If you sold Widgets, and a Widget-buying customer walks into your store, can’t find any Widgets on her own, and when she asks what aisle they’re in you remain silent, would you fire yourself? Maybe contribute to the Darwin Awards?
Think of your site’s search box as a last chance to get a visitor to take action on your site. A majority of visitors will only use internal search as a last resort when they are unable to find what they are looking for through the landing page and its subsequent navigation. If the visitor gets zero results or are still unable to find what she wants in the search results, that result page will be her last stop on the way to your competitor’s site. While internal search is not used by the majority of visitors, it is necessary to provide a visitor with relevant and useful information when she does search.
Your visitors expectations of your site’s search is that it will perform as well as the search they are used to from their favorite search engine.
There are many ways that search result pages can be optimized to provide visitors with an easy means to find what they are looking for — or at least something that will keep the visitor moving through your site. Here are a few places to start:
Drill down and sorting options - Long lists of results can be daunting. Give visitors the option to drill down by various criteria. Allow visitors to drill down or to sort by category, price, brand, sale items, availability, best selling. Test which ones have the most impact.
Correct Misspellings - Misspellings are easy mistakes to make. Plan for these mistakes by bringing visitors the right results when they use the wrong spelling. Let the visitor know they have made a mis-spell (“did you mean: dictionary? “) and either provide the results directly on the page or provide link to the properly spelled results. Mine these on a regular basis and they’ll also provide you insights into merchandising opportunities.
Consider Related words - Visitors often use their own words to describe what they want, they may not use the exact words your site (or your industry) uses to describe what they are looking for. Use related words and common synonyms to bring back relevant results.
Listen to visitors - This is the only place on your website where you can get qualitative visitor information without pestering them or taking them out of the buying process. An early stage visitor who doesn’t have a lot of knowledge on the subject may search more often (but less efficiently), thereby yielding good insight into what words other early stage visitors think of. Look at what visitors have entered into your search, visitors may not know the exact name of what they are looking for. Mine the analytics data, look through the terms visitors are searching by and use this information to help bring future visitors closer to what they actually want.
Don’t have what they are looking for?- If you don’t have what visitors are looking for then you must present visitors with options to move forward. Give similar or replacement products if you don’t carry the specific product they are looking for, and if all else fails present links to most popular or featured items.
Help your visitors out by optimizing your search results we these tips. Following these rules you will be able to keep visitors on your site and bring them closer to the finding what they are looking for.