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7 On-Site Ecommerce Search Must-Haves

Picture this: a customer lands on your ecommerce site. Maybe they got there from an awesome social media post, or perhaps that paid search ad might have (ahem) paid off. They land on your carefully-designed homepage. That homepage that you spent tens of thousands of dollars designing and many hours user-testing in order to provide the best experience you can (that will soon lead to dollars, you hope). One of the most-tested features of your homepage—and one of the most controversial—is where and how to display the search box. This new visitor looks around your homepage and slllloooooowly moves the mouse to your search box. They type in a group of words, hit enter, and…

What’s next? What happens next can be make-or-break for your business. Up to 30% of visitors will use your on-site search, and these visitors will convert at a significantly higher rate than non-searchers. Wouldn’t you love for them to convert at as high a rate as possible? Our customers have found that certain features are must-haves for their on-site searches:

1. Prominent Search Box

As mentioned above, people must be able to find and use your search box. If you haven’t already done so, experiment with the color scheme and location of your search box. Put the search box on every page, and make it easy for customers to edit their searches by keeping their text in the search box even after the search has already run.

2. Auto-Complete

Google spoils us with auto-complete; with it, we know what common searches are, and we get to be lazy and type less. You get two great benefits by providing auto-complete in your onsite search box: a Google-like experience, and the ability to subliminally shape searches.

According to Searchify, “Selecting a term rather than typing every character saves users unnecessary keystrokes, increases perceived ease-of-use, and makes users happy. It also reduces spelling errors that can adversely affect search result quality.” Happy users and better search results due to limiting spelling errors? Sign us up!

However, simply aggregating search terms and offering those as auto-complete options isn’t the best way to implement this. You’ll miss the opportunity to subliminally point visitors where you want them to go, and you’ll have messy results with consistently misspelled words (e.g., how many people spell “definitely” with an “a”?). Curating your auto-complete suggestions also allows you to point visitors to your featured brands and categories, increasing both the quality of the results you display and the probability that they will buy the products that you want them to.

3. Results

What’s the number one thing you must have in your on-site search? Okay; we gave it away with the section title, but you must have results to the queries that people type in. Providing auto-complete will help with this, since you can guide searchers to queries that you know have good results. There are other considerations when you think about search results, however:

  • Ensure that your top searches have great results by curating the results. In other words, look at your top searches (or do some research to determine the top searches in your industry or category) and make sure you have quality results. You don’t want to just surface accessories when someone searches for the iPhone 7, do you? You want to surface phones.
  • Picture this: a visitor has done a ton of research on a product. She comes to your site armed with the UPC or model number, ready to buy. You have the product in stock and on sale, so this is perfect—an almost guaranteed sale. She types the number in the search box, and… nothing. When you’re building your on-site search, don’t forget to make UPCs, MPNs, SKUs, and model numbers searchable.
  • Despite your best efforts with auto-complete, people will still mispel misspell words. People will also include word variants and extra words; English is a messy language. Supporting these edge cases will significantly increase the quality of your search results.
  • Figure out how to handle the “zero results” case. Even if the search query was the result of a cat walking on the keyboard, you should still return a useful results page. (Some of our customers have attacked this problem by increasing their catalog size with Indix data.) Include navigation and suggestions on your results page to limit the bounce rate.

4. Curated Results Display

If 30% of your visitors use the search box but you only merchandise the product detail and category pages, you’re missing out. Next on your list for search should be “searchandizing,” which is a portmanteau meaning “merchandising your search results pages.” We’ve been talking about searchandizing for years in the industry, but search results pages still need a lot of help. Put your best merchandising minds onto the challenge of how to best merchandise your search results pages.

5. Filters and Facets

Amazon has spoiled all of us. When we do searches, we expect to be able to filter our search results on category, brand, rating, shipping, and almost every available facet of a product, as you can see in the screen capture of the search for “children’s necklace” in the Girls’ Jewelry category below.

If you want to implement rich filtering to allow your visitors to easily find and buy the right products, you’ll need robust product information that contains well-defined facets. Otherwise, you might have a list of colors that contains “black,” “blk,” and “bk,” which would confuse your customers at best.

6. Breadcrumbs

In combination with filters, breadcrumbs can be a powerful addition to your on-site search. Just as in the story of Hansel and Gretel, breadcrumbs help your customers to retrace their trail as they “wander” through your filters and search results. As I filtered the “children’s necklace” search from above, I added “Necklaces & Pendants” and “February” birthstone as a filter. You can see them as breadcrumbs in this screenshot:

With Amazon, if you click on one of the breadcrumbs, you’ll retrace your path to that level and all the filters after the breadcrumb clicked will be cleared. Other sites implement breadcrumbs such that users can remove one by clicking on it. It’s up to you as to how you’d like to implement, but leaving a trail that your customers can follow will keep them from becoming frustrated if they implement a sub-optimal filter.

7. Mining Search Results

You’ve dedicated your resources to building, curating, searchandizing, and adding filters and breadcrumbs to your on-site search. You can sit back and relax, right?

Well, maybe you can, but your marketing team shouldn’t. If you’ve ever wanted to know what your customers think about when they come to your website, what they type into the search box will provide you with the most valuable clues possible. You’ll be able to see what categories and products are the most popular, which searches convert the best, the top zero results keywords, and more. Your marketing team should regularly review on-site search reports to take effective actions such as advertising on great-converting searches, running similar product email campaigns, or searchandizing popular search pages.

* * *

Remember that customer who landed on your site and used the search box? Maybe she found zero results and bounced. Maybe she typed in a part number that didn’t surface. Maybe she misspelled a word and ended up confused. Maybe she got too many results and didn’t know how to narrow them down. If she ended up with any of these, your great social media campaign or paid search advertisement that got her to the site looks like a waste of time and money.

Instead, maybe auto-correct pushed her in the right direction, she got results, and the results showed your featured brands. She used filters and breadcrumbs to find her way through the forest of search results, looked at a few products, and bought one. After that, your marketing team sent her an email containing accessories for her purchase, and she came back and bought those, too.

Which scenario would you rather see? Build your ecommerce search with these must-have features, and you’ll get better conversions and happier customers.



Also published on Medium.

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