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If you are serious about eCommerce conversion rate optimization, you NEED to optimize your site search.

Why?

On average, 50% of all eCommerce revenue comes from the search function. And if this wasn’t enough, search users convert 6 times better than shoppers who just browse.

Sounds promising, doesn’t it?
Well, in today’s guide you’re going to learn everything you need to know about site search optimization.

Let’s do this.

Contents

Chapter 01

Chapter 01

What is eCommerce conversion rate optimization?

Chapter 02

Chapter 02

If thay can't find it, you can't sell it

Chapter 03

Chapter 03

Methods that bring you more revenue

Chapter 04

Chapter 04

BONUS: How to design 0-results pages

Chapter 05

Chapter 05

Conclusion

CHAPTER 01

What is eCommerce conVersion rate optimization?

Before anything else (in order to make sure we are on the same page) let me start off with the definition of conversion rate optimization and the importance of site search in the big picture.

  • DEFINITION: Conversion Rate Optimization (CRO)
    It is the systematic process of increasing the percentage of website visitors who take a desired action.

In eCommerce, this desired action is usually the purchase of a product or service – you convert visitors to customers.

And believe me, you want to maximize the percentage of converted visitors. There is a huge difference between every 10th visitor buying from you and every 9th. This small change in conversion means you doubled your sales.

By increasing your eCommerce website’s conversion rate, you effectively boost your revenue, and hopefully your profit too.

So: what makes site search optimization so important?

In short, if you do site search right, you can increase your conversion rate by 15-80%.

“And what about the big picture?” – I’m glad you asked:

When you sell products online you have three main jobs:

 1. attract visitors to your site

2. help them find the product they are looking for

3. once they have found it, get them through the checkout process as quickly as possible

Most retailers focus on the first job and, in turn, spend a huge portion of their budget on SEO and PPC. The second and third jobs relate to eCommerce conversion rate optimization. More experienced eCommerce managers allocate resources to optimizing the checkout process (3rd job).

However, the majority of the eCommerce industry is unaware of the importance of helping customers find the product they want to buy and the role site search plays in the customer’s journey.

CHAPTER 02

If They Can’t Find It, You Can’t Sell It

When search works, it’s like magic.

You just type in the query and relevant results are displayed in milliseconds. You could hardly imagine a more efficient way to serving thousands of daily customers in your eCommerce business.

When it doesn’t work, it’s really frustrating.

Clicking through all the different categories, link after link is a real pain for everyone. It doesn’t take much of this for visitors to get bored and hit the back button in hopes of finding a website where they CAN find the product they’re looking for.

The question is, “does it matter if you lose these customers?”

Depending on your industry, 10-40% of your users are search users and 40-80% of your income is generated from these shoppers. Their decisions hugely impact your average eCommerce conversion rate.

Here’s another statistic:

Although, on average, search users convert 6 times better, in certain cases, this number can be as high as 19!

This stat is mind blowing, isn’t it?

Interestingly:

According to Baymard, 34% of the top 50 grossing US eCommerce sites do poorly when it comes to search optimization. They do not support thematic searches (e.g. spring, cold weather etc.), feature searches (e.g. leather jacket, red shoes, under $100, anti-aging skincare), symptom-based search where the visitor only knows the issue at hand (“stained rug”, “dry cough”).
Most web shops still lag behind, here, but how long do you think it will stay like that? Now that you know all this, I’m sure you don’t want to miss out on any of the techniques we’ll present in this guide. At the end of the day: If they can’t find it, they can’t buy it.

CHAPTER 03

METHODS THAT BRING YOU MORE REVENUE

1. Reduce 0-Result Rates to a Minimum

On average, 20-30% of the eCommerce website searches end in 0-results.

Zero results are not only the queries that lead to dead-end results, but also queries with irrelevant results.

Why is this important?

When customers land on a 0-results page, you’re indirectly telling them that you don’t have the product or service they would like to buy, which causes them to continue shopping on ANOTHER eCommerce website. This is a huge loss, not only if you do sell the product they’re looking for, but even if you don’t because you can use this opportunity to sell alternative or related products.

The above mentioned 20-30% 0-search result rate is way too high.

But no need to worry about that:

In our experience you can reduce it to 5-8% by implementing the best methods available.
This optimization can increase your conversion rate by 10-20%.

Lowering the rate or 0-result pages automatically boosts your chance of making sales as you not only show more products, but also more relevant ones.

Simply put:

If you provide relevant “answers” to your customers’ problems, your conversion rate will skyrocket.

2. Remove Irrelevant Search Results

Search results need to be set in a proper order – based on relevancy:

  • First: the most relevant terms
  • Next: a list of other moderately relevant results.

Irrelevant results communicate the wrong message; the shopper gets the wrong idea about your products. They may be looking for a specific product with a specific brand, but if that doesn’t appear among the results, they may safely assume that you don’t sell that product.

However, you should allow shoppers to sort the results as well by providing options such as: “price: low to high”, “newest”, and “most relevant”. This should always be set to “most relevant”, so shoppers don’t get lost in the results.

By not showing the most relevant products first, you make it more difficult for them to find what they’re looking for, and consequently, your conversion rate will suffer.

In the two photos below, you can see how different the results are depending on how they’re sorted and if someone simply searches for “milk”, they’re most likely expecting to find results more similar to the second photo.

What do people want? Comfort and pleasure. People generally only look at products on the first page. If your products aren’t ranked correctly, people won’t buy anything since they won’t take the time to scroll through seemingly endless pages of products to find what they want. Our statistics in the consumer electronics industry serve as a telling example:

  • Each query via the search function is worth 3-4 dollars for the business on average.
  • The number of executed search queries can be nearly 1 million per month.
  • If 30% of these searches fail, that means your shop would lose a minimum of $900,000 of monthly revenue.

3. Setup Precise Synonym Handling

Your site search needs to fulfil the function of a good servant.

There are two main areas in which you need to optimize your search:

1. Jargon: It needs to provide assistance by suggesting variants of the user query to support the different directions it may take. You simply can’t force your customers to use the jargon of your industry, nor can you expect them to take the time to learn it. They need your help.

2. Alternatives: Furthermore, you need to make the visitor aware of the related, associated, and compatible products and categories. Just as they don’t know the jargon, they likely won’t know the alternative choices and solutions either.

This way, the user gets information about the different types of content available in the product catalogue. They will learn more about your products and services, which may even lead to future purchases. “Can I help you, sir? Let me get that.”

Synonyms are needed as users often search for keywords other than those listed in the product name and description. Remember: Shoppers are customers, not experts in your industry, who are likely to have limited experience and knowledge of the products you offer.

But: eCommerce professionals have trouble managing the ‘synonym editorial process’ using current tools. It takes too much time and leads to tedious and complicated work. Most of these tools require manual work from eCommerce product managers and offer little to nothing in terms of automation.

In order to properly handle synonyms, the management needs to be automated, and for that, you need a 3rd party solution. I can assure you, with this, your conversion rate will improve within 1 month time.

4. Boost Search Result Loading Speed

Search results load way too slowly on most sites. Even if you have the perfect system for handling autosuggestions, relevancy, and synonyms, you can still lose your search users if you keep them waiting too long. This applies both to the search box in the header and to search result pages (SERP).

1. Search box – autocomplete First and foremost this is a technical challenge. According to Baymard: “autocomplete suggestions should appear and update nearly instantaneously as the user types.” This requires a highly optimized 3rd party solution that can produce autocomplete suggestions almost instantly without making the search experience too noisy.

There are many parameters to be optimized here, but even so individual page load times can and most probably will vary. You need to make sure the way the autocomplete suggestions work during loading times does not confuse your customers.

The most important takeaway: 100 milliseconds is the ideal response time. Within this limit users feel they have a direct impact on the search panel. This would be the optimal speed between user input and autosuggestions loading (give or take a few milliseconds).

2. Search result page: A search result page needs to load in under 2 seconds. This is especially important for mobile search users. It is a good practice to load only a set number of results as a default, so your page loading speed isn’t bogged down by thousands of products.

You can use certain techniques to let customers browse the rest of the results:

  • Pagination: results are divided and displayed on multiple pages.
  • Infinite Scrolling: results continually load as the user approaches the bottom of the list.
  • “Load more” button: the simplest solution of all. The visitor doesn’t have to figure out which page to go to next, the interface simply asks: “Do you want to see more results?”

 

Which one is the best? Though pagination and infinite scrolling are more common, we would recommend using the “Load more” button solution for two main reasons:

 

1. Less distracting: if your search engine works well, in which case you display the most relevant results first, you don’t want the user to start scrolling down or going to other pages. Instead, they should be able to focus on the results that contain the items they would most probably want to buy.

 

2. Easier to pull off and optimize: Compared to pagination and infinite scrolling, which can be really hard to optimize in order to provide excellent user experience, the load more option is easy. Pagination and scrolling are more likely to become buggy or slow.

 

In any case, this is something worth experimenting with. Defining a selection that works best has a lot to do with your industry and target audience, so test all options and the one that yields the highest conversion rate is the winner. For example: In the consumer electronics industry where there are usually dozens of potential alternatives for the same product, people like to spend much more time browsing. Here, infinite scrolling might beat a “Load more” button, as there is a much wider range of products the customers can choose from. Therefore, enabling the customers to search quickly and to compare products to one another can be of higher importance than helping them to focus on the very limited list of the most relevant results.

 

5. Add Category Search

 

This is an easy way to make up for your site’s lack of speed, but only in the short run. By adding ‘category search’ next to or below the search box you can greatly improve your customers’ search experience. This can be useful in the long run because users may need further assistance and direction. When a visitor wants to buy something for her baby, she can set the filter for the baby category and can rest assured that all the products displayed will be relevant for her query. This initial assistance in the search will set the tone for her whole experience.

6. No Need to Test Their Memory – Keep the Search Term in the Box  

When displaying search results, make sure that the original search query is displayed – regardless of whether it ends on a 0-results page or not. Even if you display relevant results, visitors might want to adjust their query because they realized they wanted something else.

Here is another scenario: A visitor makes a typo – this happens to everyone – and it’s possible that even the autocomplete doesn’t notice it, because the query makes sense. If the shopper isn’t able to see their query, they might simply abandon the site with the impression that you don’t carry the product they’re looking for.

Search results should give the shopper a sense of direction, it should be a point of safety that helps them navigate. Here is a simple, but powerful tip: No matter what, keep the searched term in the box at all times!

 

7. Provide Keyword Autocomplete (Especially) on Mobile Devices

The likelihood of typos occurring on mobile devices is extremely high, which means in order to increase the rate of successful searches on mobile you have to heavily rely on autocomplete. It is frustrating for a user to have to go back to the beginning of a long tail keyword just to correct a typo; it would be much easier for them to select from an autocomplete suggestion as they type.

This, in turn, ensures that they get to the product they are searching for and don’t end up on a 0-results page, which will inevitably happen if the search engine fails to recognize and correct typos in a timely manner.

Here is the key: The autosuggestions must be relevant and change while the user types. This is crucial to implement when you are looking for ways to improve the average conversion rate in an eCommerce store.

Statistics show that that mobile users are responsible for 19% of all US retail eCommerce sales and that figure is estimated to reach 27% by 2019.

There needs to be a greater focus on the users in your eCommerce conversion rate optimization strategy.

After a bad mobile experience, 30-50% of your site’s users will leave and go to a competitor. 84% of shoppers have experienced difficulty completing a mobile transaction. The number of mobile users is growing, the question is how long will it take for eCommerce websites to catch up with the users’ expectations?

Do you want to be among the first or one of those who lags behind?

Capitalizing on strategies such as optimizing your website’s mobile search can put you way ahead of your competitors. This way, their visitors will leave their site for yours and not vice versa.

8. Measure (And Develop) the Quality of Your Site Search

One of the biggest challenges eCommerce business owners face regarding site search is finding a way to collect and use data to optimize their processes.

They simply don’t have the right tools to measure the quality of their site search and are unable to detect problems or target the “low-hanging-fruit”: the areas that would bring the greatest return and highest increase in your site’s conversion rate in the shortest period of time.

eCommerce managers usually have three options:

1. If you’re using an open source eCommerce platform (Magento, Shopify, Woocommerce, etc.) you can utilize the platform’s built-in statistics. However, these reports are very limited: For example, with Magento, you can only check the stats for the Last Searched Terms and Top Searched Terms on your dashboard. Of course there are extensions that you can use in addition, but none are advanced.

2. I am pretty sure every marketer knows about Google Analytics. Though GA can be useful in several ways, it unfortunately doesn’t provide in-depth details about eCommerce search analytics. For example, it doesn’t provide information about which keywords yield 0-results. This is detrimental to businesses because it is one of the most important stats to know when you start optimizing your site search.

3. There are 3rd party site search solutions that are fully optimized to help you bring out the most of your site search. Some offer in-depth reports about your customer’s search habits – 0-result searches included.

However, the only search provider that offers this feature for free is Prefixbox.
Fortunately, all you need is an email address to start using their analytics for free.

9. Find an Experienced eCommerce Development Company Who Can Implement High Quality Search Solutions

eCommerce web development companies do not tend to have the knowledge or experience to build high quality search solutions on their own.

And a mediocre solution is a no-go here asit could cause more harm than good, not to mention the expenses. It is not a coincidence that site search solutions that work well are built by companies who specialize in site search.

However, your web development provider can help you find the right third party solution to use because it’s important to find one that integrates seamlessly with your webshop. Third party search products that are available in the market are much faster and easier to implement than developing a solution of your own and they are not only better quality provide, but also boost your ROI more than what an eCommerce web development company could do.

Another thing to watch out for is customer service:

Site search is a crucial element of your web store; it is complex and ever-changing. Therefore, having a customer success manager who can help you boost your business and solve problems quickly can be a huge plus.

10. Look Out for the Latest Site Search Best Practices

eCommerce site search, just like all other areas of eCommerce, is changing quickly. In fact, 72% of sites fail eCommerce site search expectations. In order to be in the lucky 28% you need to keep up with the latest trends and best practices. But don’t worry I’ve got you covered: In my previous article I gathered the Top 25 eCommerce Site Search Best Practices to turn those lovely visitors into buyers via site search. From the basics to the most advanced best pratices you can find everything in this guide to further enhance your eCommerce CRO efforts.

11. Optimize the Number of Attribute Filters

a. Less is more: Only the most significant and relevant attributes should be listed as filters in order to avoid confusion. You can easily find at least 3-4 filters that will be useful for the user.

Here is the tricky part: You need to minimize the number of filters. There are various studies on the maximum amount of items one can store in their conscious mind. In the past, countless psychological experiments have shown that the optimal number is around 7, plus or minus 2.

However, a new study puts the limit at three or four. In many industries, however, it seems impossible to decrease the number of filters at all. As a rule of thumb we would strongly recommend avoiding using more than 10 because the system needs to be well-optimized and manageable.

b. Eliminate irrelevant filters: Irrelevant filters only complicate the search experience and too many options overwhelm the visitor. Nike includes only 4 filters when you’re viewing their sweatpants, which makes filtering easy.

Analytics stats can be a good start to look for clues on what to eliminate. One might only need price range and brand for certain prodicts, whereas for others, color and technical attributes are just as important.

Think of a simple item like a purse: If someone searches for purse, size isn’t an effective filter; style, color, and price range would be more suitable. If someone searches for USB, color should not be a filter.

12. Do an Upgrade from Your Basic Search Engine

Data-driven search is a rarity in eCommerce businesses, but it is quickly becoming a bare necessity.

Things look bad: Most eCommerce platforms have a built-in search function, but their included features are limited and hardly meet the modern requirements that are needed for you to measure and optimize the site search function.

Their analytics tracking is also limited and doesn’t even meet the bare minimum of requirements. House-built solutions tend to be even worse and usually don’t include any tracking or portals to analyze the performance.

Therefore, the optimization of their current solution is not possible and this is the underlying problem.

A common misconception is that just having an autocomplete box is enough and you’ve done your part, but many an experts share the opinion that this is just the starting point, and if it doesn’t work seamlessly, you shouldn’t implement it at all until you find the right solution.

Here’s the deal: If you want to optimize your conversion rate with site search, the most important job to do first is to have a provider who helps you implement the latest site search solutions. SaaS companies are usually to be the best option because, their pricing and features tend to both be flexible. If you’re lucky, you may find a free plan so you can test the solution risk free.

CHAPTER 04

BONUS: HOW TO DESIGN 0-RESULTS PAGES

1. Always Take the Blame

You don’t want to be silent when things go wrong with your search.

When this happens, the first thing you want to do is to inform the user that the fault is on your end. It isn’t the user’s fault that you couldn’t give them what they wanted.

For a start, a message like this would do:
Sorry, we were unable to find results for ‘xyz’.
You might want to try our (synonyms, seasonal items).

Once you have this in place you can go back any time and change it.

Here is an example from another industry: the Dutch post.
No matter what happens, the show still must go on…

2. Give the User Clear Instructions of What to Do Next

Providing helpful suggestions is a crucial step in preventing the buyer from reaching dead-ends. Here is the situation:

  • For some reason, the user got to a 0-results page.
  • You cannot give up on them, your job now is to help them try again.
  • It never hurts to emphasize that you empathize with them. Show genuine interest and provide a few helpful tips on how to refine their queries.

Since there are no results to display, you have a lot of space to give them some clear instructions of what to do. It’s a plus if you can provide some examples too – these examples can be specific to the type of products you sell. The instructions can be about: checking their spelling, searching for simpler, shorter terms, or something less specific. The instructions should be friendly, concise, and clear.

3. Suggest Something Similar – Related Products, Cross-sell, Up-sell, Bestsellers  

When customers land on a 0-result page, be sure to provide alternatives. Recommending some of your other product categories would be a good start. You can also show off your bestsellers or display personalized recommendations based on the user’s previously purchased items.

Worst case scenario? Well, they discover one of your new products, click on it and maybe end up purchasing it.

None of this would have happened had you not presented your bestsellers on the side.

The search box algorithm functions the same as a great shop clerk: it recommends alternatives, names your bestsellers if the customer looks interested, and reports if a 0-result query comes up too often.

According to Baymard, 0-result pages should work as follows: They should take users by the hand and point them toward meaningful content and solutions that become an enabler rather than a roadblock.

4. Make Sure Somebody Is Always There for the Customer

The most ideal place for contact information is the 0-results page. The more options you provide, the better: some people like to call and get a direct answer right away, some prefer email, and some prefer instant messenger contact. Speed is everything so the more direct the answer, the better. Here is the best part: This way you provide users with both a way to formulate their needs and a chance to highlight gaps in your content. You can build upon the feedback and the customer feels that her/his opinion matters.

5. Make Sure Customers Have the Chance to Submit the Missing Content

Sometimes the best answer is provided by the customer. It’s the customer who can suggest and link content, which they can’t seem to find but are desperately looking for. This works best with user generated lists, but every website would benefit from user contributions. User feedback is great for your content marketing strategy.

6. Be Creative, Proactive, and Unique

Turn things around. Turn something which would normally be considered an embarrassing experience – not being able to fulfill the customer request – into an emotionally loaded and fun experience instead. Look for fun ways to interact with users on your 0-result page.

Don’t be lazy: Try coming up with something creative. Not many eCommerce businesses exploit this possibility to add an extra layer for interaction.

There are plenty options available to create original content. Should you need any help or inspiration, there are many design agencies that specialize on 404 pages, which might be able to help you.

7. Important SEO TIP

Google doesn’t like it when search result pages get indexed and start popping up in the browser.

This happens because certain eCommerce companies started trying to hack the system by optimizing their search result pages’ URLs in a way that allows them to show up among Google search results.

Though no one knows whether Google is already penalizing this or if they will in the future, the best possible step for most eCommerce companies is to not let their search results get indexed.

You can prevent this by editing your site’s robots.txt.

In Magento, the URL of a search results page should look like this: /catalogsearch/result/?q=dragontear

In this case, all you need to add to your robots.txt file is: Disallow: /catalogsearch

CHAPTER 05

CONCLUSION

It’s crazy how much you can improve your average eCommerce conversion rate with a proper site search solution.

And now, you’ve learned all the best techniques to make it happen!

A ton of work and all my knowledge has been put into this guide, so I hope you enjoyed it.

Now, I’d like to hear what you’re going to do next.

What’s the #1 technique you’re going to start with?

Are you going to focus on optimizing 0-result pages? Find a 3rd party site search solution? Or improve your site search loading speed?

Let me know by leaving a comment below!