By following the ten ecommerce site search best practices detailed below, you can improve your internal search functionality and product findability. This will make your store more usable and ‘sticky’, by ensuring that visitors can quickly locate the products they want, and this will ultimately increase sales.
Let’s first take a look at the reasons for focusing on site search best practices as one of the first optimization steps to take. Then I’ll get into the ten actions you can start taking right now to improve searchability on your own site.
Why optimize your internal site search?
There are no big revelations here. You should pay attention to your ecommerce site search engine simply because people use it and they expect to see search on your store.
My personal experience with clients says so – and it’s completely backed up by data from large internet marketing consultancies. And it’s likely to become even more important as more shopping is done from mobile devices.
What would you do if you couldn’t find what you wanted in a real brick and mortar store? You’d ask a sales assistant, wouldn’t you? If nobody was there to help you’d probably walk out…
Well, in the absence of a sales assistant, your site search engine is there to point the way. Just as the customer is ALWAYS right in bricks and mortar retail, the same applies in ecommerce – and you must always look to meet and surpass their expectations.
eConsultancy found that 30 percent of visitors will use the internal site search box to look for products. The report noted that optimised search functionality improves conversions and sales for several reasons:
- It leads to increased site usage
- It delivers a better overall user experience
- It results in more return visits
- It improves customer retention and loyalty
- It improves branding
eConsultancy also reports that, out of 21 websites checked, in all but one case, the average revenue generated from site search was significantly higher from the people performing searches on the site than those who weren’t.
ConversionXL claims that the increased level of ‘purchase intent’ provided by those using site search can result in conversions up to 5-6X higher than the average non-site search visitor.
As mentioned, I have seen these same trends with my customers. Search usability has consistently improved conversion rates. Below are the conversion rates for visits without and then with search for ecommerce company Bfyne.
That’s a 9.05 percent conversion rate for those users who searched, as opposed to 0.44 percent for those who didn’t: a huge difference, I’m sure you’ all agree.
Just before we get onto helping you improve your figures, let’s take a quick look at why you have the opportunity to stand out from the crowd…
Many ecommerce sites are getting it wrong
Despite more sites looking to improve their site search and cash in on the type of impressive figures you see above, many are not following ecommerce site search best practices. They are getting it wrong, and this presents an opportunity to set your store apart from competitors.
The report details the following surprising statistics:
- 16% of e-commerce websites don’t support searching by product name or model number despite these details appearing on the product page.
- 18% of websites provide no useful results when the user types just a single character wrong in the product’s name.
- 70% of sites require users to search by the exact jargon for the product type that the website uses.
- Searches with symbols and abbreviations are not supported by 60% of e-commerce websites.
- Autocomplete suggestions are found on 82% of e-commerce websites, but 36% of them do more harm than good.
- Only 34% allow users to easily iterate on their query by pre-filling it in the search field on the results page.
You’ll see many of these areas addressed in the site search best practices section below…let’s get into it!
Ecommerce site search best practices
A search box is all well and good…but your optimization efforts need to extend a little beyond this. Not only do you want to provide search functionality; you want to give your users the best search experience possible. After all, it’s going to affect your bottom line…
The following ten tips will help you drill down into what really works…
Prominent placement and usable design
Don’t hide your search box away in the bottom left-hand corner next to the business address. The first rule here is that it should be easy to find, so place it prominently for site visitors to see as soon as they land.
Standard ecommerce site design metrics say that users expect to find the site search box in the top right or top middle of their screen. This should be in the header section of your store and visible on every page.
Look at this example for Next UK. Front and just left of centre! There is no missing it when you land.
Note that some users are not familiar with the magnifying glass icon that is sometimes used to represent a search box. Show the whole box, include the word ‘Search’ or ‘Go’ on the button beside it, and allow an input of at least 30 characters into the box. NOT like this one:
The more obvious the better. There is nothing to be gained by tucking it away or disguising it.
You can even experiment with more creative ‘placeholder’ text in your search input that suggests or hints at your most common search terms.
Find your most commonly used search terms in your Google Analytics report by checking out my free ebook at the end of this post. Then add these terms as suggestions in your search box.
Allow search within results pages
The second guideline is a simple but important one that some sites miss. By including the search input again in the search box when you return the search results, you make life much easier for the user.
Users can quickly amend their search, adding more detail or changing part of the product descriptions, without having to type everything in again. You can even place the cursor in the input box ready to type. It cannot be stressed too many times that mobile users especially need the buying process made as easy as possible for them; this helps you do that. Look at how well Amazon does this:
Be careful with scoped search
Most online stores have categories of products. In clothing, it might be male/female categories for tops, trousers, shoes etc. Scoped search allows users to search within a specific category section of your shop via a dropdown menu – a little like browsing a particular aisle in a supermarket.
This can be beneficial if customers are just browsing, but it may also end up reducing their chances of finding what they originally came into buy. The right products can actually be harder to find, as explained here.
It’s generally better to provide users with the option to filter searches on the results page rather than use scoped search right away. After typing in the initial search they can then choose from a series of links to drill down into any category or subcategory of products. Including the number of products in each category tells users more valuable information. Look at how Zara does this on its left-hand menu.
Including autocomplete options in your search box is another effective way of making search easier for your users. Unlike scoped search, it doesn’t limit search to one category, but instead simply makes the filling out of the search box easier.
Using autocomplete you can select from a dropdown menu of the most common suggestions for what you are searching for, as per below.
(Image credit : http://findify.io/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/Autocomplete2.png )
Allow for errors with autocorrect
Accept that your customers make mistakes and will make typos or spell products incorrectly. This happens at any time and at any place, but as we go more mobile with our devices it will probably become even more common.
Some sites show a ‘No Results’ page that gets the user nowhere and probably frustrates them. Instead, why not offer an autocorrect option if they misspell or make a typo? As well as reducing the annoyance factor, it imparts confidence that your site is a little smarter than the average one out there.
(Image credit: http://findify.io/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/Error-tolerance.png)
Just beware that there is no guarantee that autocorrect will get it right.
What should you do if there really are no results to be displayed? Be sure to handle it a little more gracefully and imaginatively than a ‘NO RESULTS FOUND’ or ‘404’ message page. Perhaps try some alternative suggestions or add a little humour, for instance.
Next UK handles it as follows, with several options so that the user is not left feeling frustrated or confused.
Provide synonym results
It’s unlikely that your customers will describe your product in exactly the same way as you. So you need to allow for this by making your ecommerce site search engine an intelligent one. Build in a synonym control tool so that, whether or not a customer types in a product the same way as you describe it (for example ‘men’s gloves’) others will also be suggested (for instance, ‘men’s mittens’).
That way customers always find what they are looking for. Check out this example with earphones:
(Image credit: http://findify.io/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/Synonyms.png)
Provide multi-lingual search
This is another simple one that many sites fail to follow. Limiting your audience by only allowing search in English should be a no-no, especially for larger stores. Multi-lingual search caters for a more global audience, and not only makes it more likely that customers will find the products that they want; it also shows that you are thinking ‘globally’. This may be an important bonus for your brand.
(Image credit: http://xn--1-jtbycegr3a.xn--p1ai/multi-lingual-sites.php)
Provide both ‘grid view’ and ‘list view’ options
No two shoppers are the same! People view and respond to information differently, so providing your customers with a few basic options will also help their user experience.
A case in point is how to display the products that customers search for. Most stores include a ‘list view’ as we have seen above, but some stores also provide their customers with the option to view searched products in grid formation, as per the below:
Provide faceted sorting in search results
Another great tool for making search results easier for the user to interpret is ‘faceted sorting’. This allows users to sort their results by particular criteria, such as relevance, price, bestsellers, what’s newest, and so on.
Once you type in a search, the results page carries the option to ‘SORT BY’ or ‘ORDER BY’. That’s where customers can specify preferences for how THEY want results displayed, rather than how the store would like to display them.
According to the Baymard Institute, only 10 percent of sites are actively addressing this issue. Accessorize UK offers faceted sorting like this:
Allow saved searches
Saved searches are an excellent tool for users on more complex sites. It simplifies the process of researching products, allowing users to effectively compile a ‘wishlist’ of products that they are interested in, providing an easy reference for later in the session or for future visits.
Let’s see how Accessorize UK, from their results page, offers the chance to add any product that customers click on to a wishlist:
Maintaining a high-converting internal site search performance
The ten tips above will all improve the searchability of your store. Most larger stores need to aim not only to create a usable search experience but to ‘wow’ their customers with a fast performance, from start to finish.
This is where your tech team can really demonstrate its prowess in creating a high-performance ecommerce site search engine. Ask those responsible:
- How many concurrent searches are supported?
- What’s the highest number of sources possible?
- What is the size of the data repository?
This will go a long way to determining whether you have a search engine that can meet the needs of your customer base.
Going a little further with Findify…
Findify provides a fantastic set of self-learning solutions if you are looking to provide the very best in search functionality, discovery and usability for your visitors.
Google has always known that the key to its success was search relevance and accuracy. When search results are no longer returning what people really want, then that’s the death of Google as a search engine. That’s why it constantly updates. We take this a little for granted now, but search and discovery really is part art form and part science.
Findify’s solutions make it much easier for you to return relevant search and discovery experiences for your customers.
- Enhanced search algorithms – machine learning algorithms that run through millions of data points from customers daily. They deliver search results that are continuously improving, based on unique customer buying and browsing behaviour.
- Self-learning search – returning accurate and relevant search results that improve based on the trends in your store. Features include autocomplete suggestions that adapt to your customers’ searching behaviour, autocorrecting for handling typos, dynamic and intelligent filtering to help customers fine-tune their results, and ‘breadcrumb navigation’ so that customers can keep track of their filter preferences.
- Product recommendations – providing intelligent product recommendations, allowing you to cater to all of the browsers on your ecommerce store. Your customers will quickly and easily see recommendations based on attributes like: trending products, trending products in a specific category, newest products and products they recently viewed. All designed to turn your browsers into paying customers.
- Smart collections – making the product categories in your navigation dynamic and highly relevant, powered by the same machine learning algorithms as the self-learning search. Along with heightened relevancy, the smart collections are outfitted with intelligent filtering and breadcrumb navigation to provide your customers’ with a seamless navigation experience.
- Insightful analytics – reports and tools allowing you to monitor the evolution of your customers’ search behavior, providing you with critical insights to anticipate their needs and intentions.
Bottom line: Constantly improve the customer experience to increase sales
Improving conversions is possible just by paying more attention to your internal site search and by applying ecommerce search best practices, such as those detailed above.
But the key is in taking the action that other sites are not taking. Making your site stand out is not just down to having great products; it’s about providing the best user experience – and the requirements for that are always changing.
Just as ten years ago ecommerce search required certain characteristics for PC users, now it requires a whole new set of features for mobile users. Simplifying the process of selecting and purchasing products is an art form that stores would do well to invest time and effort into perfecting.
This, of course, involves easy navigation, great menus, clear calls to action, great product pages and so on, as well as search. But search is a vital component to get right, as eConsultancy puts it here:
“When used by shoppers intent on finding the ‘right’ product, search punches above its weight in terms of sales and conversions.”
By ‘conversions’ remember that we are talking about increasing profitability; there’s no point reducing the price of everything in your store to purely increase conversions. It makes a lot more sense to keep the prices the same and focus on improving the user experience.
If you require further tips on this, why not check out my ebook on how to use Google Analytics to identify search requirements and other customer insights. You can download that here: Increase your Conversion Rate and ecommerce Profits with Google Analytics Insights.