08 Feb 2012

Internal Site Search: How To Diagnose Problems & Maximize Conversions Today

If your online store product catalog includes hundreds or more product SKU’s, visitors may be finding it difficult to meet their navigational needs. Although this is most commonly seen on sites belonging to multichannel retailers, any large e-commerce site can encounter this problem. According Dave Yang  in his article titled Site Search Increases Conversion Rates, Average Order Value and Loyalty, “Quality e-commerce site search has been known to dramatically increase conversion rates.”

Mr Yang goes on to show several examples of e-tailers who have seen a bump in conversions due to optimizing their site search for better usability and for conversions. How could just making changes to your internal site search make such a dramatic difference? Although on most e-commerce websites, the number of users who utilize site search relative to the total population of visitors is very low, those visitors who do use site search tend to be much farther along in the conversion process, they are looking to buy. In this post, I will cover some of the ways you can optimize the internal site search on your e-commerce site. Also, if you’re really unsatisfied with your current site search solution, I’ll lay out a process you can use to compare your various options and find a solution that will bring you results.


Tips for diagnosing if your internal site search is optimized for conversion

Zero results found handling: Make sure that for all cases where there are no results, that your internal site search offers alternative searches or options for refining search further.

Fuzzy matching, phrase matching capabilities, and spelling error tolerance: Make sure that your internal site search can provide relevant results for at least the most common misspellings for products and categories. You’d be surprised how often, internal site search serves up zero results found on search page for products actually carried by the seller. Because site search visitors tend to be high converting, this is something that may be costing you money.

Clearly label and format results page: Make sure that on the results page, the original search query is presented  on the result page, both inside the search box and as a headline above all the search results for the query. This just makes sure that the visitor knows what they’re looking for. Also, it is a best practice to bold or somehow highlight where the search query appears in the results. Another formatting best practice is to number the results in your internal search.

Search Box location in template: Your search box should be located at the top right in your template, this is where visitors visually expect to find a search box.

Offer Advanced search option if warranted: Make sure that your search box is simple and streamlined. To support site structure, you’ll sometimes want to include multiple fields, for example you can add a location drop-down to your search box.

Clearly label button: Ensure that the button next to your search bar is clearly labeled and obvious to the user. Common site search button names include commands such as ‘search’ or ‘go’. I know that to some of my dear audience, this may seem obvious but it’s surprising how often simple usability concepts like these get lost during the template creation process of your web design.


How To Use Site Search to Improve Your Site

In this section, I’ll discuss how one can use Analytics to get insights from site search about how to improve your site overall. After that I’ll go into optimization issues related to site search because, you know the saying, mo’ optimization, mo’ problems 😉

Using Analytics to To Yield Insights From Your Existing Site Search

One of the main ways to improve your site using site search, beyond optimizing the site search experience for visitors, is to track your internal site search using analytics. The most common solution, available  for Google Analytics product consumers, is Google site search analytics. If you are a Google Analytics user, check out the instructions for setting up site search analytics using this quick step by step guide from our friends at Google Support.

You can check out lots of cool metrics such as percentage of visitors making refinements on their initial query and the average time on site after using your site search, including who abandoned your site after using site search. Good stuff. A while back, Avinash Kaushik wrote an awesome article on internal site search called Kick Butt With Internal Site Search Analytics, in which he wonderfully lays out the glorious Five Steps to Internal Site Search Nirvana.  According to Mr. Kaushik  one of the greatest misconceptions is about how many people actually use site search. He states that,”most people hugely underestimate how many people use Internal Search”. Also,  Mr. Kaushik explains that it is important to investigate where visitors on your site search. The insights you can get from looking at this  is spotting the pages where visitors are not finding what they need and thus, these pages are areas of opportunity for future improvements.

Additionally, you can  measure internal site search quality using % Search Exits, which is the internal site search version of bounce rate. Lastly, you can generate reports on Conversion RatePer Visit Value, Revenue, and Average Order Size. Yum – great numbers to use to see if improving site search is worth the effort and will bring proportional ROI for the development time.

SEO Issues Arising From Site Search

Oh My Goodness, if I had a quarter for every time I’ve seen someones internal site search results indexed in Google! Especially in these dark times of the Panda Updates, I am very frugal about what I wanna show search engines. I have seen 10,000+ pages indexed in Google of site search results. To Google,  these are all low quality pages with no content. Although how to handle this issue will vary from site to site, I will mention that this is something to be on the look out for on your internal site search.


What Are Your Options For Site Search

Although there are tons of free site search solutions out there from places such as Freefind , site level, and picosearch. The free versions of these tools often include ads with your search results. This is surely not how you want to represent your brand. If you don’t want the ads, you have to pay.  Google also also offers a site search solution ranging from $100 to $2,000 yearly, which you can customize. You can also build your own site search using CGI programs, PERL scripts, Java applications and so on. I think that this is a very case by case issue, and it would be irresponsible to generalize about in an article. However, I will say that there are several important considerations to bear in mind as you discuss your current site search with your developer including;

  • Price – How much will it cost you?
  • Platform – if there is a plug-in you can use, is that plug-in effective?
  • Capacity – how big is your site i.e. how big will the index need to be?
  • Ease of installation – how much of a headache will it be for your dev team to implement?
  • Maintenance – how much maintenance will the internal site search require and is the potential for ROI worth the cost

Here is a great article that goes through all the technical considerations for implementing a custom site search solution, rather then the out of the box stuff.

If you don’t have an internal site search, you should consider it, and if you do, you should strongly consider making it better.  In spite of the potential SEO complications, if you implement an internal site search properly the potential conversion benefits are well worth the effort.

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