Administrators of ecommerce websites understand how important search engine optimization (SEO) is when it comes to a potential visitor to your site plugging in a search term via Google. However, what happens when a visitor has landed on your site and is trying to search for a product on it? This kind of search is called an on-site search or an internal search, and many ecommerce companies don’t seem to attach much value to it. The SEO experts at moz.com studied a 2014 eConsultancy report and summed up the dismal findings as follows. (These numbers may have risen somewhat since 2014, but it’s hard to find updated data.)

  • Only 15% of ecommerce businesses had dedicated resources to optimize the on-site search experiences of visitors to their sites.
  • 42% of ecommerce companies only included on-site search measurement with other online responsibilities.
  • 42% of ecommerce companies ignored on-site search measurement completely.

These figures only add up to 99%, so they are missing some decimal points, but they lead to the inescapable conclusion that approximately 85% of companies were not doing all they could to find out how well (or not) their on-site searches were working. And, that being the case, they were also doing nothing to optimize their on-site searches.

What are the Benefits of Optimizing On-Site Searches?

(To answer the question, here are some more distillations from the eConsultancy report)

  • Approximately 30% of visitors to a site performed an on-site search.
  • Customers who conducted an on-site search before buying generated more revenue than those who did not.
  • Conducting an on-site search is a strong predictor of eventual conversion.
  • Visitors performing an on- site-search were twice as likely to convert.
  • An individual conducting an on-site search that didn’t immediately lead to a conversion was more likely to later return to the site and make a purchase.
  • The average ecommerce conversion rate when an online search was not performed was 2.77%. This rate rose to 4.63% when visitors used an on-site search and found what they were looking for.

These numbers are very surprising in an industry that engages so intently in data-driven marketing. After all, users searching on a site are precisely the ones who are interested in what the site has to sell.

Common Problems with On-Line Searches

  • No significant attempts made to configure on-site searches to better match inventory or the needs of customers.
  • Search speed is slow causing the site visitor to give up and exit the site (possibly never to return).
  • Lack of query processing tools, such as a spell checker, and customized synonyms and abbreviations.

How to Measure Search Behavior

Before on-line searches can be optimized, the current state of the search program must be analyzed. Patterns revealed by analytics are important to pay attention to. For instance, how do on-site search results change as site content changes? How long does it take for visitors to find what they’re searching for? Or, do they ever find what they are looking for? Measuring search behavior provides a basis for deciding what improvements need to be made to improve a visitor’s search experience.

Click Through Rate (CTR)

The CTR on the SERP (Search Engine Results Pages) is a crucial measurement of visitor behavior. After all, clicks signal that the visitor has found something useful on the site. Moz found that a higher CTR correlated with a higher satisfaction with the search experience. A surprising discovery was that fewer people than anticipated had a “neutral” experience. What does this mean? It means that visitors a happy with (and remember) a good search experience and visitors are frustrated with (and remember) a poor search experience. The space for a neutral feeling is quite small. So, a positive search experience equals a greater chance for conversion. (Don’t forget to measure by different content type, eg. product pages, product guides, videos, blog posts.)

More Ways to Optimize On-Line Searches

  • Regularly initiate programs to promote certain products linked to popular search queries.
  • Regularly look at query logs to identify and address queries that produced zero results. Maybe your product description needs to be changed. Or, this could be useful information when considering what to add to a product line.
  • Make real-time stock level information available to on-site visitors.
  • Provide supplementary content, such as summaries of product reviews, to prod a visitor to convert.
  • Provide support in different languages.

The Bottom Line

In a physical store, sales staff can guide shoppers to similar or complementary products. However, on an online ecommerce site the sales staff is replaced by search-driven navigators. The larger your ecommerce product inventory, the more critical it is to optimize your online visitors’ searches. Whether you’re an ecommerce start-up or an established brand, whether you market directly to the consumer or are engaged in business-to-business marketing, consistently and regularly enhancing the usability of your on-site searches will inevitably lead to a better user experience and, in turn, to a higher conversion rate. Ecommerce site search performance does indeed have a measurable impact to your bottom line.

This article was contributed by Shreyas Kamath.