Summary

Internet Explorer 8 opens up more of the browser chrome to user search customizations including instant search suggestions. Webmasters can enhance their search results for supporting web browsers with suggested terms or results served directly within prime browser real estate. Images, highlighted text, and short summary will help your results stand out and should drive increased search usage by loyal customers.

Google crawls web forms and I expect their search team will look for signals described on the page such as OpenSearch or site suggest to make an educated guess about the best ways to probe your site for deep results. Adding search suggest markups to your site could also help machines discover deeper content within your site among popular keywords.

Internet Explorer 8 just released beta 2 and these features are not frozen. Search suggestion XML are a good feature to track for sites with deep content and engaged users.

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