On-Site Search Could Be Your Best Tool

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Imagine you're standing just inside the doors of a brick-and-mortar store. It could be any kind of store – a small boutique, big-box retailer, or anything in between.

Can you physically see every product for sale in that store?

Of course not. So why try to do the same thing with an e-commerce website? Maybe the best-designed website with an infinite scroll *could* have it all on one page, but it wouldn’t be useful to your customer. If they're on your site to shop, they don’t want to scroll forever. They want to find what they're looking for as fast as possible.

That's where on-site search comes in. Not only will it help your customers find what they want efficiently and effectively, at its best it can become the equivalent of a personalized product listings page. Here, we'll dive into the details of on-site search, common mistakes businesses make with on-site search, and best practices for this valuable tool.

Why On-Site Search Matters

As opposed to searching Google, which scours a large portion of the Internet for its results, on-site search is only looking at the contents of your own website. Google offers a free custom search option for your website, too, but it's more content focused. Other providers specialize in on-site search for e-commerce applications. SearchSpring, for example, a Guidance partner, provides on-site search to its clients.

But can on-site search actually contribute to your bottom line? Studies suggest that on-site search can contribute as much as 14% of your site's total sales. Even more importantly: when users take advantage of on-site search, they're almost 2x more likely to make a purchase.

There are other benefits that can't be precisely quantified but are still known to be helpful. For example, using on-site search generally increases a user's time on your website. From a search engine optimization perspective, this is a positive signal. The longer a person stays on your site, the higher ranking on search engine results pages (SERPs) and the closer your website will be the first result.  

Common Mistakes With On-Site Search

  1. Not having an on-site search option in the first place.

    Yes, this may sound odd, especially considering the focus of this article. But one study found the number of companies ignoring on-site search at 42%. If 4 out of 10 companies are missing out on an opportunity that could contribute up to 14% of their bottom line in, then this is a huge and surprisingly common mistake.
  2. Focusing on single keyword matching.

    Let's use the phrase "red running shoes" as an example. If you type this into an on-site search box and the search functionality only handles single keyword matching, then the results will include everything with the word "red," everything with the word "running," and everything with the word "shoes" in its results. This, clearly, is not helpful to the customer. And yet, some e-commerce websites deliver these kinds of unhelpful search results. Using an on-site search tool that leverages human language search like SearchSpring will yield powerful results. 
  3. Ignoring misspelled keywords.

    To continue the example from #2 above, misspelled search terms may be less of an issue with easy phrases like "red running shoes." But what happens when you have specific brand names for your products and your customers misspell those brand names in your search box? If your site's search functionality can't accommodate and/or correct for misspellings, it isn't going to deliver the results your customers want – which means you won't get the sales you want.

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 5 Best Practices for On-Site Search

  1. Make sure the search function can be found easily.

    You can trace this idea back to the seminal book on web design and usability, Steve Krug's Don't Make Me Think. This doesn't mean you should have a search bar at the top of every single page of your website – you wouldn't want it in your checkout process, for example. According to Search Engine Journal, the ideal implementation is as a bar, in the top center or top right on the desktop version of your site, and on its own line in the header area on the mobile version of your site.
  2. Make sure the results are delivered quickly.

    There's a two-fold benefit to speedy page-loading for your search results. For one thing, the longer it takes a website page to load, the more likely a person will leave it. According to Google, 53% of site visits end if it takes longer than three seconds for a page to load. And if your customers are leaving quickly, that's a signal to Google which will negatively impact your SEO efforts.
  3. Never, ever have 0 search results.

    This starts with the idea of ignoring misspelled keywords, and builds from there to address issues with case sensitivity, numbers (as digits and spelled out), symbols, and so forth. Our partners at SearchSpring have "Product Typing" built into their platform to address this, which alleviates heavy keyword matching and produces better intuitive search relevancy.

You can also compare this situation to a 404 error page. They're similar "no results" situations. But you wouldn't miss the opportunity to use the 404 page to direct your customer to the most popular pages on your site. Likewise, use what would be a 0 results search as an opportunity to cross-sell or upsell products related to the search term in some way—every single search should populate with results.

  1. Use predictive search.

    Also referred to as "autocomplete," this is the feature of a website's search functionality that works to understand the intent of your search and offer relevant results by predictively ending your search terms. Google estimates that autocomplete can reduce typing on mobile and desktop by about 25%.
  2. Add filters to search results.

    Also known as searching within a search, this becomes even more important as the volume of your product offerings increases. Your platform's on-site search capabilities leverage the tagging and categories within your e-commerce database to allow your customers the option to further narrow their searches. This leads to an increase in the relevancy of search results to your customer. The more relevant the results, the more likely they are to buy.

Understanding the value of on-site search is one thing. Implementing a best-in-class solution is quite another. Through our partnership with SearchSpring, Guidance helps e-commerce businesses make the most of their on-site search potential. Beyond the optimal practices described here, Guidance can also help you leverage the search data on clicks, views, add to cart, and purchase behavior into tangible sales results.

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