A great site search works as a diligent sales assistant. It can answer any of your customers’ questions, provide suggestions, and even convince them to buy more than they initially planned.
Nevertheless, the on-site search is often overlooked and under-utilized as a proven eConsultancy report. It states that only 15% of e-merchants dedicate resources to optimizing their site search, while 42% completely ignore it. The report mentions that optimized search functionality increases site usage, delivers a better user experience, and improves customer retention and loyalty—all these lead to a boost in conversion rate.
So, how can you not fall victim to seductive features, implementing only those that will drive your sales? Here is a list of things your e-commerce site search needs to shine.
1) A prominent search bar
As your loyal customers will most likely use the search box, they’d better see it as soon as they land on your website. Make sure the search bar is a central focus on the homepage and re-appears on all other pages. For instance, Rug Savings put it in a prominent position on its website and stays there on every page.
Another good practice is to place text in the search box to encourage customers to search. It might be simple phrases like “Search for products”, “What are you looking for?” or specific suggestions based on the most popular queries on your website.
2) It autocompletes
According to the Baymard Institute report, 82% of the e-commerce sites provide autocomplete suggestions to their users as they begin typing a search query. The autocomplete feature became a sort of web convention for e-commerce websites, but it can offer more than just finishing the text and reducing the chances of user’s entering typos or misspellings. Retailers can use autocomplete for merchandising and pushing particular products.
An advanced autocomplete offers product suggestions with pictures, and they also list the most relevant and popular products first. A considerable amount of traffic will shift to these product pages and you’ll notice an increase in conversions. See how it works on Stage 3 Motorsports:
On the flip side, don’t forget to limit suggestions so it would be manageable for the user. If you’re suggesting dozens of products, then you’re not helping your customers with a decision; on the contrary, you’re confusing them.
3) It has abundant filtering options
Depending on the intent, customers search differently. Some go straight to the search bar and type what they want to buy, others use filters to apply necessary attributes and browse a little. Therefore, it’s necessary to provide enough options for customers to narrow down larger sets of results. Let users find the way they want to search.
Depending on attribute type or data available, filter panels can be arranged in form of:
1. Checkboxes (multi-value selection)
If a user can select multiple options for a selected parameter, then checkbox list displays.
2. Color swatches
Colors are better to be given in visual form instead of names.
3. Stars (average rating)
Customer reviews are depicted in the form of stars.
4. Price (ranges + manual input)
A user can choose from a price range or enter the specific price range they are looking for.
5. Slider (dimensions)
A slider is used when the user has to select a value from within a range.
6. Hierarchy Tree (categories)
This filter consists of an expandable tree view, where the categories within the different levels of the hierarchy are represented by checkboxes.
4) It speaks your customers’ language
Words that your customer’s use to search for products in the store are hard to predict. You sell “gloves” and they look for “mittens”, you have “jumpers” in stock and user wants a “sweater”. On the surface, there is no problem because it just many names of the same things, but only if the search is smart enough to understand it.
A good site search handles:
• Common errors;
• Long-tail semantic searches;
• Contextual differences.
There is a low probability that users will type the same words you used as the site’s jargon. If a shopper uses a synonym or makes a typo and your site search returns no results, the user will assume your store doesn’t have what he or she is looking for. Make sure your search finds items whether or not a shopper types in a product the same way you described it.
For example, WeGotLites’s search finds champagne-colored chandeliers even when the user misspells both words.
Some professionals think that natural language processing (NLP) is the future of e-commerce search. NLP is the ability of a computer program to decipher the context of human speech as it is spoken and written. NLP helps to identify and separate an item (e.g. rug) from an attribute (e.g. blue). It helps search to tell the difference between “dress shirt” vs. “shirt dress”. But here's the thing: a single e-commerce store will never have enough data for a program to learn synonyms and contextual differences reliably.
5) It understands product descriptions well
A common issue for online stores is when there is plenty of information about the product in the description but it appears in an unstructured form, making it difficult to set up proper filters. When there are hundreds and thousands of items, mapping this data will require significant time and manual labor, and that’s when attribute extraction comes in handy.
Attribute Extraction is a method of identifying product attributes from the free-form product description and organizing them in the form of more structured data. It is used to extract the attributes (such as brand, color, flavor, and so on) of each product in a particular category and to standardize the attribute values by correcting short forms, misspellings, and other inconsistencies. The results of extraction have widespread implications for Product Search (search filters), Product Recommendation (matching same items from different sellers, providing ranking suggestions on other products customers may like), and Product Grouping (grouping items by variants such as size and color).
Tags, titles, and descriptions of products are the bread and butter of e-commerce site search. The absence of relevant attribute values in item metadata has a direct impact on the discoverability of the product and eventually negatively affects the sale of such products.
Paylessrugs website search was insufficient, and attribute extraction helped in advancing it. This is what the process looked like:
6) It’s optimized for mobile
Researchers predict that by 2021 m-commerce will represent the majority of e-commerce spending. You want to be among those who profit from it, right?
If you want to win your mobile shoppers, bear in mind that 70% of them prefer to use site search rather than site navigation. That makes mobile search usability important. Mobile users are less tolerant and are 74% more likely to exit a site because of a poor search experience than desktop users.
A mobile search must be visible, open, and easily accessible. Don’t try to squeeze all the information from the desktop view into a tiny screen. On mobile, a user’s view is limited to 1 or 2 products per screen. Rich autocomplete helps mobile shoppers quickly find what they want (remember, they’re impatient). And a quick shift from search to product page shortens the purchase cycle and increases conversion.
Look how Incredible Rugs and Decor gives the search a central position on the screen and encourages their customers to start their shopping journey by searching what they are looking for.
7) It provides recommendations
E-merchants can use data their customers’ previous behavior to show the most relevant results and give recommendations to upsell or cross-sell products. Also, you can shape search results according to the season or weather and display products that are more actual first.
One can say that you’re “pushing” products on unsuspecting consumers, but you are not. Recommendations are an essential feature that helps your customers and build a durable relationship with them.
Recommendations come handy when the product your store’s shoppers want is out-of-stock. FotoBella deals with this problem well. At first, there is a suggestion to join the waitlist, but if you scroll a little down, there is also a section with similar products.
8) It can suggest products instead of not-found ones
If the shopper types in a desirable product and gets no results at all, the user assumes nothing is exciting for him here in your store and go shopping somewhere else. It’s crucial that your search engine doesn’t show the “Nothing found” page. A great e-commerce site search should handle it a little more gracefully and suggest something else to the shopper.
Replace “Not found” or “404” with:
• “Did you mean” suggestions with relevant alternatives;
• Highlights of your popular categories or most bought products.
STANDOUT Promotional Products doesn’t have a product in stock that matches with “women red striped polo” query, but they handle this problem with suggestions of other similar products. Semi-relevant results are better than null-results.
9) It helps you learn more about your customers
E-commerce site search analytics is a goldmine of great insights that you can learn from. With the help of analytics, you can identify terms your customers use to search, optimize the content on your website, and track and measure numerous things such as:
• Queries that do not return a result
• CTRs on search results
• A conversion ratio of visitors who search
• Top search terms and corresponding conversion rates
• Percent of sessions that exit from search results pages
• Most searched products
For example, analytics can inform you on not only how many clicks and queries were made but also products that are most searched. Retailers can use this information for merchandising (show product of this color first) and purchasing management.
Analyzing popular queries and those with no results may be useful for product mix policy and other marketing purposes.
Bottom line: on-site search optimization is a part of your customer experience improvement
When you improve your e-commerce site search, you provide your clients with an enhanced shopping experience. When people enjoy using your online store, they become loyal. The more delighted and devoted customers you have, the more you sell. Whether you implement all of these features or use just a few, it’s important to have an accessible search solution and capitalize on opportunities it opens.