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Shoppers using an e-commerce site have two main ways of finding the exact product or service they want – the navigation bar and the search box.

While many sites have great navigation, there are plenty whose search options return some pretty poor results. 

Customers will often use the search box on a site either when they want something they were unable to find through the navigation options, or they know what they want and need a quick shortcut. 

This means that an effective site search tool is not only important for user experience but also a way of increasing conversion.

Here are some tips for improving your site search:

  • Location of search box

    Most search boxes are located in the top right hand corner of websites, so this is where the customer will be looking for it. Move it anywhere else and you risk annoying them.

  • Intelligent search suggestionsPeople have come to expect this on search engines, but this is a feature that would also work well on most websites. Suggesting search terms to users as they type not only saves them time but can also avoid searches returning no results.
  • Allow users to sort by price, rating etcFor queries that return lots of matching items, the ability to filter them is vital. This will avoid the need for trawling through three or four pages of results, which can be frustrating.

    Allow users to sort results according to price first of all. Other useful options include sorting by user review rating, or how recent the results are.

  • Correct misspelled terms

    By identifying common misspellings of products that customers are likely to search for on your site, you can take away some of their pain.

    I searched for 'black ippod' on a couple of sites:

Amazon didn't handle this very well, with the search hitting a dead end:

Amazon site search

 Apple's store does a better job though:

Apple site search

  • Keep previous search term in search box

    Ideally, the original search query should be presented on the results page, in the search box and as a headline above the search results. This helps the user to refine their search without having to retype the whole term.

  • Understand what visitors are searching for

    Your site search doesn't have to be as sophisticated or as comprehensive as Google's, but you must perform well for searches on the kind of products your customers are looking for.

    I tried searching for 'black shirt' on two sites that sell clothing, with disappointing results:

Tesco's results were pretty poor, returning a black fridge as the top result:

Tesco site search

River Island did at least return a black shirt, but alongside too many irrelevant results:  

River Island site search

  • Show results from non-product areas

    While most searches may well be product-related, many customers may be looking for other information such as returns policies or delivery costs.
  • Search options

    A simple keyword search should be the default option for users, but a link to a more advanced search may help customers find what they want more quickly, especially if they are entering a relatively broad term.
  • Number of results

    Showing too many results can be off-putting, so it's best to limit the number to around ten per page and provide filtering options to make it easier to narrow the search down.
  • Avoid returning 'no results found'

    A simple 'no results found' message isn't enough and may cause users to abandon your site and look elsewhere. A better idea would be to suggest alternative, related searches as well as links to key areas of the website.

Related research:
Site Search Buyer’s Guide

Related stories:
The business case for site search
The symbiosis of brand trust and optimised on-site search

Graham Charlton

Published 4 February, 2008 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

Comments (1)

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Kaya

It is critical for ecommerce sites to have a search feature, however many still don't. One of the best uses of search i've seen is the express shopping feature on Tesco.com which allows the user to create a shopping list based on search terms. Kaya, Internet Marketing Manager at Optimised Media.

almost 9 years ago

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