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10 Things to Know About Mastering On-Site Search

On-site search is often overlooked in the eCommerce industry – some online retailers are only concerned with their site being searchable and not how it is being searched. To go further into the topic I sat down with our conversion optimization expert, Doug Mitchell, and compiled a list of 10 must know facts about on-site search…

1) Not everyone enjoys the “product category” experience – Some site visitors prefer to shop using search, yet few brands prefer to optimize their search results.


2) Shoppers visit sites for different reasons and should be catered to – There are three kinds of visitors to eCommerce sites…

  • The Browser – These visitors are here to look at the site as a whole and are more drawn to the creative site elements (a “window shopper”) – 75% of site traffic
  • The Seeker – These visitors are looking to purchase, interested in a specific category but are open to products within that category (a “specialty shopper”) – 15-20% of site traffic
  • The Searcher – To put it simply, these visitors know exactly what they want from the site and they don’t want to navigate to find it – 5-10% of site traffic


(It should be noted that seekers and searchers ignore almost all the creative on the site and head mainly towards the navigation and search box)


3) Just because visitors use on-site search doesn’t mean there is something wrong – Using on-site search is just the way some site visitors prefer to shop. Attempting to “curb” site experiences to decrease on-site search doesn’t necessarily optimize the conversion rate.


4) Too many on-site searches could mean the site isn’t intuitive – Although some on-site search volume is normal, too much can mean there is a flaw in an eCommerce site. Examine the navigation and design of your site if over 20% of site traffic is using on-site search.


5) Conversion rates on average are four to five times higher for people who use on-site search – Research has shown that site visitors who use on-site search often have a high motivation to make a purchase directly from the site. Usually these visitors are on the site for a specific item and are ready to purchase that item in the fastest way possible.


6) Influencing search results is essential to successful on-site search – Look at searchable attributes – are shirts coming up when site visitors search for jeans because of the product description? This would be a reason why on-site search isn’t driving sales. Two things to note…

  • Match-up synonyms and hypernyms (words with a broad meaning) of frequently searched terms on your site – search the terms afterwards to observe the experience
  • If applicable, eCommerce platforms and/or analytics can show you the conversion rate of each search term – focus on highly-searched terms with a low conversion rate


7) Influencing sort order on a search results page is important – Don’t try to upsell site visitors with inaccurate results but try to provide the most accurate search results possible. If two products are similar list the best-selling one first to increase the conversion rate.


8) Remove any unnecessary redirects when searching for products – If a site visitor searches for handbags don’t redirect them to the handbags page on the site, bring them to search results with handbags listed. These site visitors are using the search function for a reason – it’s the way they want to shop.


9) Some site visitors don’t even look at the navigation and go straight to search – Just because a term is frequently searched doesn’t necessarily mean site visitors are unable to locate these products in your navigation. Test, look at your data, and adapt the site navigation when needed.


10) Don’t provide general search results for a specific search termThis is the golden rule! Sometimes “no search results found” can be the best thing to show site visitors because it’s the most accurate result. If your eCommerce platform allows it, recommend products similar to the term searched by the site visitor on the same page.


In conclusion, online retailers who aren’t paying attention to their on-site search are missing out on multiple opportunities. Site visitors who use on-site search generally like to spend money on an eCommerce site and online retailers should consider refining their search experience to aid these visitors in easily finding the products they desire.