17 Tips for Personalizing Site Search

Here’s a fact every eCommerce marketer should know: There is no higher indicator of buying intent than a product search. A customer who uses site search isn’t just casually browsing. A customer who is searching is looking to buy.

When it comes to the potential digital retail uses of site search, that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Ironically, site search is also one of the most overlooked elements of the eCommerce marketer’s toolkit. Paired with powerful new techniques, such as 1 to 1 Personalization, site search can completely reshape how you connect with shoppers.

Here are our 17 must-know site search tips for eCommerce marketers.

  1. Site search is the first step towards Personalization: When a customer enters a search, they are giving you extremely specific, detailed information about their individual interests. This isn’t data coming from a generic segment of average users. This is raw, first-party data from a specific shopper. By responding effectively to this data, you can create a 1 to 1 connection with your shoppers.
  1. Search results tell you a lot about each shopper: From the moment they first visit your site, shoppers are constantly dropping clues about what they would like to buy. By paying attention to what your shoppers search for, what items they select from those searches, and what items they ultimately purchase, you can understand their individual preferences. This is extremely powerful stuff, particularly when tracked over multiple visits.
  1. The more visually compelling the search, the more engaging the experience: When site search is dull and lifeless, it’s hard for a shopper to feel engaged. The best site search options can show visually compelling, relevant results as the shopper is typing, and can anticipate the products they are most likely looking for.
  1. Know your shopper: By understanding search data, you can begin making extremely precise predictions about what products each shopper is most likely to be interested in. For instance, if a visitor searches for “jeans” and then exclusively clicks on high-end women’s jeans, you can infer both their gender and the price point they have in mind. By making the most of this information, you can deliver highly relevant results.
  1. Make mobile search count across devices: Don’t fall into the trap of having great desktop search, only to neglect search on the mobile experience. Mobile search is even more important to get right, as smaller screens make prioritizing the most relevant results non-negotiable. A good 1 to 1 Personalization solution should help you deliver consistently individualized search results to each of your shoppers as they jump from desktop to tablet and smartphone.
  1. Reduce irrelevant product suggestions: While it’s a no-brainer to prioritize search around the items your shoppers are looking for, it’s equally important to reduce results for irrelevant products. Even on larger screens, real estate is important, and your site search should be constantly optimizing its results to make the most of it.
  1. Go beyond the “dictionary” lookup: When a customer enters a search term, they shouldn’t be greeted with a dull list of results based only on text matching. By showing shoppers visually compelling, real-time suggestions as they type, which also account for synonyms, you’ve turned search into a hyper-targeted marketing opportunity.
  1. Take one step closer to the brick-and-mortar experience: In real-world retail, the more a sales associate learns about what a customer wants, the more easily they can direct that customer to the right products. Personalized site search should work the same same way, subtly steering shoppers towards the right products, and taking as much pain as possible out of the search process.
  1. Go sitewide, or go home: As you learn more about your shoppers’ preferences through their use of site search, consider other ways you can leverage that highly valuable first-party data. It can inform product recommendations, personalized email campaigns, and more.
  1. Be in control of your business objectives: A successful site is able to tweak search results according to business priorities such as promoting older inventory, seasonal items or specific promotions. While providing a good experience for your shoppers is crucial, you should also be able to make adjustments according to your specific goals.
  1. Measure everything, then improve it: To get the most out of personalized site search, you will need to start measuring results. The best way to do this is with a personalization-ready dashboard. This dashboard should be able to drill down to the site search results for individual customers, while also having the ability to zoom out to see a variety of site-wide search trends.
  1. Pay attention to Average Order Value: One of the most telling indicators of effective site search personalization is growth in AOV. Growing AOV numbers suggest that your shoppers are seeing more of the items they want, and buying more of those items at checkout.
  1. Track Search Conversion Rate: How often does a shopper’s search end up as a purchasing event? By tracking this metric, you have a new window into the effectiveness of your personalized site search tools. When site search is optimized, this conversion rate should increase by around 15-25%.
  1. Track Search Utility: This measurement reflects the percentage of overall site visitors who use site search to find products. A low search usage number is a strong indicator that the site is failing to deliver relevant results, and that your site search personalization isn’t optimized. Ideal search usage should be 15%-30%.
  1. Track Revenue Per Search: What is the average dollar value of each product search taking place on your site? By dividing the total revenue of a session ending in a purchase event by the number of searches the customer initiated, you can gain new insight into the effectiveness of your personalized search recommendations. It’s common to see 3X revenue growth per search entry after personalized site is implemented.
  1. Secondary benefits of site search: When your eCommerce site has fully optimized site search, you’ll see indirect improvement across a range of traditional metrics, such as increased time on site, more clicks and fewer bounces.
  1. It’s all about the customer experience: Site search personalization isn’t just about increasing conversions or other metrics. It’s also about reducing shopper frustration. If your site search tools can only deliver generic, dictionary-like results, your shoppers will spend much of their time sorting through irrelevant results rather than browsing relevant products. Personalization reduces this “interface fatigue,” making online shopping far more intuitive and enjoyable. An engaged customer spends more money, and returns more often.

Armed with these tips, you’ll now be able to approach site search personalization as a powerful tool for both growing revenue and enhancing the shopping experience. Happier shoppers, more engagement and boosted revenue? What more could you ask for?

Stafford McKay

Stafford is the former Director of Content at Reflektion. He’s passionate about eCommerce Marketing, Technology, and Lake Michigan. When he’s not writing content, he can be found out on the water in the 1938 Chris Craft he shares with his family.