Site Search Refinements Can Improve Usability

Oct 05, 2010 8:34 PM  By

Refinements can be one of the most important aspects of your site search. But many retailers don’t do a good job of using them properly to help shoppers more quickly find the items they seek.

To add the proper refinements to site search – which will vary by product, product type and keyword – you need to understand how customers navigate your site.

The first step is to look at how content in your site search is structured. It might be product pages, blog posts, video, and help-desk information – each of which will have its own unique structure, such as price, category, brand, color, size, in-stock items, and so on.

In some cases, structure can be inherited from other data. Product listings might include customer reviews, which in turn may have ratings and user-generated tags.

For instance, blogs have a structure that includes author name, date published, tags, and comments. These structures will give you a list of potential refinements to include in your site search.

Another way to determine refinements is to examine popular keywords in your site search reports to see if people are searching with refinement-related terms, such as color or gender (like “men’s blue parka”). In such cases, it’s helpful to add these terms as refinements within that product group.

Another good source is the SEO traffic reports from your analytics package, which will provide you with a high-level overview of what people are requesting from the major search engines.

You don’t need to add every possible refinement to your site search to be effective. Too many options may just confuse shoppers.

One approach is to enlist feedback from your customers about how they would like to search and refine on your storefront. You can do this through a short survey or simple question on the search results page. With this information, you might decide that some refinements should be displayed only as a subcategory within a larger category (e.g. “iron” within a broader “skillets” category).

In some cases, you may not have the data within your site search solution to provide the refinements your customers are asking for. For example, customers of an online textiles store may want to refine their search results by project or by room in their home.

To add this refinement, you need to add a “room” and “project” field to your product database. This can be a time-intensive process, so make sure such a refinement adds value to the shopping experience.

Once you’ve decided which refinements to use, you need to make them visible to shoppers in the most efficient and easy-to-use manner.

Shaun Ryan is CEO of site search vendor SLI Systems.