On-site search has long suffered as the unsung hero of the eCommerce site. Not only does it rarely grab headlines compared with much-hyped mobile, social and video tactics — but recent research suggests that usage is on the decline.
Fully 70% of consumers reported they prefer browsing a site versus using keyword search, according to a recent small study from the E-Tailing Group and Compare Metrics. The marketing services provder E-Consultancy reported that just 30% of site visitors use internal search, and that number drops to just 5.75% on niche brand sites where the number of SKUs is more manageable to browse than when shopping with online mass merchants. Those numbers reflect an ongoing trend in declining usage compared with 2008, when the MarketLive Performance Index found that close to 40% of site visitors used internal search, and 2011, when the number had dropped to 33%.
What’s behind the decline? Possible factors include
- the prevalence of mobile shopping. Sub-par on-site search experiences on small screens may push shoppers to browse rather than type additional keyword terms, while on tablets, tapping and swiping are conducive to browsing through product options, rather than summoning the keypad for search term entry.
- the increasing sophistication of Internet search engine results from Google, which can not only showcase individual categories and product pages within a site’s listing, but which now display visually-compelling Product Listing Ads featuring relevant items.
But that doesn’t mean merchants should abandon on-site search. Far from it — because when it’s used, site search remains a powerful conversion tool. Visitors who take advantage of site search tend to convert at nearly double the rate of those who just browse and contribute more than 13% of total revenues, according to eConsultancy.
The key to maximizing profitability of on-site search is to deliver just the right level of specificity, without overwhelming searchers. To hit the on-site search sweet spot, merchants should:
Optimize for late-stage researchers who are primed to buy. The majority of shoppers use a combined approach when it comes to product discovery — with 61% of participants in an E-Tailing Group/dSide study saying they browse in the initial stages of research, then use keyword search to zero in on products once they’ve identified exactly the features they seek. That means merchants should fine-tune results that support very specific search terms, such as
- colors, sizes and other SKU-specific options. Does the term “red v-neck dress,” “size 8 toddler shoes” or “20 ounce moisturizer” return results?
- brand name searches.
- merchandising-related searches, such as “sale jeans” or “free shipping chairs”.
Additionally, merchants should offer a “quick look” option so shoppers can quickly view further details without needing to click through to a results page — and make sure the “quick look” functions optimally on mobile screens. For products that don’t require SKU selection, merchants should consider adding an “add to cart” option directly from search results to streamline the path to purchase — especially on mobile devices.
To identify which keyword terms are important, merchants should study their logs and identify both popular search terms, especially those that are frequently searched, but produce “zero results” — they signify that site language and the search algorithm need to better reflect how shoppers classify and describe products.
Choose filters and attributes with care, and make it easy to back out. Faceted search tools make it possible for merchant to offer shoppers myriad choices when it comes to narrowing down a search results set — but while shoppers want to identify relevant results quickly, they also report feeling overwhelmed by too many options. More than half of participants in the E-Tailing Group/Compare Metrics study reported that eCommerce sites were overwhelming, and specifically mentioned long lists of facets in the left-hand column of search results. Not only that, but fully 73% of participants said they believed that selecting specific attributes or filters would eliminate from the search results set products that were actually relevant to their needs.
To make the site search experience less daunting, merchants using faceted search should key the attribute options off actual shopper behavior. Studying on-site search logs can provide guidance as to which attributes are most important to offer, as can conducting tests using paid-search ads (whether text or PLAs) to test search term popularity. Directly surveying customers or conducting usability tests can provide further insight.
Once the right mix of filters and attributes has been achieved, merchants should prominently position the list of which options are in play, and highlight the how to remove each or all of them. MarketLive merchant Delia’s uses its signature bright yellow to call attention to which attribute is being matched in the breadcrumb list above search results and how to remove it. The message is reinforced in the left-hand column, where the selected attribute is highlighted with a different color and a “clear” option gives shoppers a quick way to back out.
Tailor content mix by device. By now, including so-called “value added” content in the search results mix is considered an established best practice for merchants. Whether shoppers seek essential customer service information such as shipping timeframes or advice on product selection from expert buying guides, the growing library of content merchants maintain is a valuable addition to search results. But as with the number of attributes, balance is key: shoppers should be able to find what they need even if it isn’t on a product page, but they also shouldn’t have to wade through reams of product-free content if they are ready to purchase. And on mobile devices, merchants should prioritize results even more ruthlessly. For maximum efficiency, merchants should:
- Use a tab format for desktop and laptop search results scanning. Giving shoppers access to products and content on separate tabs is a tidy way to make content available without cluttering the path to purchase.
- Move content downpage on mobile devices. Relevant product links should have prime placement, while content that includes resource-intensive graphics or video should be further down the list or even omitted from the results set.
MarketLive merchant O’Reilly enhances search results for desktop and laptop users looking for items related to the keyword “perl” with a guide to top titles, promotion of free shipping, and information about relevant courses from its School of Technology. On the mobile site, a simple list of products is displayed for maximum efficiency.
How has on-site search usage changed for your brand over the years, and how are you optimizing to adapt?