Site Search for Retailers

Not being able to find products on ecommerce sites is frustrating for consumers, but even more so for the merchants who miss out on potential sales.

For this reason, online retailers should pay close attention to the functionality and performance of their internal sitesearch offerings and identify trouble spots before they negatively impact immediate and long-term conversions.

Here are five ways merchants can start optimizing the online retail experience through improvements to their site-search functionality.

1. Provide Relevant Results

Maintaining a product feed with current information can go a long way in helping a site's search feature provide relevant results. Sometimes, however, results pages need a little help from the merchant in charge.

Online retailers should periodically identify the most frequently used keywords (by site visitors) and test each one through their site's internal search. If the results don't display the most relevant products, merchants should manually adjust the results (a feature the top site-search technology providers support), and periodically check their product feeds to ensure the keywords are included within the relevant item's product data (an important practice for those using comparison shopping engines).

Merchants should also consider altering results to display promotional or sale items more prominently, a tactic recommended by Monetate's communications director, Marifran Manzo-Ritchie.

"Give your hottest products or best content top ranking," said Manzo-Ritchie. "Build site-wide marketing campaigns around the products categories and brands that match top keywords."

Merchants should also engage in continuous monitoring of site-search analytics to identify issues as they arise. For instance, if a large number of users are abandoning the site after searching for a specific term, there is likely an issue with the results page.

"You can easily see for yourself what the issue is by comparing the search term your users are typing in to the actual results," said Jennifer Stagner, the SEO manager for "For example, on our site we noticed that users were searching for our new product, Focus Notes, but the search was returning the wrong results. We set up a search synonym rule on the admin side so that every time users typed in Focus Notes, focusnotes, FocusNote or other variants, the proper items would display. Immediately after implementing the new rule we started to see purchases flow in because customers could instantly find what they were looking for."

2. Eliminate No Results Found

The only thing worse for a shopper than obtaining irrelevant search results is getting no search results at all. This is another reason why it is important to scour analytics to identify and resolve any issues. If analytics indicate a large number of consumers are abandoning the site after searching for a specific term, and after testing that term the dreaded "No Results Found" page is discovered, it is once again time to rework product feeds to include the searched term within every relevant product's data. If a merchant doesn't have any matching products for the term in question, he or she should consider offering a results page that suggests the consumer review the most popular or most searched-for items. Once your result pages have been fine-tuned, it's time to up the ante.

Boost Product Visibility :: Discover how ecommerce site-search providers stack up

3. Get Personal

There are a variety of ways that merchants can offer personalized results to their shoppers, but they should be aware that some tactics may not ultimately improve the user experience.

"A personalized search result, based on the history of user purchase, may not be the best experience because 1. Many times, purchasing history data tends to be too scarce to make a credible recommendation and 2. Purchasing history has too many unknown variables for a search engine to come up with relevant personalized results," said's Senior Director of International Search, Tom Zhang. "I prefer the customized search experience where a search result is based on the collective behavior of those who are similar to the current user in terms of location, purchasing power, price preference, etc."

After your site has taken steps to deliver more personalized results, consider sprucing up the search functionality.

4. Include Bells and Whistles

There are many ways that merchants can enrich their site's search function, to improve the overall experience without harming the results page.

For example, a merchant can enhance the user experience by implementing suggested results and/or autocomplete to his or her site's search functionality. While suggested results can be tailored to recommend related products to consumers based on their initial query, autocomplete helps ensure that consumers can find what they are looking for - regardless if they misspell the term or are unaware it exists.

Another way to spruce up a site's search function is with visual search. By offering images next to relevant search results, consumers can quickly scan the results page and choose which products they are interested in without having to read each description or click on each title to get a closer look at the item.

Even after the results have been refined and the bells and whistles have been added, there is still one thing left to do.

5. Test (Of Course)

As with anything else on the Web, the best way to optimize a site's search functionality is to test it continuously. Merchants can analyze different versions of results against one another. For example, which recommended results work best with certain products or which results resonate the most with specific customer segments? By running tests like these, merchants will be able to provide the "best" search results to each customer based on actionable data, which will likely lead to an increase in conversions, average order values, engagement rates and time-on-site.