Last week, I looked at some best practices for site search, around positioning and function of search box, now it's time to look at site search results pages.
Once users have found the search box and entered their product query, the most important aspect is the speed and accuracy of the search results.
There is a lot that retailers can do on search results pages to enhance the user experience and make the route from search to purchase as smooth as possible.
Here are some examples, good and bad, from retailers, as well as some tips to improve the user experience...
Site search results pages should load quickly
If there is a noticeable lag between hitting the search button and viewing results, users will begin to lose patience.
Accuracy of results
If shoppers see obviously irrelevant results, then they will be less likely to trust the site search function.
An Econsultancy/Funnelback Site Search Report from 2010 found that companies need to work on the accuracy of their site search functions.
500 company and agency respondents were asked what percentage of searches carried out on their site are successful. On average, only 50% (exactly) of searches are successful.
If customers type a simple query into the search box and irrelevant results are returned, they are likely to lose confidence in site search. A search for 'blue shirt' on Zara returns all manner of items, very few of which are blue shirts:
A better example comes from House of Fraser:
Avoid returning no results where possible
If customers have searched for a product that the retailer just doesn’t stock, it doesn’t have to end with a ‘no results found’ page.
However, as commenters on last week's site search post pointed out, zero results pages can be a valuable source of information for retailers. Tracking these pages via analytics can help retailers to fix problems with site search, and it can also inform them of the products customers are looking for that they don't currently stock.
If the product customers are looking for is unavailable on the site, then suggest a relevant alternative.
For example, if a customer searches for a brand of toaster than isn’t sold by a retailer, then showing results for other brands is the best approach.
This means that users don’t have to hit a dead end, and offers the potential to keep the customer on site and make a sale.
Comet could improve here. Surely the word 'toaster' in the search term provides a clue?
Keep the original term in the search box
This makes it easy for users to modify the search by adding an extra word or two, based on what they see in the results.
Correct and anticipate common misspellings
While some users’ entries may be near impossible to decipher, it is possible to anticipate common and obvious misspellings and still provide results.
This approach ensures that users find a list of possible products to buy, and also neatly avoids ‘blaming’ the user for their error.
Comet works out my typo and offers me results from relevant sections of the site, though it doesn't show me any actual products:
In this example from Play.com, the site search has figured out the typo and provided me with accurate results straight away. It doesn't even mention the typo:
Provide filtering and sorting options on results pages
This is essential, as some searches will produce large numbers of results which would otherwise be unmanageable.
For example, a search for ‘iPod’ on Amazon produces more than 120,000 results.
Users need to be able to remove products they don’t want from this list by filtering by price range, product categories, brand, colour, user review score and more.
Order search results by relevancy
In the example of the Amazon search for ‘iPod’, the retailer places the most relevant results at the top of the pile.
This means that actual iPods and iPod Touches are displayed before the vast range of accessories and related items.
Retailers could also order searches according to the items they think will sell best, as users are likely to give more attention to the top few results.
Take customers with catalogue codes straight to product pages
Retailers that use catalogues generally provide the option of entering the product code into the search box.
Best practice here is to take the customer straight to the relevant product page. The customer has already shown intent to purchase by entering the code, so the journey to checkout needs to be as smooth as possible.
The same could also apply to someone searching for a very specific model number.
Consider adding stock levels to your search results
Customers don’t want to waste time visiting product pages and adding items to their basket only to find that items are out of stock. If they can be informed of stock levels on site search results pages, then this can be avoided.
If a product is unavailable, retailers can offer alternatives or provide information on when it will be back in stock.
If there are just a few left and customers need to act fast to secure the item, then this can be a persuasive sales tool.
In another example from technology retailer Insight, customers have the option to filter searches so they only see items that are in stock, saving any wasted time.
Show product images / prices for quick scan
Product images allow customers to scan the list of results for the product that suits them. It is especially useful on fashion sites like ASOS, where how items look is all-important.
Add product information to search results
In this example, Comet shows not only the product image and price, but also presents a couple of key points about the laptops (screen size, RAM etc) as well as the available delivery/collect in store options.
This allows customers to quickly compare the ‘headline’ features of products and speeds up their search.
The site search results on Merrell show the available colours when users mouse over, a useful shortcut:
Add calls to action for fast purchase
If shoppers have used site search, then they may know exactly what they want, having already researched the product in question, so make it easy for them.
In this example from Comet, shoppers can add the item to their basket straight from the search results page, skipping the product page altogether.
Consider using ‘quick view’
Quick view features, which have become more common recently, allow customers to see a ‘mini-product page’ straight from the search results or category pages.
In the example from Merrell, customers can see more product details via this lightbox, and either add the required size boot to their basket, or head to the product page for further detail.
Show reviews in site search results
Reviews are a great sales driver, and they have plenty of uses beyond product pages.
In site search results, the average review score (and number of reviews) can be used to give shoppers a quick indication of the popularity and quality of a product, as in this example from Kiddicare.
It also provides a great filtering or sorting option, so that users can narrow searches according to the ratings given.
Show search results above the fold
Users want to search, and then see a few results on the page, so they don’t have to scroll too much.
In this example from Comet, which otherwise presents site search results well, the first result is barely visible above the fold, thanks to the other elements on the page.
Filter search results by reviews
Filtering options are vital on site search results pages, and there are a number of ways to use them. For example, AbesofMaine allows users to navigate within user reviews once you arrive at a results page:
Allow users to customise results pages
Customers may want to view search results in a number of ways, so allow them the option of list views, galleries, or seeing all results on one page.
Adapt results pages for type of product sold
On Motorcycle superstore, users can select their exact model in search results pages, so that only relevant products are shown.
Use video in site search results
Video works on e-commerce sites, so why not use it in search results pages?
For example, onlinegolf.co.uk found that visitors who watch video are 85% more likely to buy. When they made the videos available in their site search, video viewership doubled.
How would you improve site search results pages? Which sites do this well? Please leave a comment below...
(HT: SLI Systems. Some of the examples here are taken from the Big Book of Site Search tips)