10 Tips to Optimizing On-Site Search

how to optimize onsite search
A user friendly website and a good design describe itself what a user want or presented by you. A UI and On-site search both are powerful tool to attract user. It is not a last resort of a failed architecture – but a quick, powerful tool customers can use to find exactly what they are looking for. Often, customers who use on-site search convert at much higher rates than those who do not. Search also provides wonderful data for you to use since it lets you know exactly what your customers are looking for.
You may feel it’s time to upgrade for one reason or another, but I believe you can acquire extra conversion from your on-site search before making a big leap with a vendor or more costly upgrades. Assuming you’re at that stage, I would like to share some simple insights that may be of use to you. Perhaps more importantly, I will discuss several inexpensive ways to improve on-site search usage and success rates.

#1 Data

You’re capturing data, right? If you are, great, skip ahead. If you aren’t, before doing anything else, you should be tracking your on-site search queries. Without data you cannot measure things like usage, interest, bounce rates, keywords or conversions. Without data, you cannot possibly know if it’s working for you or what your customer is even looking for. Surprisingly, some companies forget this simple step and dive right into spending money into search blindly.
For this example, since it’s free, let’s use Google Analytics to setup your on-site search analytics. It’s very easy – directions can be found here. Wait a couple days before really looking at the data. You’ll find the data under Reporting->Behavior->Site Search->Overview. You can see the percentage of customers that use search, the keywords they search for, and then how each of those terms convert. I’ll go over some things you may want to look for in the tips below.

#2 Location & Design

The good news is that because search is such a widely used and common tool, all users know what it is and how to utilize it. More importantly, they expect to see it immediately and on every page of the site, so it is important to incorporate it into your theme without blending it in. If you want to change the design on your current site, try doing an A/B split test to measure the impact.

  • Display the box. In Nielsen Norman Group’s E-Commerce User Experience report, a study they performed showed a 91% increase in search usage when displaying a box versus text alone. This statistic hasn’t changed much over time, so dedicate the real estate for it.
  • The middle or right-hand side of the site is a good place, as near to the top of the page as possible. You want it to be noticeable after your company branding, after the navigation structure is visible, and in the same area one might find your customer service number.
  • I recommend not using Advanced Search on most sites. You should determine if there is a need after monitoring the search keyword logs but it is common for terms to be short and simple. Offering an advanced search link is noise if it isn’t used and, if people can’t use it properly, they may bounce in frustration.
  • It should be programmed so when a customer inputs their search keywords and hit the return key, it should automatically search – do not force them to use the mouse to hit the submit button. In fact, once they get to your site, if an experienced user hits the Tab key, the search bar should be focused in the first few options if not the first.
  • Speaking of submit buttons, label it something like “Search” or “Find”.

#3 Search-ahead?

When it comes to “search-ahead”, “type ahead” or “autocomplete” features in on-site search I have two strategies:
  • If it’s a new site or data is only now being monitored, try keeping it simple and not implementing a search-ahead feature immediately. You can get a broader idea of products your customers are looking for to build intelligence. If you implemented the feature and only suggest 5 items, the customer could assume those are the only ones available and may bounce if those aren’t suitable. What would be better is to have them land on a search results page for their searched keyword with properly sequenced product and imagery. Basically, implementing search-ahead immediately before knowing how your customers search may inadvertently limit yourself to the customer.
  • If you already have the feature and wish to avoid seemingly limiting your selection, try inserting categorical listings into your top searches. For example, say you sell women’s apparel and, although a top search is for boots, you do not sell boots in your minimal footwear offering. Instead of displaying no suggestions, or returning zero results, try listing suggestions like “Footwear” to go to the category itself. For your top searches, especially if they have high bounce rates or lower conversions, try keeping a more open-ended suggestion in the mix. The goal is to keep them on the site, so bring them to a landing, category or results page that is related.

#4 Language

The best way to speak the same language with customers is to listen to their conversations from customer service and match those conversations to analytics. This will also enable you to start seeing patterns in your on-site search data.

  • Make sure you have keywords, category, colors, sizes and any other truly descriptive text included into the search feed.
  • Some things may be lost in translation. Let’s take a look at this beautiful Lost Art Vest from the J. Peterman Company. When searching, it responds promptly for keywords “vest”, “art” and “lost art”. Assuming the customer didn’t remember the specific product title and thought it looked like a shawl, when searching “shawl”, it does not appear even though other front-tied garments do. Try to think of other ways customers could describe your product. Do not assume they read everything, in fact, most people have learned to skim content when in search of something. Surely, this is a great case for snooping around the customer service department – instead of trying to figure out why “shawl” has such a large bounce rate, hearing this scenario from just one customer could fix the problem before it becomes one. Include synonyms used by your customers.
  • Tolerate the most common spelling errors by using those as synonyms or aliases of the correct keywords. Spelling errors are still quite common, especially when using a mobile device. Imagine your store sells DVDs and someone searched for “Pixar” but their phone auto-corrected to “Picard”. I bet the customer would be surprised to see so many Star Trek results, right?
  • Accept all variants: “hotwheels”, “hot wheels”, “hot wheel”, or “hot-wheel” should all return the same results.

#5 Create shortcuts

Think of your on-site search as all-inclusive – accommodate searches for your company as well as your products. Searches for these terms should bring a customer directly to the appropriate about page: “shipping”, “help”, “customer service”, “returns”, “blog”, “inspiration/tips/ideas”, “catalog”, etc.

#6 Page sources

In your data, try looking at the top pages people search from. These examples won’t improve search specifically but may reduce the amount of searches by improving the pages.
  • Your homepage should have the most searches. Other pages that should have high numbers would be landing pages, but the homepage should be the highest.
  • Category pages should be next on the list. If you click on those pages you should notice keywords used match a color or theme the customer was looking for in that category. That may mean it was hard for them to find where to go next in the navigation.
  • Look for informational pages about your company. There are keywords searched on from those that may tell you what you might be missing from your pages. Like if your shipping page has searches for “international” but the page itself does not cover the topic, you might want to include something for it.

#7 Tackle search terms

You may want to test using a different results page for your top search terms.
  • If you sell Godiva chocolate in your flower shop, you could try a specially branded search results page if people search for “Godiva”. Try keeping the template quite similar but changing the graphics underneath the header of the site to Godiva’s branding.
  • If the customer searched for “chocolate” you could try bringing the customer directly to the chocolate category versus displaying search results. If broad terms have too many results, this may be an easier way for the customer to shop.
  • If you only sell one Godiva chocolate product, you could try bringing the customer directly to the product page.

#8 There are always results

Customers being shown zero results pages after a failed search often get frustrated. Some search for the same term in a different way again, but some bounce assuming you do not sell what they are looking for. Even if you do not have any product for their search, you can use this as an opportunity to sell to them.
  • “Sorry, we could not find any results for ‘toy trucks’, did you mean ‘toy cars’?” Displaying the results of their term search is important. If you like to try to match it to something else, say so and then display those products under a heading for “toy cars”.
  • Try displaying best sellers underneath a zero result search.
  • If you can infer what category their search may have fallen under, display best sellers from that specific category underneath the search result.
  • Try offering some help text at the bottom, offering them to consult with your customer service department. If you operate brick-n-mortar as well, reference a way for them to contact their local store. Let your service department sell.

#9 Products

Simple tweaks could be made to the product results that may help if you are not already employing these tactics.
  • As a universal rule, make sure these are included for each product: great photography, customer review rating, current price, and title.
  • How is the results page sorted? Relevancy is great but also make sure you can sequence the products. Some on-site search vendors have the intelligence to automatically sequence based on which products led to more conversions, which may be something to look into in the future. Also include sorting by price and perhaps other criteria that would be useful, like alphabetically.
  • If available to you, using filters to winnow product results can be useful to reduce unwanted products from a large result. Price range, color, material, size, and availability are examples of other filters you can use though they should be appropriate to your product assortment.

#10 Changing images based on searched terms

This may not apply to all shops, but if you have a large array of product with many colors – like apparel – you can try loading the color of the product to match the search term. So if someone searched for “red dress”, all the results would show the red option of the dress in the thumbnail. Try the same search at Boden. Neat, huh? It would allow the customer no guesswork in how that particular item looked in a certain color. You would also want to pair this up with color filtering. Again this would something could you test and there are vendors who offer this option in their service as well.
There are many ways to enhance on-site search before upgrading. If you’re looking to increase conversion through your on-site search or are searching for vendors, let me know, I can help!

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