3 Ways to Managing the Complexity of Site Search

Aug 12, 2012 5:38 AM  By

Now that more consumers rely on the search box as a means of browsing your online storefront, site search has become an even more critical feature for online merchants. Particularly with the rise of mobile devices and tablets, customers expect to find their product quickly, and a short and swift path once they arrive at your site to get to the “add to cart” button.

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But install and forget is not the way to go any longer. You really can’t automate search, and complex, natural language-based algorithms will only get you so far, as search is a far more intricate function than simply matching keywords or semantics to products.

A great search solution requires constant maintenance, and fortunately, your search data is here to help. Site search data offers a rich resource for retailers seeking to understand not just their customers’ favorite products, but the language they use to find those products, their responses to promotional offers, and seasonal trends.

Keeping a close watch on the insights revealed through search behavior is an important job that should not be left entirely to an automated search solution, or to a couple of hours per week of someone’s job.

In fact, it might be too big a job for most ecommerce teams. You may want to consider outsourcing the management of your site search to a specialist or full-service provider who can mine your data for you, and work closely with you to maximize performance and recommend improvements over time.

Here are a few ideas of how to improve your site search based on site search data:

Keep up with the changing language of your customers
As seasons change and the latest “in” thing is replaced by something else, the items sought and search terms your visitors use will also change.

For example, in the spring people might search more for pastel colored items, whereas a few months later they’ll be more interested in summer styles or brighter, bold colors.

Be sure to keep an eye on what terms your visitors use and how these terms change over time, so you’re always including the right keywords and phrases in your search index.

Optimize your e-commerce site search for multiple devices
Tablets and smartphones are becoming your customers’ devices of choice when it comes to shopping. In fact, shoppers are doing a lot of their online browsing while they’re in your stores, checking out product reviews and looking for special promotions.

The challenge is that every smartphone and tablet – from iPhones and Androids to iPads and Kindle Fires – has different requirements for usability and navigation, and their features are constantly changing and being updated, so a one-size-fits-all approach to site search will not work.

You can use analytics to see how many of your shoppers are using mobile devices (and which ones they’re using), and look at behaviors such as the products they tend to search for, how often they convert, their bounce rates, how many site pages they view, what information they like to see (i.e. discounted price, availability, short description) in the search results pages, and what other behaviors are so you can deliver an experience more tailored to them.

Conduct A/B testing
Customer shopping habits can change over time – which means ongoing testing is the only way to uncover how and why your search and navigations are being adopted (or not) by site visitors.

When you don’t make a habit of testing search and navigation options, you’re allowing revenue to walk out the door: real-time testing will help you drop search enhancements that don’t lead to conversions. You can test everything from design changes to search algorithms, and analyze which options deliver the best results.

For example, you might test grid view vs. list view to see which one encourages your customers to click through on search results more often; or you might test smaller vs. larger thumbnail images in search results.

Terry Costa is vice president of marketing at SLI Systems.