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How To Choose The Right Site Search Solution

An effective site search solution can help ecommerce sites drive sales and traffic, but customers’ expectations are high. You can thank search engines like Google—and now Bing—for raising your customers’ search expectations through the roof.

You may be working hard on your natural and paid search campaigns to draw visitors to your site. Ideally you will be directing visitors deep within your site to content that is relevant to their query term. However often they won’t land in exactly the right place or they’ll need additional information and if your site search function doesn’t perform well, they’ll waste no time in shopping elsewhere. A survey we conducted found that 73 percent of visitors will leave an ecommerce site within one to two minutes if they don’t find the products they’re looking for, 36 percent of which won’t ever bother returning to the site.

To meet consumer expectations, site search continues to evolve, and quickly. The site search of today has become so full-featured that it bears little resemblance to search solutions of just two or three years ago.  Now site search has evolved to a point where it does far more than simply generate a list of possible results for a search term. It helps website owners merchandise effectively with images and video; it is essential for SEO campaigns; and it helps improve the user experience in many ways.

All site search solutions are not alike

Effective site search has become a must-have for a successful website, along with easy navigation. However, all search functions are not built alike. Offering a mediocre site search experience—for instance, the search is slow, it returns results that are not relevant or can’t account for spelling errors—can turn off potential customers and prevent them from becoming loyal followers.

Conversely, a robust and effective site search solution can do much more than help visitors find information—it can boost other site and business optimization efforts, including SEO and paid search.

To find the right site search solution, ask these six questions and satisfy yourself that you’re getting the answer that meets or exceeds the needs of your customers.

Are the results relevant? The single most important feature about search is that it returns relevant results that actually mirror what the site visitor seeks. This is the Google effect in action. While it may sound obvious, too many site search solutions offer results that are totally off the mark.

Consumers have very little patience for a search that doesn’t deliver relevant results. The best solutions “learn” from visitors’ site search activity by leveraging information about search queries—the keywords used and resulting items that site visitors actually click on. This greatly improves the chance that your visitors will find what they’re looking for within the first page of results, increasing the likelihood of a purchase.

Do you have the resources required to run and maintain the site search? The best site search solution in the world will fall apart if it’s not deployed and maintained correctly. Search can require significant computing and technical support resources, both to build and update the indexes, and to robustly serve the search results.

If you don’t have these resources available, you should choose a site search vendor that provides search as a hosted service (SaaS). Additionally, a hosted search provider gives you a way to get a robust site search solution up and running with little to no installation or training time, and requires no ongoing maintenance or software upgrades.

Does your site search vendor give you control? Online businesses should have the freedom to merchandise and promote products using search—for example to adjust the position of items within search results (because of a sale or other promotion), or to place promotional banners on search results pages. You must be able to use the valuable real estate on your search pages to communicate with customers and draw their attention to products or services you want to promote.

Can you repurpose data from search? Site search can do much more than help your site visitors find what they’re looking for. The data from site search can improve the customer experience in many ways. For example, you can easily create landing pages that are targeted to the query term used on a paid search ad by using your site search pages as landing pages Search data can also improve your SEO campaigns. Site search activity, such as keywords and the items clicked on, can help you determine which terms you should optimize your pages for, and what products to show visitors on corresponding landing pages.

Does your search solution constantly improve? Your search solution provider shouldn’t get too comfortable. You want a vendor that is constantly looking for ways to innovate and make their site search solution even more useful and effective for your business. In addition, you need a site search that can be customized to meet your company’s unique search requirements, including those that may come up in the future. For example we have recently seen more and more of our customers using video on their site and found is beneficial to surface any video content in site search.

Can you measure site search performance? Advanced site search solutions provide integration with various analytics tools, such as Google Analytics, Omniture and Coremetrics. Within these tools, users can compare conversion rates for site search users vs. non-site search users, and can determine the average order size for each. Analytics help you understand where you need to focus your efforts to improve your site and your business.

Another way to improve site search performance is via multivariate testing, which allows you to measure the results of multiple changes to various aspects of your site search. You can track how certain changes to your site search results pages improve or weaken your conversion rate—e.g. if you change the layout of the search.

As site visitors’ expectations continue to climb, the last of your worries should be whether or not your site search can keep up with their demands for speed and relevant results. A robust site search solution should allow you flexibility and control where you want it, while letting you rest assured that your customers’ search needs are being taken care of today and in the future. In a challenging online environment, every market advantage is welcome.

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.

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