Everything You Need To Know About Site Search

We sat down with Reflektion’s Customer Success Team to discuss everything we ever wanted to know about site search (but were too afraid to ask). The Q&A is an interesting look into this often overlooked aspect of a digital store.

1) eConsultancy says users of site search are more likely to convert than the average user. Why do you think that is?

Without a doubt people who use site search are more likely to convert than those who don’t. But it’s crucial to understand that there are two kinds of visitors to your site:

Buyers: Visitors who know exactly what they want
Shoppers: People visiting the site in order to discover

Buyers are going to be automatically drawn to search for pretty obvious reasons. They see it as a tool that will get them to that specific product they have in mind as quickly as possible. Buyers type in their keyword and voila, they have found the product and they checkout. When it comes to catering to buyers, search is a no brainer. It’s the ticket to an immediate conversion. You can miss out on those easy conversions though if you make your search bar hard to find, difficult to use, or non-existent (on mobile, for example. You’d be surprised how many retailers out there neglect to include search on mobile).

A less obvious and relatively new way of looking at search is as a way to guide shoppers. Old search was pretty useless to shoppers and depending on the site, people were more likely to click on category pages and try to click their way towards some unknown destination. But retailers are now seeing how more advanced search features are turning search into a merchandising solution that helps shoppers discover new products and content (more on that below).

2) What kinds of changes have you seen in the past couple years when it comes to how consumers are using site search and how have retailers been responding?

Site search has been evolving a great deal over the past few years. Early on, you went to a site’s search bar, you entered in your keyword and you hit enter (the keyword had to be pretty exact or else you’d end up without results). Then there was autocomplete, which could predict the phrase you might be typing and as a result, speed up the process. These improvements were nice, but not nearly as effective as some of the advancements we’ve seen in the past year or so.

A next evolution to site search is the recent addition of a visual, preview which actually shows consumers product imagery as they are typing. In a way, this turns the site search bar into a merchandising solution where the human eye previews products as if they were in an ever changing display case.

But what’s happening right now with individualized search is perhaps one of the most important advancements from both a user experience and a business ROI perspective.

Search results are prioritized around the individual who is doing the searching. It’s the application of what the shopper shares with us about their preferences through their past and current site behavior and it allows us to show that person the most relevant items first. So not only is search now much easier to use and visually attractive, it’s also insanely intuitive.

And finally, recent advancements in site search mean that retailers have a lot more control. They can now apply rules to modify results like promote featured products, exclude out of stock items, and more.

3) Why is site search important to mobile and how is that changing?

In many circumstances we’re starting from the ground floor with our new clients. Many people might be surprised to learn that a lot of retailers don’t even employ site search on smartphones. And many of those who do have poor or dated implementations. With upwards of 50% of traffic and over 25% of purchases coming from smartphones, this is a critical oversight.

The small screen real estate on a smartphone makes it incredibly hard to find things through the standard navigation that’s typically built into websites (even those that employ responsive design). Site search is critically important so you can speed people through to the products they are interested in. Individualizing those results makes it ten times easier than just providing generic results. With so much traffic and purchasing coming from mobile devices today, site search is a huge opportunity for retailers to make it easier for their shoppers.

Across many retailers and categories, we’ve found that there are a ton of little things you can do right away that will dramatically improve results on mobile site search. There’s a quick upside just by focusing on it. And then there are significantly more opportunities when you look at the potential for individualizing results.

4) Have retailers shared anything that’s surprised them about search?

The retailers we work with have been surprised about the data they collect and how they can immediately put that data to use. For example, tracking keywords in real time reveals trends that the retailer hadn’t previously been able to pick up on. And going back to mobile, when you consider that such a major amount of traffic is coming from smartphones, all of the sudden some pretty important things about that gigantic side of the business are revealed. It’s great to see our clients realize it and say “hey it turns out people are really looking for this kind of product. Maybe we should promote it in other places like on our homepage hero.” It’s pretty powerful.

5) What are some KPIs related to site search that retailers should look out for? What are some that people may not know about?

A very important thing to look at is the percentage of shopping sessions in which site search is used. If that number is low, you should think of ways to optimize (to make search more visible, etc). We call this Site Search Utilization.

Another one is Site Search Conversion Rate, which is pretty much what it sounds like. It’s the rate in which people who have used site search convert. Obviously there are site specific exceptions, but you can pretty much lay money on Site Search Conversion Rate being higher than your overall conversion rate.

Site Search Revenue per Visit is self explanatory and is the dollar amount per session attributed to people who utilized site search.

6) Some interesting findings came out of an RSR report on the state of Personalization within the IR100. What’s your reaction to these findings?

  • 70% of evaluated retailers don’t offer autocomplete
  • 93% don’t offer mobile search that can autocomplete
  • 75% of desktop experiences evaluated and 83% of mobile experiences did not remember past search history

The report validates our sense that retailers have a long way to go when it comes to site search. A number of clients come to us feeling behind the eightball. But in reality – as these numbers prove – they are ahead of their competition by even working on a solution. And the nice thing about site search is that it really doesn’t take a lot of time to start making improvements that result in real conversions.

7) How long should retailers expect it to take for them to implement site search?

Search is one of the easier things to implement. The first step for our team is to add our tags to the retailer’s site and acquire their product feed. Once we have our tags on the site and the feed, implementation is pretty fast and takes anywhere from five to ten business days.

8) What do retailers expect to see from their site search tool? What is on their wishlist?

First, people want to improve results. These include the metrics we just talked about, like conversion, site search utility, and revenue. Pretty obvious, but helping clients achieve these higher numbers is our number one goal.

The second is creating a better customer experience so that site search is more effective in getting each customer to the right product as soon as possible. A number of clients are struggling with how to improve that functionality. To address that, we end up providing a more intelligent overlay to the search experience.

Finally, forward thinking companies understand that there is something beyond basic “personalization” that can happen. Honing in at individual level and getting results that are tailored to the person who is searching are parts of an overall strategy that companies are realizing can have a major impact.

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.