A Smart Search for the Perfect Scare

It’s the height of the crazy season for Fright Catalog, a multichannel retailer of gross-out garb and creepy costumes. The Worcester, MA-based costume house bills itself as the “Halloween Superstore”, and a trip to their Web site—or a look at their catalog—is a nightmarish shopping spree for psychotics. There are the usual assortment of Hollywood heavies, of course: Jason, Michael Myers, Freddie Kreuger and Leatherface—but also a wide range of prosthetics, makeup sets and props guaranteed to appeal to the death set. Shoppers can buy a beating heart for $20; ghouls on a budget can spring $9 for a bloody eyeball. And the truly dead-icated trickster can spring $165 for a full-size human torso. (“Spray with a mist of water to make it look fresh.”)

All told, Fright Catalog sells some 3,000 scare-related items. The company has been on the Web since 2000, and until recently many of the functions for its Internet store were home-grown. But this year Fright Catalog opted for a complete revamping, so to speak, of its Web site. And one thing the company went looking for was an enhanced site search tool.

They found it from SLI Systems, a San Francisco-based provider of search systems for Web sites, search engine optimization and paid search campaigns. SLI offers a hosted site search function that can learn from past searches. (SLI stands for “Search, Learn, Improve”, as per CEO Shaun Ryan.)

“We index the site every night and pick up new data on products and prices,” Ryan says. “But we also watch what people are searching for and what they’re clicking on. Then we put the results that they’re clicking on most up at the top for a given keyword such as ‘scary clown mask’. So we’re using the intelligence of the people who are searching to improve the relevance of the searches that follow on the same keywords.”

In addition to enhancing the search results, SLI also offers search suggestions, which uses past intelligence to propose the most relevant alternative terms. “On a typical site, about 25% of visitors click on those to refine their search,” Ryan says.

“We knew it was important to find a robust site search function from outside, rather than spending the time and resources to build something new in-house,” says Kristina Malo, marketing director for Fright Catalog. She did some research and liked the fact that SLI’s site search was Web-hosted and wouldn’t require expensive integration into the Fright Catalog systems. She says she was also persuaded by SLI’s offer to let her company trial the hosted site search function for a month and see what it did for their business.

“We started seeing increases in site search leading to conversions almost right away,” she says, “and that’s what led us to continue with them.”

Another benefit is the back-end reporting that gives Malo a list of top search—and also of searches with poor results. “That lets us act on trends. If we see that people are searching for a particular item that we don’t have or don’t have enough of, we can make sure we meet those demands. I check the search reports on a daily basis to see if anyone’s searching for anything new. And if conversion results are poor, we can make tweaks to the display or the copy to try and turn that around.”

SLI receives data feeds directly from customers such as Fright Catalog. That enables the company to make sure that prices are current throughout the day and also to offer product availability information. When it delivers site search results, SLI’s platform makes sure to list the relevant items that are in stock above those on order, to help maximize conversions.

Fright Catalog has been so satisfied with the benefits from SLI’s hosted site search that they are also using its Site Champion Web optimization product to increase rankings in organic search results. “We had a pretty decent natural ranking before, but it’s brought us to the next level for more specific terms—and those are very highly qualified traffic,” Malo says. “For a lot of those specific terms, we’re getting the number one organic ranking.”

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