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If you are looking for ways to improve your business in 2011 without having to spend inordinate amounts of your budget you should review the fundamental areas of your online presence that can provide an exponential return.

Site search is a key way to improve online performance that is tangible and offers near immediate payback. After all, there’s no point driving visitors to your website to then offer them a poor user experience.

Here are five ideas to help you improve your site search...

Site search is an area where a slight tweak can lead to significant and immediate increases in your KPIs (key performance indicators). You probably already have many of the tools required to maximise your site search in which case you can achieve the following with a small investment of time.

Here are five ideas to help you improve your site search...

Spend some time defining your most useful site search reports

You can have these emailed to you on a regular basis so that you can identify and monitor trends and user patterns which will help the business.

Key reports to consider include poor results, facet activity, phrase reports, and the number of search users.

Normalise your data (colours, sizes, specs)

Refer to colours by their standard names. In other words, call blue – blue or consider the use of swatches.

You can still retain your brand's preferred naming convention but from a user perspective minimising the amount of guesswork and thinking (translation effort) means they can focus on the objective of their visit (think conversion!).

Other examples where data normalisation is useful includes technical specifications e.g. Blu-ray, BD-Rom, BD-R/BD-RE or HD, hdmi, 1080 or size data small, medium large, 6,8, 10 etc. 

Use high quality images

There’s no doubt that high quality and good sized images will increase the appeal of your site and the product you are selling.

Using icons to denote whether a product is on special offer or is perhaps a new addition to your range encourages interaction and engagement. So consider having a library of images that can be used for seasonal promotions and other specific offers such as 'sale' 'special offer' 'new', and so on. 

Review and update your copy

That doesn't mean cramming the descriptive text with SEO friendly terms. In fact that's exactly what you shouldn't be doing. Not only will it potentially 'confuse' your site search solution, it will also score a bad mark from the search engines if done without careful consideration.

Instead, use strong descriptive language that is accurate and supports the merits of the product as well as buying it from you. Use clear and relevant titles for the product and above all keep the descriptions concise enough to get the main points across in a sentence or two. 

Check, Clean and maintain you data

This is arguably the hardest task of the lot and encompasses some of the points above but should be one of the first things you do.

The ability to present or refine searches (and navigation) based on attribute data such as colour, type, brand, category, size, price is all driven from having a reliable and well maintained source of data (information architecture).

Additional imagery and associated content (video, social media etc) can all be used to promote your products and services as well.

Done once and done properly a structured and well organised set of data will provide additional benefits beyond site search such as creating feeds for partner organisations and expanding the capability of your site.

Osric Powell

Published 25 January, 2011 by Osric Powell

Osric Powell is in charge of Business Development at SLI Systems and a contributor to Econsultancy. 

3 more posts from this author

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James Robertson, Web Marketing Manager at www.venuebirmingham.com

How about being able to prioritise searches over where the algorithim places them? - for example: you and I might know that page x is t he best page for product x; but if the search engine returns page y then I am not going to stay on your site. Every webmaster should be able to look at their search results and over-ride them as necessary; unless you have a Google on your site there are going to be times when the automated algorithim does not return the best result for a search.

almost 6 years ago

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Georg Spielmann

Very nice article! I would like to add an important area which often needs improvement for site search which is the categorization of products. Often we see that shops use composed categories even on lowest level, i.e. "apple & pears" category. Since the categories are a very descriptive of a product and thus should be good for search, one should make sure that the lowest category level always points to a homogeneous group of products. Otherwise a search for apples will return all pears and vice versa.

almost 6 years ago

Nick Tsinonis

Nick Tsinonis, CEO at RecSys Ltd

You should try and personalize the searches for customers. Also allow members to discover new products based on what other products they search for. IntroAnalytics have created a "Software as a service" (SaaS) platform that allows any company to produce relevant and personalised recommendations for its customers. Their robust platform uses a combination of complex mathematics, adaptive machine learning and psychology to accurately match people and products to each other. Regards Nick www.introAnalytics.com

almost 6 years ago

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Andy Heaps, Operations Director at Epiphany

It's also worth looking at multiple searches per session - how many times are people having to search to find what they're looking for, and what can you learn from that. Is your algorithm not relevant enough? Do your searchers have different search habits on your site to what you thought? Recreate some of the common searches that people do on your site that often lead to them searching again, and look at the results for obvious issues in the results

almost 6 years ago

Osric Powell

Osric Powell, Business Development at Ecommerce Retail Solutions Advocacy

Good points all round. Yep, you should consider technology that priortises search results based on behaviour and other factors. Some solutions do this automatically or as suggested you can do this manually (resources and time permitting).

Categorisation falls into how you structure your information (IA) and is vital hence why you should check your data. Generally speaking, rubbish in equals rubbish out no matter what technology you use! 

Ultimately it's about providing the most relevant search results which is a combination of the technology, business rules/outcomes you might have in place and applying them effectively.

Then there is the area of Site Search that is commonly referred to as searchandising where you manipulate the search results in a variety of ways eg. weighting of results based on rules, landing pages, banners and so forth. Coupled with personalisation and other technology enhancements you can really begin to use Site Search to deliver an engaging experience to the visitor as well as crtical insights for your business.

almost 6 years ago

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Dan Barbata

Have to agree with all of your points, especially the two points on data. Our whole business is cleaning, normalizing and structuring data for e-retailers. It's amazing how much difference a one-time investment in product data can make. Companies are often competing against each other with the same poor data, so why not set yourself apart from the others by custom designing that data around your unique value proposition. Product data is the foundation of a good online shopping experience.

almost 6 years ago

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