Insights

Is Enhanced Internal Site Search Your Low Hanging Fruit?

Tuesday, March 23rd, 2010 by Steve

Online marketers often focus so much energy on driving new visitors to their website that they often overlook the What is your low hanging fruit?activities on their website that are most critical to converting and growing loyal visitors and customers.  Consider internal site search – According to a Google report on internal site search, 90 percent of companies report that search is the No. 1 means of navigation on their site and 82 percent of visitors use site search to find the information they need.  Given that 80 percent of visitors will reportedly abandon a site if search functionality is poor, enhanced internal site search functionality may be your highest return investment opportunity.

The ROI Can Be Compelling

As we noted in a previous entry, Website Redesigns Gone Good, we helped a client to implement enhanced search capability that resulted in a 35% decline in the volume of search abandonment.  For our client that represented over 100,000 consumers each year who were far more likely to make a purchase and who left the website experience more satisfied and more likely to return – also helping to drive a 20 percent increase in web site driven revenues.  eFollett.com, who provides access to over 1,400 online bookstores across the United States and Canada, installed a new site search engine and grew web sales by 23%.

So where to start?

STEP 1: Analyze how visitors to your site use your current site search

No surprise here – given our emphasis on analytics and understanding site behavior.  If configured properly, any reputable analytics solution should provide extremely valuable information.

  • Pay particular attention to bounce rates, exit rates, and conversion rates by keyword.
  • On the highest volume keywords, what results are presented, in which order, and to which pages did visitors navigate.
  • A high volume of search activity on particular categories of keywords can reflect important deficiencies in the navigation of your site.
  • Segment your audience and develop an understanding of how different types of users use site search.
  • It’s important to remember that in most cases the majority of traffic to your site does not start on the home page.  This can change the context for why someone may do a search.
  • This step is often necessary to build the business case for any investment in enhanced internal site search capabilities.

In addition to helping you to identify where your current search and site navigation is falling short, analyzing your search traffic can also help you develop a better understanding of your website visitors.

STEP 2: Research best practice internal site search features

Competitor websites or the websites for market leaders in related industries can often be very helpful in this regard.  Some of the most common enhanced features include:

  • Search filtering (e.g. price, product/content type, brand, color, etc) – Over 88% of the top 500 online retailers offer search filtering – those that don’t are primarily due to narrow product offering.
  • Search Relevancy/Prioritization – Advanced search tools provide powerful methods for altering the order in which search results are returned.  For example, you may want to give higher priority to high conversion or high margin products.
  • Redirects – When you have created a page that has been optimized to address a particular topic or product category, you can have a visitor automatically redirected to that page when they search on a related keyword.
  • Keyword Specific Promotions – Much like redirects, specific promotions can be displayed for specific keyword searches.  If, for example, someone did a search on “green golf bag”, the search results page might contain a promotion related to golf items.
  • Spelling Correction and Synonyms – Nothing will deter a visitor more than getting a “No items found” search result (and this feature is particularly helpful for a poor speller like me).  A search at Officemax.com on “Digital Overhead Projecter” returns “Presentation Equipment & Supplies” and “Projectors & Accessories” as category options.
  • Sorting Options (e.g. price, product rating) – Just providing useful sorting options on search results can increase search effectiveness considerably.

STEP 3:  Identify Opportunities for Specialized Searches

Look for opportunities to develop specialized search capabilities for important product lines or content types.  This necessitates really understanding how visitors search for specific types of products or content.  For example, one of our clients who offers artificial Christmas trees, dramatically increased conversion by providing a more structured search that allows visitors to easily select attributes like the size, color, and lighting of the different trees offered.  OfficeMax offers an entirely different method for searching for printer ink that allows the visitor to select the brand and model of your printer.  You can also significantly reduce customer support costs by providing customer support content via search.

STEP 4: Evaluate SaaS (“Software as a Service”) Internal Site Search Offerings

The SaaS model allows websites to provide powerful search capabilities to your visitors without visitors ever knowing that a 3rd party is providing the functionality.  The SaaS model can provide several benefits, including:

  • Reliable and scalable infrastructure
  • Lower cost of ownership
  • Easier upgrades
  • Faster time to market
  • Experienced support staff
  • Derive benefits of collective development on an ongoing basis

There are dozens vendors in this space, but the following are some of the leaders in the space:
•    Endeca
•    Omniture SiteSearch (Mercado)
•    SLI
•    Celebros
•    EasyAsk

Not surprisingly, each of these vendors (and the others not listed here) has strengths and weaknesses and should be evaluated in the context of the information you gather in Steps 1 through 3.

Follow the steps outlined above and you may see returns beyond your expectations.  Good luck and please contact us if you have any questions.  Also, we would be interested in any examples of high profile websites that you think have especially strong or weak internal search capabilities (let us know in a comment below)?

This entry was posted on Tuesday, March 23rd, 2010 at 6:30 am and is filed under Online Strategy, Site Search. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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