By Shaun Ryan, CEO, SLI Systems
A satisfying site search experience that delivers relevant results and additional features can generate more than a good feeling for your site visitors — it can produce higher conversions and sales. In fact, research shows that visitors who use the search box are two to three times more likely to convert than those who don’t. But, these conversion increases are no guarantee if your site search doesn’t meet your customers’ expectations.
Retailers obviously understand the importance of a robust site search, as a 2009 report by Forrester Research for Shop.org found that retailers rank “improving site search results pages” as the third most important area of focus in 2010. More specifically, the Forrester report says 71% of retailers surveyed will make site search/browse results a priority in the months ahead — a good sign that retailers are giving site search the attention it deserves.
To ensure your site search delivers on the promise of happier customers who will return to your site to make a purchase again and again, there are steps you can take to maximize the potential of this important feature. Below are seven of them, taken from our recent “Big Book of Site Search Tips” (available for free download here). These tips can help you quickly improve your visitors’ search experience, and capture better bottom-line results.
- Rely on user behavior to improve the relevance of search results.
By examining search data, you can learn that visitors who enter a given search term are likely to click on a specific product. Your site search can place this product at the top of search results, making the results more relevant and therefore making it easier for all visitors to find the results they seek.
- Have a search box on every page of your site, most importantly the home page.
Placing a search box on every page of your site will make it easier for visitors to find the search box and use it — wherever they are, without having to click back to find it on the home page. Ideally the search box is in the same location across all of your pages, so people know where it is when they need it.
- Consider adding Auto Complete to your search box.
This feature suggests possible terms when visitors start typing the first letters of a keyword. This is especially useful for hard-to-spell searches. Auto Complete also helps site visitors save time by requiring fewer keystrokes. In addition, spelling errors occur less frequently and spelling suggestions are required less often on sites with this technology.
- Have clear and specific product and content titles in the search results.
Titles should be accurate and descriptive about the content your visitors will see when they click on the results. If titles are not accurate, your visitors may not click on a result that is otherwise relevant, or they may click on it only to find that it didn’t contain what they were looking for. If this happens too often, they’re likely to abandon the search, as well as your site.
- Incorporate images into search results.
A picture is worth a thousand words. Showing images in results helps visitors find what they’re looking for faster and with fewer clicks, improving the overall site experience. Images are especially useful if your products are available in several variations, such as different colors or configurations. Images can even be helpful as a visual clue of the content type, such as an article, video, PDF, etc.
- Offer “add to cart/buy now” options directly from the site search results page.
Smart e-commerce companies create as few steps as possible from search to checkout. When you allow visitors to add products to shopping carts or to go to checkout directly from search results, they’re more likely to complete the purchase — particularly if they know exactly what they want and they see it in the results at a price they’re comfortable with.
- Show ratings and reviews in search results.
Site visitors place high value on the opinions and feedback of other people who’ve shopped for similar products or services, and showing the average rating in search results helps them better determine what they want to click on. You should allow visitors to further refine or reorder their search results based on ratings. You should also show, in the search results, the number of reviews that a product has.
If you implement these or any other changes to your site search, be sure to test, test, test. You can make practical guesses or follow best practices for what to do on your site, but unless you test the outcomes, you really have no idea if something works better one way or another. Ultimately, your site search should give your customers AND your business better results all around.
Shaun Ryan is CEO of SLI Systems, a provider of hosted search solutions that learn from the people who use them to continually improve relevance of results. Shaun can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or you can follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/shaunryan.