The following blog post features information included in a recent presentation by Jason Lichon. Readers can access the full recording here.
Though internal site search is often overlooked as just another necessary website function, there’s no question that it has always been important for online retailers. It’s a crucial tool that, if not optimized, can directly lead to lost customers and ultimately lost revenue. Consider the fact that 30% of eCommerce customers use internal site search; are you willing to lose almost a third of potential customers due to an inferior digital experience fueled by poor search results?
And in an everchanging industry, search is more important now than ever. When you think about the new technologies and advancements that arrive at our fingertips almost daily – mobile browsing, more personalized content, conversational commerce tools like Siri or Alexa used in our everyday lives – there’s no doubt that unique search needs have evolved over time for your customers. To keep up with their expectations, you’ll need to make sure your search solution is set up to convert browsers into buyers and that means going beyond the basics.
The Key to Search is Understanding Customer Intent
When it comes to site search and your customer experience, there’s more to consider than what’s “visible.” That is, you’ll need to go beyond navigation or basic search results, and make sure to incorporate user logic and content management. It’s not just about having a pretty site or simply including a search box – it’s about answering the needs of your customers based on their intent, helping them progress in the buying journey, and producing conversions through better site experiences. Thus, when it comes to achieving better site search, you should consider how your search supports all of your potential customers, not just those ready to buy. Let’s dive deeper.
How Search Differs Between Bottom of Funnel and Top of Funnel Buyers
Overall, most eCommerce sites already focus on search that supports a buyer at the bottom of the funnel, or those that are most ready to buy from you. These users are the ones who know exactly what they’re looking for, they just need to find it on your site.
The key to producing successful search results at this stage is understanding user intent, which is accomplished through natural language processing (NLP) and a good type-ahead interface. You’ll need to understand if a searcher is just browsing, looking for a specific product, or if they should they be directed to certain pages that will help them convert. Here are some examples of website searches that illustrate how a simple search can properly interpret user intent and guide the user to conversion at the bottom of the funnel.
Music Direct, a longtime client of BlueBolt, is a retailer that sells both high-end audio equipment and vinyl records. Since there is a clear difference between their product offerings, it can be challenging to provide results for a site search without understanding user intent. However, they’ve been able to solve this.
As a user, when I search MusicDirect.com for “Bowie,” the site properly understands that I’m probably searching for the artist David Bowie. It provides results that not only include David Bowie’s catalog, but also presents several of his albums, chosen according to a combination of relevance and popularity.
If instead, I know more specifically what I want and I search for Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust album, as in the example below, the search handles this by understanding my intent and providing results based on the actual product (the album) and not just the artist (David Bowie).
Finally, if I search for something like “Mcintosh,” the engine detects that my query is related to the audio component and serves up a link to the manufacturer’s landing page, as well as suggested products from the manufacturer, rather than music albums or artists.
In these examples, Music Direct comprehensively understands the content and products they have and how they relate to a user’s search, resulting in optimized results and buying experiences for their customers.
A bottom of funnel buyer is probably using your site search to find something very specific. For example, someone who wants to buy a red shirt from Nike for their husband could type in something like “mens red shirt” into the search engine – note the misspelling of “mens” instead of “men’s.”
Using NLP, the search engine is able to recognize the intent of the grammatically incorrect buyer and serve up results that not only filter by gender and color (on the left), but also recognizes the word “shirt,” providing results that align exactly to the user’s search. This makes the path to purchase a lot easier for the user and ultimately results in better conversions.
Adjusting Your Approach for Top of Funnel Buyers
While optimizing site search for the bottom of funnel can be pretty straight-forward, it’s very necessary to adjust your tactics when it comes to supporting the buyer at the top of the funnel – the buyer who is just beginning their product research and evaluating their options, including those from your competitors.
The most important resource for a buyer at this stage is providing content that answers their questions and educates them towards making a buying decision. You’ll often find such content in the form of buying guides, quizzes, data sheets, or how-to videos, among other formats. But it’s no use having the right content on your site if it can’t be easily found. Let’s revisit Nike.com to see how this can become an issue.
Recently, I was doing research into the kind of running shoes I should buy for my overpronation, which refers to how your foot lands laterally as you run. For people that want this correction in a shoe, it is likely that this is the first attribute they care about when beginning their search for a product to buy.
If you go to Nike.com and search for “overpronation,” you’ll get the following message.
For obvious reasons, I just couldn’t believe that Nike of all brands didn’t have shoes to market to this segment of runners and that they wouldn’t include relevant information for overpronation on their site.
I then used Google to search within the Nike site using the query, “nike.com overpronation.” Sure enough, I found the following – a whole help section on Nike’s site that educates a user on which Nike shoes are best for overpronation, with the next result showing another educational article on pronation in general.
I’m sure you see the discrepancy here - why was the help article not included in my original search on the actual Nike site? Hopefully this illustrates why it is important that the search on your eCommerce site goes beyond just product results and includes various types of content to answer the needs of the varying types of customers entering your site.
Optimized Site Search = Top Site Experiences
To close, supporting your customers through search involves a lot of thought, process improvements, and integrations across systems. If you are looking to truly capitalize on search, consider the following:
Use federated search to incorporate content sources from various resources. Useful content might exist somewhere other than your eCommerce site. Implementing federated search to include content from blogs, customer service portals, or a media server like YouTube ensures you’re best answering the needs of your customers through search.
Consider a third-party search engine. Unfortunately, the standard search functions that are native to most eCommerce platforms usually have limited support for NLP and will likely handle non-product content very poorly, if at all. There are many third-party search engines that seek to address these shortcomings. Your options may include third-party solutions built specifically for use within your chosen eCommerce platform, as well as those that provide advance functionality in a more generic fashion.
Ask yourself the following: does your search conversion rates lag browse conversionrates? Are search exits high or heading in the wrong direction? Do a lot of queries result in zero results? If after looking at your data, you answer “yes” to even one of these questions, then you’re probably missing out on revenue from search and should evaluate opportunities for improvement.
At the end of the day, every eCommerce site has the goal of converting browsers into customers. Search is an integral part of that process. It’s time to stop treating search as a simple function, and instead value it as one of the most powerful, always-on revenue-generating tools available to online retailers.
For more information on internal site search, check out my recent presentation on the topic or feel free to reach out to our team at firstname.lastname@example.org.