The grid view is more compact and so allows you to show more products above the fold. It is potentially easier to browse through many results using this format, particularly if the images adequately summarize the results. On the other hand, the list view gives you more room to show additional information about each product. In particular you can show descriptive text, related information and add to cart buttons. The text gives you an opportunity to further entice the user to click on the result. If you highlight the search term then it provides a strong information scent indicating that the result is relevant for the given term.
It’s interesting to look at how the distribution of clicks varies between the two different options. This chart shows the number of clicks that occur at each rank when the results are ordered in a list view.
As expected the top ranked result gets the majority of clicks and this falls away fairly quickly. This particular client has 10 results per page. This is reflected in the chart in that the 11th result gets significantly less clicks than the 10th result because a lot of people don’t visit the 2nd page of results. You can also see that the 10th result gets about the same number of clicks as the 9th. I suspect this is because it is at the bottom of the page and easier to find than if it were the 10th result in a long list. For some customers we see the result at the bottom of the page get more clicks than the result 2nd from the bottom.
Contrast this with results that are shown in a grid view (in this case 3 rows of 4 results):
Here you can see that the number of clicks doesn’t fall away as fast as they did in the list example above. Interestingly the 5th result (which is below the 1st result) still gets less clicks that the 4th result (which is at the end of the first row). I had though it might get more if a reasonable amount of people scanned the list vertically. However this supports the premise that the results are scanned from left to right.
Our customers are reasonably evenly split between showing the results in the grid and list views. Many of them allow the users to switch between the two. Our analysis indicates there is no significant difference in the conversion rates of the two formats.
So which should you use? The charts above summarize the activities of thousands of people. My advice is to ask some of them and if possible test the alternatives. Personally, when I’m searching I prefer to have more information on the search results page because that makes it easier to make a decision without having to click through. That saves me time.