eCommerce Insiders

Think Like a Googler: 4 Ways to Improve Your Site Search

Searching for things online is something we do every single day. We are constantly using Google to find new content or even to just find basic information like the phone number of a local restaurant.

We expect Google to have great search results and we would get really frustrated if Google decided to make us find things through categories instead. Imagine trying to find the name of a local pizza place by browsing through categories until you find the right one. Crazy, right?

Yet that’s what we force our customers to do when they visit our online store. It’s not your fault, really. You probably offer a search option within your site but it probably doesn’t work very well, which means you may as well not have it. Making search work is surprisingly hard but you need to get it right.

It’s hard to find products by just browsing and we all love searching for things. This was confirmed by the Baymard Institute when they benchmarked the top 50 e-commerce properties online and studied how well they handled site searches. They prepared a report with 60 actionable guidelines to help you improve site search which you can buy from them. For this article, we will look at the at the top four things you can fix right away.

1. Searching Through Product Details

Every product that you sell contains different small pieces of information that might relevant to your customers. Your product might be called “Red Cashmere Sweater” but it will contain details like the size, material composition, color information and perhaps even a codename (common with technology products).

Your customers might try to search for any of the above things hoping to find it, but do you support this? If they search for “red sweater”, what would come up? When a user tries a search like this and is greeted with no results, they can only assume that you don’t carry such a product.

You want to set up your store so that search queries actually search through any part of the product information, including the description, tags, category, price, and any other relevant information. You will then need to sort the list by most relevant products but that’s usually the easy part.

One last thing to consider is other words which people may use to describe your product. A laptop could be called a Macbook and a blow dryer could be called a hair dryer. One easy way to address this would be through product tags, but you need to be sure that tags are searchable.

2. Abbreviations and Misspellings

How do you spell inches when searching e-commerce stores? Do you use “13 in”, “13 inches” or just the quote alongside a number e.g. 13″? Can you site search recognize that all of the above things mean the same thing?

Abbreviations can be hard to get right but you can focus on the most common ones for online products such as inches, length, width, shoe size, etc. Your software should have a way to recognize the different ways people might describe something, just like Google asks you “Did you mean X?” when searching something in a weird way.

The same concept applies to common misspellings, which customers do all the time. Perhaps your customers heard about your products from a friend but doesn’t know the exact way the name is spelled. This might seem impossible to figure out but its actually relatively straightforward. Set up your search software to track all the search queries and go over them once a month. You will start to notice common misspellings that your customers keep using and start to fix them. Perhaps even add them as tags and make them searchable.

3. Persistent Search Queries

This one seems obvious when we think about it, but some sites aren’t doing it! If a user searches for something, they will get taken to a search page with their results. Make sure that their search query persists onto the search page!

When we search for things, we will constantly iterate on our search query until we find the right combination of words that gives us the right results. The iteration can be as simple as adding a word or removing one. If you force the users to retype their search query every single time, they will quickly get annoyed and leave. As a general rule of thumb, your customers shouldn’t have to retype things over and over again.

4. Extra Filters

One final thing you can do to improve your search experience is to add filters to the search page. Imagine you search for jeans and you get hundreds of results. Right away you know that men’s jeans might not be relevant to you. You also know that you don’t want spend more than $100 on a pair of jeans. These are the kinds of filters which will make it easier to go through search results without wasting a lot of time.

The filter will most likely be general categories which can apply to many different products. Price ranges, men/women/kids categories, brands, color, etc. Work on adding the most general filters to your search page and add more specific options as you figure out what kind of information you customers are looking for.

Implementing these suggestions will vary for each platform but there are always third party solutions which fix a lot of these issues in a few clicks. Consider the price of these third party solutions the cost of providing a great customer experience.

Do you have any tools or tips that make it easy to have a great site search solution? Let me know in the comments.

Ruben Ugarte is a Web Analytics Consultant who has helped companies of all sizes grow through the use of analytics. If you have any questions around how you can use analytics or even how to use tools like Mixpanel or Segment, get in touch with him!

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