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User Trust: Yahoo! Mobile Search

Yahoo! logo

For my master's degree capstone project "UX for Search Engine Trustworthiness," my team conducted an explorative research project around various UI/UX design choices and elements that can affect users' trust of search results. We employed multiple types and stages of research including literature review, surveys, and one-on-one interviews which together informed our redesign of the Yahoo! mobile search interface in order to increase trust and satisfaction. Our redesigned interface includes navigation controls and a simplified layout of each result to reduce the "information overload" we saw users experience.


With the rising popularity and use of smartphones, mobile search continues to grow and more kinds of search become context­-aware. In order to explore the trustworthiness of mobile search results, we conducted an exploratory research project for our client Yahoo! to see if we could reveal how users think about search and why they trust certain results over others. We conducted an online survey and individual user interviews in which we asked participants to complete mobile search tasks and explain their thought process along the way. Our collective findings revealed that users place more trust in popular websites and those they are familiar with than those that they have not visited before. We also observed a number of interaction difficulties relating to efficiency, display of information, and choice of application. From our observations we developed four new feature designs to address these findings and help users have a better user experience in order to increase satisfaction and the perceived trustworthiness of search results.

Use this link to read the full report as a PDF.


You can see our presented research poster.

Research Questions

How do users decide if the information they see is worthy of their trust?

Which factors influence how people think about mobile search?

How does the user experience of search relate to trust?

And how can software design make or break a successful query?

Our main goal of this project was to investigate different aspects of trust regarding web search performed on mobile platforms and how UI/UX design can impact the trustworthiness of search results.


Online Survey

We started with an online survey to see which kinds of searches are performed most often on mobile devices. In addition to basic demographics information, we asked participants about the kinds of things they searched for online and which device or software they were more likely to use for a certain category of search. We also gave them the opportunity to tell us about categories of search not on the list of options presented.

example survey question: How do you search for a restaurant on a mobile device such as a smartphone or tablet? •I do not usually search for this. •Search engine in a web browser (e.g. Safari or Chrome) •I usually use a laptop/desktop computer for this •Search engine on a native app (e.g. the Google app, the Yahoo app, etc.) domain-specific app such as Yelp, Hipmunk, IMDB, Maps, YouTube app, etc.

Our analysis of the survey data revealed that the five most popular search categories on smartphones are restaurants, movie information/trivia, map directions, news, and events. Map directions were usually searched for using a dedicated application as opposed to a more general search engine, so we decided to focus on the other four categories for future research.

User Interviews

In order to learn more about the user experience of mobile search and how real people think about the trustworthiness of search results, we conducted seventeen individual user interviews lasting approximately fifteen minutes each in which participants used their smartphones to accomplish four mobile search tasks in order to answer four questions with one question per popular search category.

Main findings:

Optimizations & Redesigns

Working from our main findings from the surveys and interviews, we designed four new features and UI changes to increase user trust and ease-of-use.

Result Block

The information display in each result block has significant influence on users’ perception of information. According to the results of our interviews, a large percentage of users feel that the current block design is overloaded with information, making it more difficult to find information effectively. The current result block design shows the full title and source name with a detailed URL presented in­line. Only a small number of users considered the URL useful when deciding which result to follow.

new and old block design

In our new and optimized block design, we aim to remove redundant information and rearrange the layout to increase clarity. We place all source information at the top right corner in each block. The source of a result is one of the most significant factors that users pay attention to; people tend to trust the websites they are familiar with or the sites with good reputations for certain subjects. With a consistent layout for all blocks, the source indicator pops out clearly.

Multi-Source Display

Because user trust in search is highly related to the source of the result and because users sometimes like to compare results from multiple sites, we designed a horizontally-scrolling and time-saving "multi-source" display that shows relevant previews of the top three results and indicates what percentage of previous searchers used that result for similar search terms. Users could potentially stop searching the rest of the results if they trust the results in this block and do not require a close reading of the result.

mult-source display above standard results help users find results on popular and more trusted sites


Inspired by the design of Apple's iPhone accessibility shortcut button and in observation of users' preference of using filters to help them search for more accurate results, we have optimized the way users change the type of search from web to images, videos, news, and more by creating a floating button that can follows the user down the list of results so if they want to change the kind of search they are doing, they do not have to scroll back to the top of the list of results.

UI design concept for floating search type button


Logically speaking, we are more likely to trust things that are more familiar and within our control. Therefore, to increase clarity and users' control over their search engine's appearance and to reduce ads (which decreased trust when seen), we came up with a few customization options in order to make the best results easier to find and more trustworthy.

possible user settings for font size and whether or not to reduce ads


We showed prototypes of our redesigned interface to participants in order to evaluate our changes. We designed and conducted a test and evaluation of the modified interfaces and interaction with fifteen users. Compared to the results we got from our first user interviews, the time needed for users to access the target results dramatically decreased. 86.7% of users stop scrolling down for further exploration after reading the results in the multi­source block. Time needed by users to read block content is also shorter than before. No hesitation was observed when participants responded to the scrollable block, indicating the design is easy to understand and follows interaction expectations. For a better and clearer comparison, we also conducted direct comparison testing, presenting our users with both the original design and the optimized version. All participants preferred the optimized version of the result block and consider it to be much clearer without the loss of information.

Conclusions and Future Work

Our heavily user­-centered research on mobile search practices and views has revealed how many users think about mobile search and why they trust and choose certain sites over others as well as where their frustrations might be. Our findings have led us to design a new user experience that allows for speed, removes redundancy, and helps users find the kinds of sources they are looking for. We hope these new designs are beneficial in that they inspire new user features and represent areas for growth and improvement. The next steps are to test these designs on a larger scale and to get more feedback from a more diverse group of participants. Another issue to potentially explore is how popular sources, such as major news sites, might be politically steering users’ viewpoints and how presention of those sites and the search algorithms that find them might be responsible for political influence, even if it is not purposeful.