What’s wrong with the “Couldn’t find any cars” search results message?

At first, this message from a search result above seems fine – it tells you exactly that the site hasn’t found any cars based on your search results.

So why does it need improvement? Because context matters too, as we shall soon see.  

The Context

One day, I was browsing through the website of a dealership. In particular, I was interested in the Kymco Agility 125, so I selected “Kymco” under the brand dropdown menu.

Unfortunately, this dealership didn’t have any in stock, as they returned the following error message:

search results message ux example

Here’s where the context comes in

This message is confusing for two reasons:

  1. The Kymco Agility 125 is NOT a car, but a scooter
  2. This dealership sold motorcycles and scooters ONLY

Someone who’s making a search on this website is not looking for cars, and therefore an error message like this makes no sense.

But that’s not all – the text below the headline gives the user the feeling that something has gone horribly wrong. 

And the cherry on top is that the call to action seriously asks the user to troubleshoot the issue themselves.


My improved search results message

In this case, I decided to change the headline to “Couldn’t find that bike here” – a much more appropriate headline for a motorcycle dealership. 

I decided to use “bike” rather than “motorcycle,” since this place sells both motorcycles and scooters (like the Kymco Agility 125 I couldn’t find), and the term “bike” encompasses both types.

Then, I replaced the previous, rather alarmist message with something more encouraging. 

Now, instead of “a critical error message has occurred on the website,” it gives the user a clear next step to adjust the filters so that they will (hopefully) find the bike they’re looking for.

Finally, I decided to remove the previous call to action altogether.