When it comes to finding information on your website using the built-in search feature, customers bring their experience with them — they expect the quality of results and ease-of-use they’ve grown accustomed to from searching on Google or other popular search engines. All too often, visitors using the site search feature leave disappointed. Nielsen/Norman group research found a mere 51% of visitors using site search found a relevant answer with their first query. Relevant site search results drop to 32% on the second query and to 18% on the third query. That is if the visitor is still trying by that time.
If someone visiting your site does not take the time to explore your home page or site navigation and fails to find relevant results when they use the site search feature, they will likely return to Google’s search results and make another selection. This means you have lost the chance to convert and signaled to Google’s ranking algorithm that your site was not relevant for the initial query. Double ouch.
Signs that Your Site Search Feature May be Underperforming
Visitors that land on the homepage quickly leave the site from the homepage
If more than 30% of visitors leave the site from the homepage (as show in Google Analytics User Behavior Flow), it is likely they did not find what they wanted on the page or in the navigation.
Visitors exit the site from the site search results page
If your site search results page has more than a 20% exit rate, it is likely that your site search did not deliver relevant results for their keyword searches.
Site Search Optimization Framework
1. Build your team – Improving audience engagement is an “all hands-on deck” initiative. Where available, team members should include developers, in-house SEOs, content managers, information architects and UX specialists – together these specialists will help frame the problem, deliver a solution and create meaningful benchmarks to measure success.
2. Collect site search data – Website search engines can report on visitor queries and behavior. The level of reporting depends on your application. Some standard reports are:
- Most frequent queries
- Queries that produced zero results
- Queries that produced zero click
- Search results page exit rate
- Search session reports (number if queries, results chosen, etc.)
3. Conduct keyword research – Compare high-volume, high-value keyword search performance on your website search engine and Google. Do the ranking results for your site content on Google match results returned by your website engine?
With enhanced configuration, site search engines can provide personalized data on visitor engagement with your search results. Your content team can manually curate top results as “Best Bets” for targeted queries or queries that produce zero results on their own. An information architect or UX professional can create a personalization framework to map specific content to observed site behavior patterns.
Another area where your developer will be helpful is configuring search engine webmaster accounts to use parameter exclusion to prevent search engines from presenting your site search results page in organic search results. You can also have your website analytics collect and report on site search usage.
4. Create an obvious, useful, and frictionless search user experience:
- Provide a noticeable search box at top of page (either right or left corner). Size the box to accommodate a two-to-three-word query. Those hourglass search icons are easy to miss.
- If you’re going to have instruction text inside the search box, make it clear. i.e., “search this site”.
- Provide search suggestions as the visitor types their query. These represent most popular searches that contained similar terms.
- Provide spell-check/spelling correction as many of us rely on this to find information and check our spelling.
Use the search engine to map synonyms for your products or services, e.g. show the same search results for handbag, purse, pocketbook.
Reasons to Maximize Your Site Search User Experience
- Increase sales and revenue: Site search users have a higher conversion rate than those who do not use site search. Answer customer information needs with their first query by tailoring relevance to your content landscape. Cross-sell and up-sell products with curated relevant results for high-value searches.
- Gain insights into what customers find too cumbersome to find through navigation: Site search reports can provide valuable information on what’s not working with navigation labels, categories, and menus.
- Leverage data to improve your rankings: Reverse engineer site search data to find the organic queries that bring customers to your site.
Leveraging internal site search analytics to help identify trends in the visitors coming to your site is crucial in helping drive conversions and understanding your audience better.