The Art of Ecommerce Site Search

Let’s begin by looking at the word ‘Google’. The fact that it is now used in everyday conversation as a verb and not just a noun is testament to how integral online search has become for the modern day consumer. Whether on desktop, tablet or smartphone, our generation reflexively turn to their chosen device for answers in ‘I want to know’ and ‘I want to buy’ micro moments.

In fact, 83% of consumers in KSA and 76% of those in UAE cite the internet as their first port of call when searching for information. What users find has huge potential to influence their purchase decisions too – with 69% in the UAE buying from a brand that they normally wouldn’t consider, purely due to the relevant information served to them online. It’s clear that constant connectivity has transformed consumer behaviour and expectations. The path to purchase is far from linear – moreover, it’s made up of a series of touch points whereby preferences are shaped and decisions are made.

Site Search and the Customer Journey

Ecommerce site search has an integral part to play in the modern day customer’s journey. 30% of ecommerce site visitors use the search bar from the out set when shopping online. These users are already at an advanced stage in their path to purchase. They have an idea of what it is they want, they’ve chosen your company as a potential source, found your website and are actively looking for something specific. These shoppers are intent-driven. It therefore comes as no surprise that the probability of converting them is higher than that for those who are just on your site to browse – with conversion rates for site search reportedly 50% higher than average.

30% of ecommerce site visitors use the search bar from the out set

It is critical now, more than ever, for ecommerce sites to recognise the huge opportunity that site search presents and optimise their online experience accordingly. If your search functionality helps people find exactly what they are looking for quickly and efficiently, this will give you a significant competitive advantage. Here are a few best practices and aspects to keep in mind as you revisit your on-site search strategy.

Site Search Purpose and Design

Site search should be a predominant navigation option for ecommerce websites, giving users the ability to take shortcuts to exactly where they want to go. For most ecommerce sites, the search functionality will form part of the website’s global navigation and will be integrated into its wider header design.

Its placement serves three key purposes: it’s accessible wherever the user is on your site, its location is consistent on each page so that it is easy to find and use and finally – its design can remain the same thus making it recognisable throughout the site. Essentially, its design and positioning will depend on how much visual weight you want allocated to search on your website. This should be determined by, and aligned with, your core company objectives.

If you want your search bar to stand out, place it away from other prominent data-fill boxes. Give it a clear and clickable call-to-action button that indicates its purpose at a glance – ‘Search’, ‘Find’ or ‘Go’. Include humanised dummy text in the search bar such as ‘I’m looking for…’ or ‘I want to find…’ to prompt user enquiries – but ensure that this disappears as they begin typing. Offer site visitors a superior search experience by implementing features such as auto-complete and auto-suggest, which will help them think less and avoid any potential misspellings. An added benefit of these is that your online shoppers will be exposed to additional products that are available on your site, and related to their specific search query.

The Search Results Landing Page

Your search results landing page should use a standard format that is sophisticated, yet user-friendly and presents the products in a clear way. Core elements to include are the number of matching results, page sort options and faceted navigation (so that these results can be ordered and refined), content format selections, search suggestions, related products and promotions. Remember – not everybody is ready to buy their intended product straight away and may still want to evaluate whether it serves their needs. Displaying content such as blog posts, customer reviews and videos in search results pages can help to educate online shoppers and further validate their intent to convert.

Conversion rates for site search are reportedly 50% higher than average

Site search should implement an intelligent algorithm to determine exactly which results to show users, based on the terms that they have typed into the search bar. It should influence the order of your search results landing page; from displaying the most relevant matching products above the fold, to presenting the different content match types depending on those indexed. The algorithm is crucial when it comes to providing relevant results and must be improved based on the performance of your site search over time.

Keep in mind that speed and accuracy of your search results landing page is key. Order results based on relevancy, suggest alternatives, correct and anticipate common misspellings, consider adding stock levels to create a sense of urgency, show ‘quick look’ product images and prices, include ‘add to cart’ shortcuts, display reviews. The results should load quickly, return precise and relevant content and where possible, avoid showing no results at all.

The ‘Zero Results Page’

Whilst we’re on the topic, how frustrating do you find it when you search for a product and are served with a simple ‘no results found’ notification? We understand that your ecommerce site may not have content that matches a specific term, but don’t let that be a reason for visitors to make a quick exit. If a search query does lead to a ‘zero results page’ on your site, provide users with help and suggestions for what to do next. Leaving them at a dead end equals an opportunity lost for you, and a unsatisfactory customer experience for them. Instead, use the ‘zero results page’ to offer alternative suggestions that are closely related to their desired product, use fuzzy logic to determine whether their search term was perhaps misspelt or an unrecognised expression, and recommend corrections.

An Econsultancy study found that only 50% of searches carried out on 500 websites were successful. It’s inevitable that you won’t be able to meet every site visitor’s exact search requirements, however optimising your zero results page to keep them on your website despite this, will decrease the likelihood of their reverting to your competitors.

Measuring Site Search Success

As always, measuring the performance of your site search is a must. By tracking the percentage of sessions using site search, search depth, conversion rates and more, you can monitor how your site’s search functionality is affecting your bottom line. Additionally, site search data is a goldmine of information. By reviewing the top search terms used, you can determine the value of specific keywords and utilise this information to inform other marketing activities such as pay-per-click advertising.

Furthermore, you can relay the information found to your buyers, writers and merchandisers – which products are proving most popular amongst categories? Which products are users searching for that you don’t stock, but could? The opportunities are great and the potential revenue that could be generated by acting on the data found – even greater. By analysing searches on your ecommerce site you can further understand visitor’s intent, optimise your landing pages and site navigation, improve customer experience and, in time, increase conversion rates.

Essentially your ecommerce site search should provide an effortless online shopping experience for the user. Implementing the above best practices will drive success, improve customer retention and loyalty, boost brand equity and increase site usage. Site search should never be a reason for a lost sale, but instead – an incredible opportunity for conversion.

Mark Warman - Founder & Digital Consultant Administrator

With a background in design, technology and user experience, I help businesses adapt. Adapt to the changing needs and expectations of their digital audiences.