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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. 

Suggest alternatives

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

Graham Charlton

Published 31 July, 2012 by Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton is the former Editor-in-Chief at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter or connect via Linkedin or Google+

2565 more posts from this author

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Matthew Curry

Matthew Curry, Head of Ecommerce at Lovehoney

Hey Graham, thought I'd weigh in here with some extra bits

1) Is quick preview / CTA actually a good thing? You should test always this. test your search results pages the same way you would test any other part of your site. I found that in some cases getting the user to click through to a product page, and therefore seeing supporting messages/social proof, led to higher conversion.

2) With regards to colours, what HoF are doing, is when items have multiple colour varieties (with associated pictures) - they're returning the picture of the matching variety. Sometimes this does mean setting up a ton of synonyms for colours (is that Pink, Salmon or Coral?) but is definitely worth it.

3) Have an "only show In-Stock items" option in filtering, so that if there is a highly relevant out of stock item, it can be reserved.

4) Return mixed content - not everything is product based, you might have ancillary supportive content, help content, blogs etc that may be relevant to the search results

5) Feed sales data into the search algorithm - so that you're not just ordering by relevance, but sales likelihood as well. If your search algo doesn't allow you to do this, it's relatively easy (though laborious) to tune your results based on products bought per search time, by getting the data out of GA (use an Advanced Segment of the search term, and look at products purchased) - this way you can also see products that are often "bought with" but may not be returned in the search.

6) Give failed search data to your Buying team, and look for daily volume outliers in failed searches - this way, you can see emergent search trends, and get your Buying team to purchase products to fulfil them.

almost 4 years ago

Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton, Editor in Chief at ClickZ Global

Hi Matt,

I hedged my bets with 'quick view' as I've yet to see stats on whether it works well or not, though I have heard anecdotally that it has on certain sites.

The CTA is something I like when I know what I want and don't necessarily need to see the product pages (a game, book etc), but I can see how the product page would convert better.

I see you have CTAs on Lovehoney - are you finding that a lot of people adding items to basket from search results are abandoning?

Mixed content: damn, I forgot to add that one..

I was planning to follow up this post with one on lessons to be learned from site search data, so I'll be in touch...

almost 4 years ago

Matthew Curry

Matthew Curry, Head of Ecommerce at Lovehoney

It's something I'm playing about with at the moment, so the idea of not showing a CTA to a newbie, or your first search, but returning visitors or repeat searchers (who you can sort of infer don't need the extra handholding of the product page) can add directly from results. Results still percolating on that one, will let you know!

almost 4 years ago

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Damir Plejic, general manager / owner at ResPons Digitus

Great article and the discussion.

I suppose 0 search results page deserves extra post but I'm wondering whether showing additional search box on the page, like Zappos does, have any significant value for the conversion? The page definitely looks strange with two search boxes close one to another.
Thanks!

almost 4 years ago

Albie Attias

Albie Attias, Ecommerce Director at King of Servers Ltd

I have to endorse Matt's comment on returning mixed content. So few sites cater for this and the few that do rarely do it well. In fact, Lovehoney aside, I'm struggling to pick out another etailer to use as a good example.

It's worth mentioning that like specific product searches such as SKUs, retailers should map certain key phrases (e.g. 'returns policy') to specific landing pages rather than serving a list of results.

Using your search data to continuously refine your site search too is another great tip. I've been working with the hugely popular Magento ecommerce platform for the past few years and you can do all of the above with the standard, free Community edition. One of its search reports shows you the number of times a specific search term was used on your site but also how many products in total were displayed for each search term. This allows you to fine tune your product data to ensure you don't suffer for 'choice paralysis' or conversely not enough results for your highly sought products.

almost 4 years ago

Mark Fletcher

Mark Fletcher, Ecommerce Insight Manager at Republic

What about gendered search results? Blue shirt can be male or female and the product mix returned could have a big impact on conversion?

almost 4 years ago

Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton, Editor in Chief at ClickZ Global

@Mark - gendered results would certainly have been more relevant for me, and it does seem to make sense conversion-wise.

Has anyone tried this?

almost 4 years ago

Mark Fletcher

Mark Fletcher, Ecommerce Insight Manager at Republic

River Island's split page is a nice way of dealing with terms that could be both male and female

http://www.riverisland.com/Online/search?searchInput=blue+shirt

almost 4 years ago

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Amajjika Kumara

Excellent article.
A point that is missing is to make sure your content is accessible to users with disabilities. That means your content is able to be navigated using screen readers and screen magnifiers. Video content is captioned, audio described or has a text alternative.

almost 4 years ago

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Site Search

Great article. That's the essence of having the best site search for your site and integrate it correctly to maximize the feature of the tool and also to help the traffic on your site.

over 3 years ago

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