In reality there are plenty of critical features about site search from the position of the search box itself to the way you guide the users actions from the search results page itself.
These five critical areas of site search ought to give you food for thought and, if implemented successfully, make a considerable difference to how your site search pages perform.
1. Can it go mobile?
Whether you choose mobile web or smartphone app, search will be one of the key means of interacting with your brand online whilst on the move.
The mobile browser experience is already being enhanced with developments like Google Instant Search which will only serve to increase the level of expectation from mobile savvy users.
This makes the experience you offer within your mobile website extremely important. Understanding which facets to present and how they are shown is a key pruning exercise - less is definitely more.
Consider the inclusion of fundamental facets like brand, category, price and reviews. If there is a time critical or location based element to your service consider including this info on the search results (e.g. select nearest store).
For example here's a couple of mobile web search results pages showing what is possible. Note the simple presentation of refinement options, the use of related searches and sort options (highlighted in red):
2. Rich autocomplete
With many users perceptions being influenced by the functionality of web search engines, using autocomplete within your search box is becoming a standard and expected feature of search input methods these days.
Implementing this within your website aids the user's thought process by prompting them with suggestions. Statistically you should see a reduction in misspellings and to a lesser extent bounce rates (correctly spelt terms will hopefully return relevant product!).
Autocomplete that includes images extends this feature further and enhances your website. It has been shown to improve several important areas not least conversion rates and average order value as the products shown should match with what is being typed thus taking users straight to the product page.
This is an obvious, easy and very important one to test. Put simply, websites that return irrelevant results against a search term are losing conversion opportunities.
Your first page of results informs the visitor how well you understand their needs. A relevant set of results will make the visitor feel confident about your site and its ability to cater for them.
To some extent brand loyalty will compensate as some users will persist. But building brand loyalty should include a great (buying) experience not forgiving a poor one.
Typically users are making an assessment of your search results within seconds often by taking a quick glance at the first few items in your search results (sometimes not scrolling below the fold!) so relevance is an important area to address if you want to optimise your e-commerce site.
A good site search engine will help with this as well as good product information and categorisation.
4. Additional content
If you are a retailer, search is about more than just finding product. If you are a publishing site, search results are more than just an article.
Providing additional information like video, reviews, blogs, guides, recommendations, twitter updates etc related to the search term will further engage the visitor and help differentiate your business.
For example, if searching for an article about a country on a travel site why not include videos and reviews about the location as well as other information like a list of accommodation and events?
Similarly, if you are retailing health and beauty products include guides pertaining to the application of the product, best practice tips, related products and so on.
Here are some examples to illustrate the point:
Often the most neglected but increasingly the most insightful part of a site search solution if you are prepared to invest the time and effort. For example, by analysing what poor searches are being generated you can assess many aspects of the site e.g:
- Is it a merchandising problem? You don't stock the item.
- A data problem. You are returning hundreds or thousands of products for a search term
- A usability problem. Lack of synonyms, resulting in irrelevant or fewer products being shown or not making it easy to refine search result.
Equally, your top keywords will give you an indication of what terms are being associated with your site once visitors arrive as well as some insight into what are the most popular products for those keywords.
This is particularly useful for merchandisers who are looking at new and innovative ways to promote products/brands and can serve to stimulate ideas about how to innovate the site beyond just product.
Additionally, these kinds of reports can be used to track long tail search terms used within the site that which potentially you may want to use for SEO and PPC purposes.
By combining your site search analytics with web analytics you can track, measure and report on the monetary value of types of visitor, site search vs non site search, particular keywords and other essential kpi’s.
Typically you will find that site search visitors convert better and generate a higher average order value.