There’s nothing more
frustrating than a “no results”
response to a website search
query — the equivalent of the
infamous Internet error
code 404, page not found.
However, as unwelcome as the “no results”
page is for users, it’s even worse for
When a potential customer conducts a
search on your site and receives zero
matches, it’s likely that their visit will
come to an instant, unsatisfying end. They
will leave your site in an Internet heartbeat,
which is why it’s critical to make
your site’s search function more robust
and users’ experiences more engaging.
For many site visitors, the search box is the preferred
way to quickly find products and content, and search box
users tend to convert at a higher rate. So it’s important to
give them something that piques their interest, even if you don’t have the items for which they are looking. Consider
that people don’t always use search terms that match product
descriptions, or they may spell a product or brand
For example, if you have a skincare products retail site,
some of your visitors in search of anti-aging products
might type “anti-ageing” into the search box. Others may
use the search term “wrinkles”, and because these alternate
terms aren’t included in the product names, a no results
page would be returned. Likewise, people may search
for an item that is out of stock or simply not part of your
offering, which would generate “zero results found.”
Rather than simply show no results, give them something
else to consider. Here are nine ways how you can do this:
1. Incorporating auto-complete into the search field allows
you to offer suggested search terms as a user begins typing
their query. These suggested search terms, based on
your inventory and content, minimize misspellings and
ensure results. Customers appreciate this feature because
it helps them find what they’re looking for faster.
2. Review your site search data for misspelled words
or synonyms that your search may not recognize, then
add these alternate spellings and terms into your search
3. Scour reports of search phrases that have returned no
results to better understand what products or information
your visitors expect you to have, then consider
whether you should add those items to your offering.
4. Ensure that product features are also indexed by site
search. In our earlier example, it’s likely that “fine lines
and wrinkles” would appear in feature copy, even if it
weren’t part of an anti-aging product’s name.
5. Offer alternate spelling suggestions with “Did you
mean...?” If a user types in “anti-ageing”, they’ll be happier
to see “Did you mean anti-aging?” than they would an apology. Pull these recommendations from your
existing search data and match them to your offering
6. Show popular search results for similar products or keywords.
Perhaps you don’t carry “Acme board shorts”, but
that doesn’t mean users won’t be interested in board shorts
by another brand. Creating a database of products and keyword
synonyms allows you to capture more opportunities.
7. Display keyword-specific banners. If a visitor searches for a
product you no longer stock, a banner can be an eye-catching
way to let them know about alternate options.
8. Display your site’s most popular search terms and link them
directly to their own search results pages. This may not help
a shopper find what they came for, but it could generate interest
in something else.
9. Always make it easy for shoppers to reach your customer
service team if they need assistance.
Ultimately, your e-commerce platform is not unlike a brickand-
mortar store. If a customer asked one of your sales associates
about a specific item, you’d never want the employee to
merely say, “I’m sorry, we don’t have that.” Instead, you’d train
them to suggest alternatives.
By making the most of technology services and tools, you
can train your website to better understand customer needs,
too, and help them find something they’re interested in. Before
long, fewer blank results pages will lead to bigger returns and
a measureable improvement in the stickiness of your site.
About the Author: Terry Costa is the vice president of marketing for SLI Systems,
responsible for global marketing efforts as well as for driving
growth of SLI’s search technology and services in the e-commerce
and publishing industries.