Your search box is a great discovery tool. Of course it helps your site visitors discover the products and information they seek, but it helps you learn about your customers too. By understanding your customers’ intent – in their own words – you are better able to merchandise your site (and search results pages) with compelling offers and messages – in a visually optimized way – that will help improve a customer’s likelihood of making a purchase.
Your site search reports are a great source of behavioral data that can help you anticipate changing market conditions (e.g. new product introductions, trends, seasons and shifting customer demographics) and quickly align your merchandising practices accordingly. With proper merchandising controls, you can quickly and easily test and refine product assortments, promotional messages and the placement and presentation of non-product content on both search and navigation pages.
Below are 5 tips for how you can use your site search reporting data to better understand your customers and their desires, and utilize effective merchandising practices in conjunction with your site search to create more relevant and engaging online experiences. The result can be a significant boost to online conversion rates, increased average order sizes and more for your bottom line.
1. Use Eye-Catching Merchandising Banners to Enhance and Reinforce Key Messages
Similar to the use of well-designed in-store signs and banners, a merchandising banner on your website showcases your brand and draws attention to promotions and special offers (e.g. free shipping, clearance sales, etc.). By looking at your visitors’ own search terms you can trigger the display of merchandising banners with relevant messages or calls to action that match the keywords they’re using.
Motorcycle Superstore does a great job of using merchandising banners to promote discounts on top brands or styles during their end-of-summer sales.
Banners should be both informative and eye-catching so you don’t want to have an over-abundance of text. Content should be short and catchy, and you should be sure to you use images and brand logos as appropriate.
For example, if a customer searches for a particular brand, a search page with only products from that brand will load along with the appropriate banner at the top.
2. Use Ribbon Overlays to Call Out Specific Products and Drive Impulse Buying
Ribbon overlays are “digital stickers” that merchandisers dynamically apply to individual search results to visually display a special quality about the product – e.g. best-seller, out of stock, free shipping, top-rated, limited stock availability, newly-added products or videos, for instance. Motorcycle Superstore also uses ribbon overlays to call out attention to sales items and products with an accompanying video, as shown in the accompanying image.
While ribbon overlays are useful, be sure not to overuse them. When too many thumbnails in your search results feature a “Best Seller” or “Top Rated” overlay ribbon, it can lose impact. If you do choose to show more overlays, keep visitors’ attention by displaying different promoted features. . Whatever approach you take, always be sure to do testing to see if the impact meets your objectives.
3. Tune Results to Promote Certain Products
While showing relevant search results is important, there may be times when you want to promote certain products and move those items to the top. There are several reasons for “tuning” results and pushing certain products to the top of the page – they may be seasonal or new products, high margin or high inventory products. Similarly, there may be items you want to move to the bottom of the results or even hide for a particular search string, such as products that have low margins or poor customer reviews.
4. Offer More Products to Your Visitors Coming from Organic Search Results Pages
Often your customers will enter your site through a product link from a Google search, rather than direct to your home page. When visitors land on a single product page you run the risk of showing them an item that’s not the most relevant to their search, and you miss out on letting them know there are other products they might be more interested in. You can solve this problem by presenting a merchandising banner on these landing pages that shows products relevant to the original search term they entered in Google. In this way they are shown your top products for their search term along with the product they selected on Google. When used appropriately, like for long-tail and product-specific search terms, these merchandised landing pages can keep customers engaged and drive more page views and conversions.
5. Use Social Cues to Make Finding a Community Effort
Social networking sites are increasingly popular in e-commerce because people tend to respond well to social validation from their friends. Merchandisers can leverage this trend by showcasing social approvals, ratings, reviews and recommendations in search results. These social buttons also encourage social sharing and provide a more engaging experience with a human element that is sometimes missing from online retail.
Drawing on other customers’ collective Likes, Pins, G+, Top 10s or Favorite Deals, as shown on the FTD.com site, can compel shoppers on the fence to hit the ‘buy’ button. Additionally, showing the likes, favorites and recommendations of other influencers (e.g. top editors, celebrity curators, popular or emerging stylists, etc.) within search results is another merchandising practice that taps popular opinion to build community and grow sales.
With the holiday shopping season just around the corner, now is the perfect time to add new merchandising tactics into use on your site, and start testing to see how they help increase purchase activity. And given the special offers you’ll likely soon be promoting, merchandising banners are a great way to highlight those deals. But holidays or not, merchandising your site search offers the chance to serve your customers with a great user experience and the timely information and relevance they seek, which can make your site a more attractive option to them than shopping from your competitors.
Geoff Brash is co-founder of SLI Systems.