Effective site search functionality on a company’s website is an increasingly important component of a successful digital strategy.

Companies are typically increasing their investment in site search because they recognise the range of benefits that effective technology can bring to their businesses. 

Terms that consumers type into a company’s site search box can give a company huge insight into the users’ behaviour and give the company invaluable data to be learned from.

Used successfully, this information can increase conversions and improve customer retention. 

During a recent Econsultancy roundtable with site search experts, interesting advice was given with regards to improving the site search experience for users and increase conversions.

This advice compliments trends found by Econsultancy through company research to provide a diverse range of key takeaways.   

People who use search are more likely to purchase

People who use site search are more likely to purchase compared to those who use standard navigation, as they are shopping with intent.

They are often in late-stage buying mode as information gathering is completed, and they want to view product content to satisfy other buying motivators such as price, availability and delivery charges.

These consumers have found the website and are attempting to find something specific. The search box 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.

Conversion rates through site search can be up to 50% higher than the average. According to a recent Econsultancy blog on site search, search performs very well when put into place on a site.

Visitors converted at 4.63% versus the websites' average of 2.77%, which is 1.8 times more effective. Consequently, visitors using search contributed 13.8% of the revenues.

Industry tip:

Site search needs to be data driven. It can only work if the site has been tested time and time again.  Every little change to the site needs to be tested before implementation to ensure conversions.

User-friendly site search experiences lead to a higher conversion rate

Site search is a key interaction point for customers, and can make or break a shopping experience for them. Customers who can’t find the information they’re looking for leave the site unsatisfied.

Site search can provide data and content services, customer analytics data and merchandising functionalities such as promotions.

When used by shoppers intent on finding the right product, search punches above its weight in terms of sales and conversions. Typcially, up to 30% of visitors will use the site search box, and each of these users is showing a possible intent to purchase by entering product names or codes. 

By offering a user-friendly site search experience, businesses can help customers find items they’re looking for in a more streamlined way. This places visitors in control of their own shopping experience which helps increase customer loyalty and makes then more likely to convert and return to the site for more purchases.

Industry tip:

If you know what speed connection the user is on, you can tailor the homepage accordingly. Make the experience a friendly one by omitting videos and images that may take too long to load. Have the search box centrally located, especially on mobile. It’s all about encouraging them to make that sale.

Displaying search suggestions on the search results page can give visitors more ideas for what to search for. These suggestions can encourage visitors to view more products.

A post written earlier in the year on site search choice states that about 25% of site visitors will click on a search suggestion

Grid views are useful for product searches that generate many results. By allowing visitors to choose which format they prefer, they will enjoy having the flexibility in how results are displayed.

An easy journey for a customer can ensure:

  • Improved customer retention and loyalty, which comes as customers know they can find products more easily.
  • Improved branding, as improving user experience means more customer satisfaction, and a better customer journey compared to competitor websites.
  • Increased site usage, as a better user experience means that customers are more likely to spend more time on the site, and can boost the number of registrations and return visits.

Autocomplete can boost a company’s conversion rates

Some retailers use an auto-complete tool which begins to offer suggestions when users have entered a few characters into the search box.

This has a number of advantages: it speeds up the search process for users, it helps them to avoid misspellings, and it also ensures that customers’ searches will return a product result. 

Autosuggest provides a real boost to search conversion rates. Repeat users begin to rely on site search autosuggest and autocorrect to know the correct spelling of words for them. When it is well implemented, auto-complete can save customers a lot of effort, in addition to speeding up the search process.

In this example from Waterstones, shoppers who can’t remember the spelling of a famous Russian author’s name only need to get the first four or five letters right. 


Industry tip:

We find that 5-6% of our site search users convert through site search. We know that if they have a bad experience with our site, they’ll go straight to our competitors so we offer them the best experience possible. We actually found that by attaching predictive text and thumbnail images to the search, we can convert two to three times more.

Effective site search means better usability, so customers can find things more quickly. This can translate into higher sales, as customers who find what they are looking for easily are more likely to make a purchase, while site search also offers opportunities for merchandising.

Higher conversion rates can also be attributed to autocomplete. More intuitive search and navigation means higher conversion rates. According to a Screen Pages study, use of the search box results in an average conversion rate of 2.4%, against a site average of 1.7%. 

Zero results page can be a valuable source of information for retailers

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, 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.

Industry tip:

Use the zero results page to discover new trends and then stock what is needed. Before onsies became popular, we noticed a few people searching for them on our site. We used social media to (firstly) discover what they were, and then added them to our stock. We ended up making over £65,000 just from watching our keyword search results.

Conversely, another definition of a poor result is returning hundreds or even thousands of results. This can also have a detrimental effect on the site especially if they have poor filtered navigation options to assist the user with filtering the results.

A specific example of how site search data can help improve both the site search tool and merchandising involves synonyms. Site search data provides insight into the synonyms that matter for your business.

For example, a clothes retailer may see searches for ‘jumper’, ‘pullover’, ‘sweater’ etc. which may not all yield any or the right set of results. Any decent site search tool will cater for synonyms, such as with synonym lists. By mining older search data to understand the specific terms the audience are using to find products, adjustments can be made to drive better results.

On average just 50% of site searches were successful and 40% of responding companies were not even aware of the success rates, as learned by Econsultancy and Funnelback in a Site Search Report. 

  • 7% of companies are sure they are efficiently learning from site search and distributing these insights across the business. Just under half (46%) are “partially” doing this, but 47% are not learning from site search at all.
  • Agency respondents had a slightly different take on this, with 31% saying their clients are not using site search data, but just 8% say their clients are doing this well.
Ornaith Killen

Published 18 November, 2013 by Ornaith Killen

Ornaith Killen is part of the Econsultancy research team.  Follow on Twitter @ornaithk.

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Comments (6)

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David Somerville

David Somerville, Strategy Director at Fresh Egg

Well done on extolling the virtues of a really useful function that many people overlook.

I recently talked at a conference about how site search can be best used to feed into a content strategy.

By looking at the data behind it, you can easily see what your most popular pages are and then create more content and pages around these searches. Plus you can check that these top pages are optimised correctly, serving the intent needs of your users and ensuring conversion rates increase.

almost 5 years ago

Stefan Tornquist

Stefan Tornquist, Vice President, Research (US) at EconsultancyStaff

Depending on design, I would guess that some mobile sites have significantly higher site search rates than their desktop versions. But haven't seen any research on it. Somebody should do that. Oh, right.

almost 5 years ago


Deri Jones, CEO at SciVisum Ltd

I see alot of site search, through the 24/7 monitoring of shopping User Journeys we do.

Search on the site is often driven by different technology behind the scenes: there are clever search servers you can buy, or use 3rd party services on your own site.

That extra technology can sometimes cause problems.

Here are some things to avoid (I've seen all on real sites)

* 3rd party search can fail unexpected - e.g. if you have a licence on the search system that limits the number of searches until you pay extra - watch out that your marketing campaign generates enough traffic to exceed that limit, so that your site search fails right at the peak of the campaign activity.

* watch our for clever fuzzy matching: the aim is work out what the user really wanted despite their typos, or using synonyms: but too much fuzzy matching can slow your search results down, and worse, confuse the user anyway with matches that are sometimes too far away.

The worst search failure I've seen, is where adding an @ character at the end of a search would kill the whole search function for all users!

That was a search function built in house, and they'd try to make it intelligent and fuzzy match etc in their own code.

almost 5 years ago


Simon Driscoll

Excellent article. I've been banging this drum for ages. Site search data is golden. In an age when Google is hiding the keywords users find our sites with more often than not - this data is key for SEO/SEM.

If you can classify your searches into groups (navigational, product, help) and get the user the best results for this type of search, you will wow the user.

Imagine coming to a site, typing in "returns policy" and getting redirected to a returns policy page. Imaging using the same search box to type in the name of a product and getting a results page with facets pertinent to that product.

The possibilities are endless.

almost 5 years ago

James Gurd

James Gurd, Owner at Digital JugglerSmall Business Multi-user

Hi Ornaith,

Thanks for sharing.

One thing i'd query with the conversion rate comparison from the pervious article "visitors converted at 4.63% versus the websites' average of 2.77% - that's 1.8 times more effective" is that you're not comparing apples with apples.

Site search visits are non-bounce visits. Site average conversion rate includes bounce visits. So to get a more accurate comparison, you need to exclude bounce visits from the site average calculation.

You'll find that site search still out-performs but not by such a high margin.

That may seem pedantic but it's really important to ensure you're not getting a false reading on the data.

I think the zero results data is often under utilised. I've worked with a retailer recently where we've identified product brand terms giving no results where there is related product that can be shown to avoid giving a dead-end to customers, or store ranges to promote to encourage more store traffic. These are ideal testing opportunities that currently lead to a high exit rate and zero revenue.


over 4 years ago


Sara Leonard, Freelancer at Freelancer

Great post. Site search has become equally important for any website. Experts and bloggers have been emphasizing a lot on implementing the internal search. A good onsite reduces bounce rate and increases conversion. Read the article about the blogs describing criticality of site search and what is being said by industry experts:

about 2 years ago

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