Issue 1 – Site search is not promoted
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The ultimate guide – how to solve 4 most common issues with site search
The site search seems to be an area in digital development that is hard to crack for the most companies. In this blog post series Tuija Riekkinen and Hans Ahlborg capture the most common issues and remedies to ensure a better performance of the most neglected sales booster of your website.
Like the collaborative writing process of this blog post series proves it, the key for tackling challenges with the site search, requires collaboration and dialogue between different digital competences – a multi-discipline team.
Issue 1 – Site search is not promoted – Design conventions and other reasons
Issue 2 – Missing content & data structures prevent engines to do their job
Issue 3 – Search results are not relevant – to anyone
Issue 4 – Too many results and no possibilities to refine search results
Design of the search field
Blog posts providing tips for improving the site search start by stating the obvious: design the search field so that people notice it and they are drawn into using it.
Redesign of a fairly simple component such as the search field should be rather easy task, yet many news/content sites and e-commerce sites opt in for close to invisible design. Why is that?
Conventions drives design, not a strategy nor a consumer journey
What if the search box is not taking its place in the spotlight just because the design conventions die hard?
If the site’s visual and interaction design is not driven by clearly set targets and a strategy but rather by designers’ habits or personal interests (designing site search is not really the most inspiring task for a visual designer, is it?), the site search remains as it always has been: in the right corner of a header.
How to solve this
So, step number one in increasing the role of the site search is to say it out loud in the strategy: The site search is one of the key enablers for reaching business objectives.
Secondly, define the role of the site search in the customer journey and make sure that the designer follows your strategy and consumer journeys rather than sticks with the design conventions.
Site search performs badly, why drive traffic there?
Another reason for not promoting the site search could be a chicken & egg -situation: the site search is not performing, so the merchandiser is reluctant to drive traffic there or even perform an A/B -test to find out the consumer’s preferences (for using the site search over a category structure).
So, how to build a business case for improving the site search if you have no proof that your consumers would prefer using it?
How to solve this
To tackle the chicken & egg -situation, you can start by narrowing the scope and this way minimise the business risk of customers not finding products when experiencing the not-so-optimal site search.
For example, choose a category for products with low margin and run the A/B -test in that one category only. The design change could be for example the site search box with a call-to-action at the end of the product list.
So, do this just to get some insights if you’re consumers are prone to use the search if it would be more prominent.
Another option would be to choose a category which has a reasonable number of products and plan and apply optimisation of the site search first to that one category (as a pilot) and then do a A/B-testing by directing consumers to use the site search in a similar way as described above. By doing this you can be more confident that the user experience or the business goals are not sacrificed during your tests.
As an insight, you’d also get more understanding which of the consumers – ones using the search or ones using categories – convert better.
So, in case “making the search box bigger” even for A/B-testing sounds too intimidating, there are other, less prominent ways, to drive consumers to site search and get some insight for building your case to improve the site search.
Additionally, you can back up your own insights with by reaching out to an enterprise search specialist consultant or vendors and you will find a number of very enticing business cases for investing in your site search.
Fear of consumers missing out (the content)
If the site search performs well or even ok, the reason still not making it as an equal option for the category structure could be that companies simply want consumers to browse the categories instead. If you encourage your visitors to use the site search, they might miss all the nice content you’ve produced and might not get excited about the products?
Extensive usability study by Baymard Institute (preview study and purchase full access) states that in an interior design and clothing, the consumers prefer to use the categories and in electronics the site search.
This is pretty black and white statement since isn’t it more about a behaviour and interests of the consumer rather than what type of products the e-commerce site sell?
Some people are goal-oriented with their purchase behaviour. Regardless of what they are purchasing, they look for the most efficient path to complete the purchase. For these type of consumers, the site search is one of the key features.
On the other hand, even the most goal-oriented people feel passionate about something (e.g. hobby or similar). They don’t mind drifting into the categories and being inspired by the content if the topic is interesting to them.
How to solve this
Stop making assumptions based on the substance of your business.
Instead, in the design process, keep in mind the different types of purchase behaviour: goal-oriented and experiential. In short, goal-oriented gets pleasure out of the result of the purchase journey and for experientials the journey itself is something they enjoy. Design of the website should support both of these behaviours.
And who says the site search results page cannot be inspirational?
In context of an external search engine traffic, the term inbound marketing is often used. It means that rather than pushing your (sometimes unwanted) marketing to consumers, you’ll ensure with SEO that consumer using Google or similar finds you in the right moment i.e. when they are planning to purchase something.
The same thinking should be present when thinking about the possibilities of the search results page; user is more open to your marketing and communication when it is related to something they searched for. The content or product suggestions will most likely delight the customers enormously and there will be improved possibilities for cross- and upsell. Don’t miss this opportunity!
Auto-complete, did-you-mean or recommendation engine (like amazon.com) are today available to most larger enterprise search engines and is a tremendous tool for helping both users and companies to find and exhibit the content and products.
However, this tool will require you to work on your information architecture and have an active management of content and data. Amazon pioneered this with their engine “people who bought this were also interested or bought these items” and this works equally well on the content sites with or without e-commerce.
Desktop first, mobile second
Many businesses still tend to look at things from a desktop web point of view. Browsing extensive hierarchical categories is less painful with the full desktop view and the need for improving search, from that point of view, seems of course less critical.
However, for many e-commerce sites, significant portion of the traffic is already coming from mobile devices.
Finding something by browsing with your mobile can be tedious, so you rather expect the site search take you there directly. The most successful apps and mobile solutions, for example Facebook, Spotify and Pinterest, have a very prominent search function in their design.
How to solve this
Solving this issue is a purely strategic decision. If you want your customers to do business with you, you need to adjust your website’s design to accommodate their preferences.
- If the site search plays a key role in the customer journeys, the website design should reflect that.
- If you want to understand better customer behaviour related using the site search, but your search is performing badly, perform the tests with limited scope
- If you hesitate to direct customers to the site search because of all the good content in the category pages, think ways to integrate the content as part of the search results page