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Groove Commerce
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Master eCommerce site search with this comprehensive guide to optimizing your store. With actionable suggestions and industry insights, you'll be on your way to converting searchers in no time.

Intro to eCommerce Site Search Effectiveness

When replatforming, our clients become surprised when we lift up the hood on their eCommerce site search and recommend the use of a third-party search engine to improve the accuracy of their search results.

Our benchmarking has shown that visitors who interact with site search are 3-5 times more likely to become customers, and of those orders, the average order value (AOV) is 25 to 50% higher than normal.

Most eTailers don’t realize that they are leaving so much money on the table. A recent client, who shall go nameless to protect the innocent, showed:

  • 11% of site visitors utilized search
  • 29% of site transactions came from those users
  • Average conversion rate of site: 2.5%
  • Average conversion rate of those that use search: 6.5%

Our client’s site search had a 160% higher conversion rate than the site’s average conversion rate, and this is coming from below average search results. It is much easier and faster to increase your eCommerce site search conversion rate from 6.5% to 10% than increase your overall conversion rate from 2.5% to 3.5%.

What would optimizing for eCommerce site search best practices mean for the average eTailer? Let’s say you get 100,000 visits per month:

  • 2,500 - orders per month
  • $80 - overall average order value (AOV)
  • 725 - orders using site search
  • $100 - AOV with site search
  • 40% - average profit margin

By better helping visitors that want to interact with your website, increasing your eCommerce site search conversion rate from 6.5% to 10% yields an impressive 53.8% increase in site search revenue.

Think what this could do to your pay-per-click ROI! Think what this could do to your vacation budget! How about a three-week Hawaiian vacation for you and whoever made you realize how much money you were leaving on the table?

Enough With The Easy Stuff, Now For The Work

Improving your eCommerce site search is less intimidating if you have the right tools and know where to look. Before you change anything, you need to understand how visitors use your search function. Knowing is half the battle, right? Let’s dig in and take a look at what could work for your site.

eCommerce Site Search Reporting

Reporting is the first place we need to start. If you haven’t done so yet, activate the ‘Site Search” report in Google Analytics (GA). It’s pretty simple to do and can provide a lot of insight.

While you wait for the GA reports to collect data, try to find other search reporting tools available to you. If you already work with a third party tool, open it up—if not, your shopping cart platform may save this data, even if it is not exposed in your admin. Let’s dig in and analyze the data.

To set up eCommerce site search tracking in Google Analytics, log in to your GA account and go to settings. Then scroll down to Site Search:

Top 100 Searches

View the Search Terms report to see the top 100 keyword searches on your site. You can also do this for total searches. Then, move to the eCommerce tab and review reports by total revenue. Export those reports into Excel and type these searches into your site exactly as entered. Ask yourself:

  • Do you like the results you see?
  • Are you showing too many products? Too few?
  • Are your priority products showing in the best order?
  • Are your top selling products at the top of the results?
  • How are common misspellings being handled?

We recommend creating some additional columns in Excel to keep notes about each search you do. You may also want to slice and dice the data to find the top searches with no revenue attached and determine why.

At this point, steam starts to come out of our clients’ ears as they see how poorly their site search treats very valuable customers.

Top “No Results” Searches

This isn’t something that GA can easily provide without hacking into the analytics code. But this is your second money report. If you are lucky, your shopping cart has a hidden database table storing it—or if you work with a third-party service like Searchspring, they’ll easily provide it.

Look at the top 25-50 of these words and determine why they are getting zero results. Ask yourself:

  • Is a similar product offered that is called something else?
  • Are important words missing from your product description?
  • Does your site sell this product? If not, is interest strong enough to consider selling it?
  • Are visitors looking for a discontinued model?

Create an Excel spreadsheet of these words and keep notes, lots of notes. Determine why.

  • Do you need to rename your products?
  • Add additional products to your site?
  • Create redirects for misspelled search terms?

Picking an eCommerce Site Search Provider

There are several great third-party eCommerce site search providers out there for the small to mid-level eTailers. Companies like Searchspring and Nextopia all have different features, functionality and price points. The typical eTailer will spend between $12,000 and $24,000 per year for a hosted solution. This depends on both their site traffic and the desired functionality for their search. But as you can see from above, the return can be great if you properly configure your site search and stay engaged.

Things to Consider

In-House vs. Third-Party?

If you’ve read this far, then you’ve probably identified a problem with your site search. It was more than likely created by someone in a backroom somewhere as an afterthought. Read the next few paragraphs and know that the costs associated with creating such extensive functionality would be very expensive.

Hosted Sub-Domain vs. AJAX?

Most third-party search providers offer both solutions: 1.) a hosted page on a sub-domain such as http://search.yoursite.com which they host, or 2.) a more integrated solution where you host the page within your site and interact with the engine via AJAX. Both approaches have their benefits. Often, we see clients start with the hosted solution due to its simple start-up, thenmove to an API solution as they want more control and have greater expectations for capability and results. We’ve seen clients already established with a Google Shopping or similar shopping-feed up and running in a hosted scenario within a few days

Universal Search

Does your eCommerce site search combine your product, category, and content pages such as blogs or buyers guides, or does it only focus on products?

Boosting

Are you able to manually boost defined products to the top of the results? Does your system have a way of automatically collecting the top selling products from your site and automatically adjust its algorithm to show the most popular first?

Attributes & Field Weighting

Do you need to define custom product attributes? Should some attributes be given more weight when filtering results?

Filtered Search

Does the search engine allow your visitors to refine their searches based upon custom product attributes that you can define such as price, size, color, or availability?

Spelling & Synonyms

Do you have the ability to define common misspellings of words? Do your visitors search for the same products on your site using different words (for example: ‘cell phone’ and ‘mobile phone’)?

Autocomplete

Can you place JavaScript code on your site to autocomplete phrases in your search box as the visitor types within in? Can you show product images with these phrases?

Redirects

Are you able to define ‘redirect’ and override those search results and send the visitor to a specific landing page or buyers guide? This can especially be useful when dealing with products that are discontinued and updated with a new SKU.

Banners & Upsells

Are you able to show banners or related products based on what the visitor is looking for?

Tag Clouds / Top Links

Although now somewhat outdated, are you able to dynamically generate tag clouds or lists of the most popular search phrases? This can be used on your 404 and other error pages.

Tracking & Reporting

One of the most important criteria to consider when choosing a vendor is the tracking and reporting that they provide. Does the vendor have a flexible way of collecting data? Most use a JavaScript code similar to Google Analytics on your thank you page to collect the results data. Are you able to mine your data off of date criteria? Zero or poor results? Revenue from search? Can you download this data into Excel?

You may be inclined to buy and implement every bell and whistle... DON’T! Keep it simple and start with the basics.

Most vendors typically let you start with basic features and build from there. Sites that start with a few synonyms and direct hits tied together with reporting see improved results within the first 30 days.

Setting Up eCommerce Site Search Best Practices

You finally chose your search engine, now it’s time to make the magic happen! Let’s walk through a basic setup and you will be on your way to increasing sales. Keep in mind, I’m not a Ph.D. or English major, these are just down and dirty tactics and simple explanations on how to drive more sales. Remember, configuring your search is about meeting your visitors expectations, not providing them with English lessons.

The Process

The Data Feed

This is the start of it all. I recommend controlling your product search with a data feed versus spidering the site. Most providers can start by using your Google Shopping feed. The more specific you can make the feed to your system the better. Be sure your feed updates at least daily and be sure to define the indexing rate on the search to match. The optimal solution would be to have a system API to post updates real-time.

Your Search Box: Best Practices

The search box should be as large as possible within your design (both long and tall) and be available from all pages of the site from the header. If you have some default text within the box it should disappear as soon as the searcher clicks within it. You also should try to use some type of AJAX auto-complete. If the auto-complete can show images with each result, all the better.

Make sure the search bar is not on the same vertical or horizontal line as a specific promotion or deal being advertised on your site. Viewers might assume the search function is for that particular deal and is not a site-wide function.

Did You Mean?

Many engines have built-in spell correction. Some will automatically provide the search results it thinks you are looking for, or let the visitor click on a link to view the correct search. Most clients and consumers prefer auto-spell check. Are you getting common misspellings that aren’t correct? Create a word replacement to correct the engine behind the scenes as most searchers won't even realize the mistake.

Redirects

Creating internal redirects can increase conversions on your site. Create direct hits for at least your top-level categories or any page that you think may convert visitors better than the search results page. For example, if a visitor searches for ‘men’s shorts’ then you may want to take them directly to the men’s shorts category page.

Stop Words

Some words need to be removed or thrown out from search queries. These are frequently occurring, insignificant words that appear in a product name and/or category. Common stop words include: a, an, the, in, of, on, are.

Most engines will automatically remove the most common English stop words, but it is a good idea to review and create common stop words related to your site. For example, if your product database is comprised of all products related to woodworking, it might be good to enter ‘woodworking’ as a stop word as it would return every product on the site.

Be sure to test and tune your stop words as the process can have detrimental effects if done incorrectly.

No Results Page

This page needs to help lead visitors down a path of finding what they are looking for. Depending on the number of SKUs, you may want to show your top 10 products or an advanced search form on your ‘no results’ search page. This is a great place to use a tag cloud of your most popular searches. This page is important enough to be A/B tested to determine the most profitable layout.

Banners

Are you able to inject banners or promotions into your search results pages based on the visitors’ query? For example, if you offer free shipping on all shoes then you could create a banner that highlights this offer on any shoe-related search.

Robots.txt

Google generally hates search results pages unless you can create enough unique content to make them valuable. We recommend to most clients to disallow search results pages within their Robots.txt file. Don’t have good site architecture or messy URLs? These are instances where you may want to push more of the popular search results pages out into the index.

Filtered Navigation

Saving the best and most complicated for last; filtered navigation. This type of navigation is going to become the standard for site architecture. Many sites’ navigation are already being powered by search engines.

  • What attributes do you want to be able to let the visitor refine?
  • What carries the most weight?
  • Will you need to create sub-attributes? This is the most complicated part of the project that needs to be planned and organized if you are going to utilize it.

Many sites will just start with filters like size, color, manufacturer, or price, while others go one step further and define attribute sets by category.

How will you handle more varieties of colors? For example, you offer products that come in candy apple red, fire engine red, aqua, and jetblue. Do you want those colors as filters within your navigation, or should they roll up to a more general red and blue respectively?

Here at Groove we recommend going through an exercise to define and map these attributes. The quicker you can improve your search and collect some real analytics, the quicker you can start getting a return on your investment.

Conclusion

Wash, rinse and repeat every month! A few hours reviewing your search results and implementing new synonyms and direct-hits off of changing visitor behavior will go a long way.

Get in the habit... Don’t just set it and forget it!

Track your site search CR and ROI as a new metric within your site’s key performance indicators (KPI) and you will be happily surprised at the results

Still confused or need some help? Let one of our eCommerce Specialists here at Groove Commerce perform a full website assessment for you.