Driving Product Findability: Part-2 – Site Search

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U2’s Billboard chart topper “I still haven’t found what I’m looking for” makes for a great anthem for love and longing, but it’s not exactly what customers look for in digital commerce experiences. And it is this challenge (and inherent opportunity) that kicked off our conversation in Driving Product Findability: Part 1.

Here, we saw the role of taxonomy in making products “findable” by customers. Good taxonomy makes products easier to find through navigating through the site. But as discussed, we also saw that using taxonomy, or browsing, may not only be the path customers take to find the products they want. In fact, most customers use a hybrid approach including browse and direct search. So, while you refine product taxonomy for easier navigation, it is equally significant to fine-tune internal site search capabilities to drive findability. And this is what Part 2 of our series is all about.

What is Internal Site Search?

In its simplest form, site search (aka on-site search) is a functionality that enables users to search for products or services by typing in keywords in a search bar and running a search. Good internal site search is usually tailor-made for specific webpages making it a rather subjective facet to master. Not only does site search make it easier for customers to find what they’re looking for, it also enables them to discover products that they might not be aware of. Ideal site search, however, works on the core principle of enabling users to find what they’re looking for in the most intuitive and speedy way possible.

What’s in it for Customers?

Nearly 50% of shoppers feel that easy findability is key to their online shopping experience (HubSpot).  Share this as a Tweet So, there’s no doubt that customers rate site search as a crucial factor in the buying journey. But why does search become so important in this context?

  • Better Search Relevancy Drives UX Fine-tuned internal site search doesn’t just give customers a search functionality, it also improves their experience with relevant results. This is achieved with a mix of matching – providing relevant results for search terms that could include alternate phrasing or typos; and ranking – providing the most relevant results from a collection of similar results
  • A Seamless Buying Experience Most businesses have a large collection of products listed online in a variety of formats and categories. Most customers won’t spend the time to figure out the taxonomy if it doesn’t make sense to them in the first shot. In this case, they will skip directly to the search bar and look for the products they need. This is why businesses need a well-functioning search bar that’s easy to spot and has intuitive features such as autofill to make the customer journey seamless.

What’s in it for Businesses?

A happy customer leads to a happy business. However, the benefits of good site search manifest in ways beyond this simplification. Businesses can reap a number of quantifiable outcomes as a result of well-structured site search.

  • Improved Conversions, Reduced Bounce Rate 43% of visitors have a tendency to go straight to the search bar when they shop online (Forrester).  Share this as a Tweet With healthy site search, businesses can ensure that once customers hit the search button, they find exactly what they’re supposed to – a step closer to converting a search into a purchase. Then again, cutting out the instances of inaccurate or unsatisfactory search results also directly reduced the chances of customers bouncing off to other pages.
  • Expanded Scope for Improved Site Search As a self-feeding system, good site search practices lead to even better site search outcomes. It helps businesses understand users and markets better. What are they searching for? Which products have been trending? Good site search analytics (which is built into good site search practices) help businesses capitalize on these opportunities. These insights also enable businesses to better understand content gaps, and fill them in with relevant content that customers are looking for.
  • Improved Product Discoverability A businesses may have a product range that’s as endless as the universe, but this means nothing if customers don’t find these products. Optimized site search doesn’t just ensure that products are easy to find, it also makes a whole lot of other products and content discoverable to customers. This requires, not just a thorough use of keywords, but also a robust search mechanism that can sift through all the layers of indexing to find the right content set.

Site Search Best Practices:

An Econsultancy study states that conversion rate jump from 2.77% to 4.63% when site search is optimized. This is a whopping 80% increase that most businesses would give an arm and a leg for. Thankfully, getting site search right doesn’t require businesses to go that far. Here are some of the top site search best practices that can drive findability from the ground-up:

  1. Optimize the Search Box: Design the search box in a way that it is easy to spot and consistently placed across all pages of your website. When customers land on a page, the first thing they look for is the search box, especially if the site is cluttered or confusing. Again, the box must be large enough to encourage search, have the right icon (the magnifying glass in most instances), and a prompt such as “search here” to encourage the user to run a search.
  2. Build in Strong Error Tolerance: This requires the use of a built-in mechanism that takes into account typos and other variations. For example, whether it’s “board games” or “games board”, “balck” or “black”, or any other possible variation, the search engine should be trained to offer relevant results on every occasion.
  3. Refine Synonym Search: This is yet another way to get rid of no-result pages from the equation. For example, one customer may search for “lady shoes”, another may use the term “women’s shoes”. If synonym search is optimized, the website will give results for both these terms. Easier said than done, this practice requires a nuanced understanding of industry standards and also customer search behaviour to eventually drive conversions.
  4. Make the Most of Autocomplete: This feature guides customers to the most relevant or in-demand products as they start to type. Including this feature also ensures that even if the website doesn’t have an exact match, it suggests matches that are close enough to lead to conversion.
  5. Factor in Mobile Search: With the increasing number of mobile shoppers, it is imperative for site search to be optimized for mobile search. This means an optimized results page with not more than 2-3 products on display, refined faceted search and better search bar visibility, all play a vital role in making better shopping experiences for mobile users
  6. Optimize for Natural Language Processing (NLP) & Semantic Search: Customers often search for products in a similar way that they would ask for it at a store or physical outlet. The result: colloquialism and conversational word use that a conventional search engine may not be able to capture. With NLP, site search engines can interpret abstract questions and requests and produce more accurate results, in line with customer expectations.
  7. Provide Relevant Results: This may sound like a no-brainer, but many eCommerce sites tend to mess up this aspect. While the first few results may be relevant, this accuracy drops in subsequent items. This is exactly why businesses must ensure high accuracy and result cut-off parameters to give customers what they’re looking for in a descending order of relevance
  8. Tackle Zero Search Result Pages: No matter how good an internal site search engine is, a “no result” page is inevitable at some point. This can easily lead to site abandonment. In this case, it is imperative for the website to push engagement with the customer. How is this done? By suggesting alternative approaches such as “try searching with different words”, “check your spelling”, or “try looking in other departments”. Then again, you can always populate the page with similar products to encourage further engagement.
  9. Finetune Content: From product titles and descriptions to category names (within the taxonomy), attribute nomenclature and schema, you can leverage content to drive better site search results in an organic manner. This requires a mix of industry expertise for keyword selection, SME in taxonomy and schema design for indexing and a robust dictionary for synonyms and other similar variables.
  10. Design Faceted Search into the Mix: Giving users the ability to tailor results, or faceted search, entails filtering and sorting options that make search engine result pages (SERPs) more palpable for users. While this is a highly successful site search tactic, not many sites offer it yet, making it a great tool to gain a competitive edge. Similarly sorting options (ex: sort by price, sale, relevance, new items etc.), give users another useful lever to get refined search results.
  11. Optimize Site Search with Analytics: You can track everything from top performing queries and top performing products based on clicks or conversions, to number of filters used and no search results. A comprehensive overview of these metrics drives better decision making and can help you optimize site search even further.

Customers who run an on-site search are 2-4 times more likely to convert; so, it comes as no surprise that as many as 68% of surveyed eCommerce companies in the study are looking to improve their site search capabilities. With such a direct and tangible impact on business outcomes, site search is not just a “good to have”; it is a “must have”. Even in saying that, it must be finetuned and in keeping with customer expectations..

Wondering what’s the best way forward for your business to achieve this? Get in touch with our experts at Amaze PXM to learn more:

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