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What comes to mind when you think of on-site search? For a seemingly simple concept, site search can be difficult to define.

More and more decision makers have recognized the importance of on-site search, yet many lack a definitive starting point to execute an effective eCommerce strategy; the common questions among eCommerce managers seems to be “Where do I begin?”

Consider this post to be a road map to better site search. Providing you with a starting point, specific routes to take, and a rewarding destination at the end! It will provide a foundation covering features to implement, features to include, and some best practices. Let’s take a look at our essentials:

1. Design & Placement of the Search Box

The design and location of your search box is central to the effectiveness of your on-site search. It won’t help convert sales or increase your order value if visitors aren’t using it! Before we start adding on other features, we need to ensure that our search box can be found (through placement) and is being used (through design).

When considering where the search box should be located, think about accessibility. Visitors should be able to instantly locate and begin a search when your landing page loads. Generally, we recommend placing your search box above the fold, and ideally in the middle of the page header. The important point is that it’s placed in an obvious location to any new visitor.

The design of your search box plays an important role in persuading visitors to use your search tools, and a few simple tweaks can have it looking and performing at its best. Your search box should be wide enough to accommodate an average search query, meaning that the full query is displayed for the user.

You can consider making the search box a different color from your websites dominant choices, as contrast helps draw attention to the search box and increase the likelihood it will be used. Another adjustment to make is to the text inside the search box. By default, most boxes will say something like “Search…” or “Seach Our Store.” Customers know what search boxes do, and using a call to action (CTA) such as “Find Your Product,” or “Looking for something specific?” can help users understand how your site search can benefit them.

Amazon.com has perfectly positioned their search bar.

Amazon.com has perfectly positioned their search bar.

2. Corrections & Tolerance

Effective on-site search is all about presenting a potential customer with the right results based on their query. Sometimes however, the customer doesn’t have the correct query. Spelling mistakes, brands you don’t offer, and long-tail keyword searches can derail otherwise seamless search programs.

There are two aspects to managing corrections: understanding search queries and addressing the search results page of a poor query.

Users may misspell a word. Other times they may not know the product name and will guess. Regardless of user input, you should be able to return their intended results – or provide them with related ones. To handle misspellings or long-tail keyword searches, ensure your site search has fuzzy matching capabilities or an error tolerance margin.

Fuzzy matching allows you to display the correct result despite incorrect input. This is a crucial search feature, as the diversity between people means that not everyone uses the same word to describe something. To you it might be a ‘couch,’ but to your customers it might be a ‘sofa.’ The problem arises when your SKU’s are labeled couches, and without fuzzy matching, customers won’t see any results when they search for sofa’s.

Another correction is handling what happens when a query fails to return any results. This occurs as the result of a misspelled query or lack of product matches. This won’t happen as often with fuzzy matching implemented. Even still, some people may simply be searching for something you don’t offer. Despite being unable to fill that need, you can miss out on valuable opportunity if you return zero results.

To combat this, a great practice is to provide suggested/related searches, or highlight your top performing products! This way, regardless of what the user searches for, there will always be products displayed and another path to purchase for the customer to take. These behind-the-scenes corrections may seem trivial, but they are vital components of a simple and succinct search experience.

3. Autocomplete

What if there was a way to avoid those mistakes we just mentioned? What if you could suggest products to a visitor before they misspelled a word – while they were still typing out their search query? That’s the 30 second elevator pitch for Autocomplete.

Autocomplete combines the best features of site search into one technology. It provides accurate suggestions, handles fuzzy matching, and assists with product merchandising and promotions at the same time.

The true value of autocomplete is the improved user experience it provides. When a customer knows that you carry a certain product, like a red purse, they want to find it quickly. Providing autocomplete in your site search delivers the correct product at a faster rate than normal, and becomes a win-win for both the customer and the business.

4. Search Refinements & Navigation

The search experience continues even when someone isn’t using the search box. There are a number of ways users interact with your on-site search. The most prominent example of that is site navigation and search refinements.

What is navigation? Simply, navigation is the tabs or ‘sections’ of your website that you categorize products into. For example: a fashion website offering you ‘Mens’, ‘Womens’, and ‘Kids’ sections to browse through. These comprise the website’s navigation.

Navigation provides an excellent start, but you may need to be more specific than ‘Womens’ in order to find that perfect red purse. This is where refinements come in. They allow the search to be focused and filtered down according to a number of factors. Factors include things like price range, color, style, brand, rating, or even sale items.

JimmyJazz's navigation simplifies their users search experience.

JimmyJazz's navigation simplifies their users search experience.

If someone had an idea of what they wanted (like a red purse), but want to browse their options, they can use a combination of your websites navigation and search refinements to narrow their search. It may not be a search box, but these visitors are still ‘searching’ your website, and that qualifies these particular features as site search essentials.

Without navigation and refinements, a potential customer would spend their time searching through pages of available products in hopes of finding that one purse. With navigation and refinements, they select ‘Womens,’ and quickly refine their search by color (red), brand (Michael Kors), price ($200-300), and rating (3.5 stars+). Now, instead of thousands of options, they have a few ideal results to choose from.

5. Product Highlighting

The last essential for site search occurs on the result pages. After you’ve searched for ‘red purse’ or have navigated to the ‘Purse’ page, you’re presented with a page of products matching that description. Traditionally organized in a grid format, this final stage of making products and their attributes stand out is another important search feature.

GoPro's highlighting has price, model compatibility, CTA buttons, and 'New' indicators.

GoPro's highlighting has price, model compatibility, CTA buttons, and 'New' indicators.

Known as product highlighting, this feature allows users to learn about products right on the results page. We consider this a part of effective site search because it’s about providing customers with the information they want to know.

With a search box, the customer wanted products that fit their search. With product highlighting, customers want information related to those specific products.

Information includes multiple product shots so that customers can see the entire product, regular price versus sale price, even the ratings it has! Once a customer has found a product through your site search, you have to sell them on it with highlighting!

Putting It Together

There you have it – our take on the 5 essentials of on-site search – from search box design to final product presentation. By implementing these recommendations, you can ensure that you have a fluid and functional search experience across your entire website.

Optimizing the location and design of the search box ensures visitors can find and use it. Once they’re using search, having corrections and tolerance allows you to return the correct product every time; even if the customer uses an incorrect query! Better yet, enabling intelligent autocomplete lets you deliver results before the search is finished.

Once customers have landed on the category they’re looking for, refinements and navigation empower users to filter options until they see the exact model they’re looking for. Finally, once they’ve found their top candidates, exceptional product merchandising conveys the key selling points and helps to close the sale.

Now, we didn’t cover everything that you can implement, but we feel like this is an excellent foundation to begin with. Was there anything we missed, or should elaborate on? Even if you just have some specific questions about our products or the efficacy of on-site search – be sure to reach out to us over at @Nextopia; or call our team of experts at 800-360-2191!

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