More Ways to Manage the Complexity of Site Search

Oct 03, 2012 11:45 PM  By

In our previous article on understanding the complexities of managing site search and navigation, we explained how to optimize search across different mobile devices, monitor keyword search terms, and conduct A/B testing.

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We’ll continue here with advice about merchandising, creating a consistent user experience, and making the most of reporting and analytics.

Merchandising
When you make changes to search results to promote specific products, or when you create banners that appear when customers search certain keywords, the success of these efforts lies in site search data. In other words, you need to know if, to your customers, the search term “tablet” means a notebook that you write on, or a mobile computing device.

Monitoring search performance on a regular basis will tell you if your products still map to the search terms your visitors are using. Your site search data will also tell you if you need to index synonyms for commonly searched-for products.

The same goes for the development of SEO-related landing pages and banners. If you create landing pages and banners that are designed for visitors who come to your site via search engines, you want to make sure that they are seeing products and information that are highly relevant to their searches – if not, they’ll forgo browsing the rest of your site.

When visitors arrive on one of your search results pages, include a keyword-driven banner at the top of the results page to highlight the product or similar products, as well as any special promotions like sales or shipping discounts.

Ideally, you need the ability to manually fine-tune search results to make the most of your merchandising efforts. For instance, you may want to promote certain products higher in search results. However, keep in mind that this kind of manual tuning can be a big job, especially if your website has many pages.

Keeping search and navigation consistent
As your business grows and your websites become more complex – especially when you add in mobile and tablet versions of your site – it becomes painfully easy to create inconsistencies in the way people search and navigate through your online storefront.

For example, you may end up with refinement options that vary wildly among different sections of your site, or the searching and navigation experience may be different depending on which device a customer is using to access your site.

Such inconsistencies can be confusing to your customer and bad for your brand. A consistent look and feel across search and navigation and across channels, helps reinforce the brand messages and the experience you’re trying to create for your customers.

As you monitor your site for consistent search and navigation experiences, keep in mind that refinements, sort, view, and pagination options should be the same on search pages as on navigation pages – this way, your visitors recognize the same user interface across all pages and their experience is seamless.

Surprisingly, many websites don’t treat search and navigation pages the same. Yet search and navigation are both used to help your visitors find the content and items they want on your site, and there is a good chance they’ll use both and flip back and forth between one and the other.

Using reporting data
Ongoing and accurate reporting on site search performance tells you if your finely-honed search features are being used, or if visitors are leaving the site because they don’t receive the answers they want from search.

For instance, reports can tell you that one of your most popular search terms actually has a poor clickthrough rate – which means the search term being used does not necessarily match the products people are looking for. Advanced reporting can also highlight revenue tied to search terms, so you can make appropriate decisions about which terms to do more merchandising on.

Additionally, you can discover whether or not you have too many refinements, and which refinements perform the best (for those that don’t perform well you may want to consider removing them).

Site search is no longer a feature that you can switch on and forget about – online retailers should be vigilant about monitoring how people experience search and navigation on their site. Whether you handle these tasks in-house or decide to outsource them to a site search specialist, consistent management of site search will help you create a better website experience, happier customers, and higher conversion rates.

The task of managing and monitoring site search and its related functions is too important to let it languish on the company “to do” list. Make sure you carve out a place for site search management so that performance, and revenues, don’t slip.

Terry Costais vice president of marketing at SLI Systems.