Last week at the Emirates Stadium in London, Econsultancy's Digital Cream event invited client-side Marketers to learn from their peers across a breadth of topics, from Customer Experience, Conversion Rate Optimisation to Social Media Monitoring.
I was pleased to moderate the Site Search & Merchandising roundtable, sponsored by SLI Systems. The roundtable was in the form of three in-depth peer-led discussions regarding the issues most faced by marketers regarding site search.
Attending the roundtables were a mix of companies, most importantly, not just those with a traditional e-commerce arm.
This meant that the conversation had to be abstracted to cover several different types of content; not just product, but Guides & Help, Technical Specifications and Entertainment & Video.
However, what these companies had in common was the concept of using content to aid conversion. Several attendees from content-driven & entertainment sites had complex attribution models to link conversion back to the content viewed.
Here's the seven topics most discussed during the roundtables.
1. A lack of search ownership
A key theme across all three roundtables was the lack of ownership of site search. Responsibility was often shared as a Conversion function between Content, Design & Development departments.
This meant that there was a great deal of co-ordination needed to improve results, particularly those who used in-house development for Search expressed frustration at the lack of customization available to them.
Attendees did subscribe to the average conversion rate increase from search of around 300%.
2. The Devil’s in the data
A majority of attendees expressed dismay at the availability of meta-data needed to drive search. In order to populate facets such and colour, size, pattern and so on, each “product” needed comprehensive meta-data.
Those who were able to put a high level of faceting and filtering at the users disposal reported back the most success in search.
For companies who manufacture the majority of their product base, meta-data describing the content set was easily available. However in other cases, such as fashion or homewares, internal or outsourced teams were dedicated to collecting this data.
This was not always practical, as we found in a couple of cases, due to a wide geographical spread of “products”. We discussed (in fact, more like had a “group whinge”!) how buying power and company size affected how eager suppliers were in sending over meta information.
3. Search results were being tuned and optimised
Across all sessions, search results were being extensively re-tuned to deliver what was thought to be results with a higher propensity to conversion. Few attendees however were linking back conversion information on a per-search term basis. Those who were, were doing so on a manual basis, only doing so on the top 10% of so of key words, missing long tail phrases.
Failed Search (searches that delivered no or poor results) information was being fed back to content creators and product buyers. In the fashion industries, this information was important to identify breaking trends.
4. Off-site and on-site search strategies were linked
Several attendees in each group talked about how off-site SEO and on-site SEO were related, with “product” information written in a way to attract visitors and clicks across channels. Interestingly in a couple of sessions, On-Site Search was reported on as if it was a completely separate channel.
One attendee put each member of their in-house content team through an extensive training program, with each staff member's first month’s output being peer-reviewed for quality assurance.
5. Intelligent Merchandising was common
Several attendees used logic-driven rules to personalize Content and Merchandising across their site. For some, this was part of their CMS system, and was tied into Multivariate Testing and Conversion Rate Optimisation, while others used third party systems.
There was consternation about how the new EU Cookie Law would limit the ability to do this.
Some concern was expressed around recent reports that Google intended on penalising sites that featured advertising heavily, and whether in-site merchandising would suffer from the same penalties.
6. Navigation rarely changed
Most attendees had used an IA technique such as Card Sorting & Reverse Card Sorts to initially construct their Site Navigation (see OptimalWorkshop.com for examples of these tools).
However, changes and further optimisation of Navigation was rarely performed. Clickmaps & Heatmap results shared in sessions led to a discussion about the current trend for removing left hand navigation on Site Homepages.
Many felt that this trend was counter-intuitive to exposing “product” range to website users.
Few attendees had introduced search facets & filters as links within their Navigation, which was seen as a way of encouraging users to explore further into the site.
7. Future developments
At the end of each roundtable, attendees were asked what they would most like to see from Site Search in the future. Responses included:
Dedicated search analystsRecruiting staff to specifically curate, optimise and develop search was seen to become more likely in future, as some sites being to use search as their primary method of navigation.
Search subscriptionsUsers being able to subscribe to search results, with new, relevant results being emailed to them was seen as an ideal way of exposing new products to an existing customer base in a targeted and relevant way.
Search results rating and feedbackFor non e-commerce websites, an innovative way of rating both search results and the content returned was suggested. This would allow site owners to have a KPI specifically regarding the effectiveness of search.
We then discussed how this could be extended to e-commerce sites to allow site visitors to feedback directly about their search experience, particular regarding new products.