Don’t optimize your browsing experience at the expense of search. I’m a huge proponent of site search. So many websites don’t do it well, but those who excel at search find it’s a goldmine.
Like the product detail page, search results pages are vital because of the ridiculous amount of page views this template receives. In Google Analytics, look at your site search performance reports and you will likely see that more than 55% of your visitors use your search feature. If you see less than 55%, you likely are not promoting your search box strong enough.
The other reason search results pages should be as well crafted as your homepage is because customers who use site search are more valuable than those who only browse. Visitors who search typically have higher average order values, longer time on site, more page views per visit, and most importantly, a stronger conversion rate.
You should expect to see a 10% or greater improvement in these metrics of customers who searched versus their non-searching counterparts. And customers who use your search refinements (like refine by product category, color, or brand) perform ever better.
So what should a good search results page look like?
The first task is getting customers to actually use your site search. You can’t enjoy the better performing metrics of search if those customers can’t find your search box. This means being noticeable with a big search box on every page, in the header.
Musician’s Friend does a good job of this, and so does eBags. Personal experience has proven to me that the search box is often added to the header as an afterthought, after every other link and graphic is in place. Instead, design the header around the search box.
Once you have a visually compelling search box layout that entices the customer to search, it’s time to optimize the search results pages. The most important visual aspect of search results pages is that these pages should be well merchandised. In particular, search results pages need to look as good as any other page type.
Search Result pages should blend in with your design, not look out of place or look like a separate website. The product merchandising should feel like it received just as much attention as the merchandising you do on your category pages.
The most important functional aspect of search results pages is ensuring that your ranking algorithm is killer. Frankly, it doesn’t matter if the page looks and feels great if the customer isn’t shown the most relevant products first. And unless you sell only 100 products, I’ve never seen a shopping cart’s out-of-the-box search tool work well.
Consider an upgrade to a dedicate search platform like SLI Systems’ Learning Search. In addition to a best-in-class algorithm, the customer should be able to sort results by anything, such as price, in stock, highest rated, or newest.
And display search suggestions/related searches and product recommendations within the results. This is an effective way to showcase additional product.
Ian MacDonald (Ian.Andrew.MacDonald@Gmail.com), a judge for the 2011 MCM Awards, is division vice president, ecommerce & marketing at US-Mattress.com (a division of Mattress USA). Ian is the former vice president and general manager of CenturyNovelty.com, and former director of ecommerce of The Pond Guy.