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Though the introduction of new engagement metrics is exciting, focusing on foundation metrics (available to retailers for years) still make big a impact on conversion rates.  

One such series of foundation metrics is the analysis of site search, understanding what people are typing into your websites search box and their behaviour afterwards. 

Both Vishal Srivastava and Graham Charlton have covered site search best practice in two very good articles, this article focuses on why the data is important, what you can do with it, and how it can impact digital strategy and continuous improvement processes.

Why is it important to analyse this part of your website's performance?  

Think of visitors in the physical retail world. You notice someone coming in the shop and take a direct route to a product. It’s obvious there is high interest and a strong chance a purchase will result.  

What would happen if he/she came into the shop and was not able to find the product, or the store had barriers impeding their progress in getting to the product?  

This is the equivalent to people using the site search and not finding relevant results.

People who use site search are more likely to purchase compared to those who use standard navigation.  

Why are those who use site search more likely to purchase?

  1. They have buying intent. These visitors know what they want and are on a mission to find it. You need to get out of their way, keep all the distractions off to one side.  They are in “tunnel vision” mode. 
  2. They are in late stage buying mode. Information gathering is completed, and he/she wants to view product content to satisfy other buying motivators such as price, is the product in stock, and freight chargers.
  3. They are loyal. If they have intent and land on your home page, they have your website bookmarked, may have purchased from you in the past and wants to take the path to least resistance.
  4. They have come as a result of a campaign. Regardless of campaign type, they have found your site and are attempting to find something specific. 
  5. Avoiding varying navigation from retailers. Navigation will always vary from retailer to retailer. Many times the variation is subtle, but sometimes retailers try to be clever and do something different (and does more harm than good).  

    The search box (assuming they have one) comes with the expectation of delivering relevant results, and consequently promotes the search option as a preferred choice. The expected result is a frictionless journey to a product detail page.    

Why is site search data important for the retailer and their digital team?

  1. It identifies “low hanging fruit”. In the ever expanding digital landscape it is critical to be pragmatic in your efforts. Trending site search data is one of the few metrics that can steer an ongoing continuous improvement process for SEO, content marketing, PPC, and landing page strategies.  
    It will also identify customer service content gaps, and influence future conversations with customers in social. 
  2. Feedback loop. Site search data is literally customers telling you what they want. Retailers are used to pushing one way messages out, site search data is one way messages coming back. 
  3. Measuring impact of campaigns. How many times have you created a campaign (radio/TVC/print) only to have the website not align to it. Regardless of the call to action, people will apply a certain level of due diligence on your website before doing anything else.  
  4. Site search can determine the impact of these campaigns. Ideally, the website should align to all campaigns, but that is a great topic for another article. 

What can be done with the site search data?

  1. Feature products/content. If the site search indicates a particular product is being searched for repeatedly, make it more prominent.  
    The same goes for content. If there are continuous searches for “returns policy” stop hiding it. 
  2. New products or variations of existing products. Search results identify requests for products you do not have or currently carry. This is why displaying a contact phone number when no results are found can be effective in learning more about needs. 
  3. Effectiveness of content and pricing strategy. Through the analysis of pathways to products from site search, you can identify if the product content and your pricing strategy is standing up to the scrutiny of your competition.  
  4. If exits at product detail level are high from site search traffic, you need to look into it. Don't assume they are "tire kickers" conducting price comparisons. Those in late stage buying mode are not tire kickers.
    Adjust navigation. If a group of products are being regularly searched for and fall within a certain category, adjust the navigation to make this category sit more prominently.
    If it’s a horizontal navigation, place it more to the left, if it’s a vertical navigation; sit the category at the top, and feature the category in the body of the home page.  
  5. Naming convention. You may have a product or category which visitors are calling something else. The site search data will challenge all naming conventions. This assists in creating better alignment to demand and will assist in SEO and PPC campaigns. 
  6. Spelling variations. Common misspellings should be addressed through a redirection process. It is very common for site search functionality to provide the ability to redirect people who misspell a product and send them to a relevant results page. 
  7. Terminology variations. It is possible to run into situations where people come to your site and search for products using different terms. For example is it a “crib”, “bassinette”, or “cot”? 
    Best practice suggests you work with a keywords tool and align product naming to the largest demand for your target market/global region. Landing pages should then be created for those popular search terms which do not fit within the navigation structure, with the purpose of developing relevant content (SEO) to their search with a call to action to purchase. 
    This process assists in growing the PPC campaign and is one key reason why paid search campaigns must remain under the tight control of the retailer (great topic for another article).
  8. Competing product. If there are searches for a product a competitor has but you don’t, don’t ignore it. Redirect this search to a landing page showing your product, explaining why it’s better, provide an offer, and strong call to action.  
    If you don’t have a comparable product but the site search results are strong, source a product.  If you have a defined lifetime customer value, justify this effort as part of your acquisition strategy.

The use of site search is steadily growing thanks to Google (and other search engines). The expectation has now been set, creating pressure on retailers to deliver relevant results for site search queries.  

Exits after viewing site search results is a metric which shows how poorly the site search function is performing. Make it a focus with your team to reduce the exits and conversion rate will steadily grow.

Greg Randall

Published 8 April, 2013 by Greg Randall

Greg Randall is a senior digital consultant with Comma Consulting and a contributor to Econsultancy. You can connect with Greg on LinkedIn and Twitter

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