Your site search function is a critical component to how visitors experience your site. Site search has become the preferred method of navigation for most website visitors to find the products or information they seek. But more importantly, it generates higher conversions when comparing the purchasing behaviors of visitors who use the search box to those who don’t.
To maximize the potential of this important element of your site, there are steps you can take to ensure your site search is robust and that results are relevant. Here are five tips taken from the recently published Big Book of Site Search Tips for how you can quickly improve your visitors’ search experience and capture better bottom-line results.
1. Rely on user behavior to improve the relevance of search results. By examining search data, you can learn that visitors who enter a given search term are likely to click on a specific product. Your site search can rank this product at the top of search results, making the results more relevant and therefore easier for all visitors to find the results they seek.
2. Don’t confuse visitors by having the search box placed near other boxes, such as newsletter-subscribe boxes. Make sure your search box is distinctive and easy to find. Site visitors expect to easily find the search box, so it makes sense to position it prominently on its own. In the newsletter-subscribe box, for example, try putting the text “firstname.lastname@example.org,” which indicates that this box is expecting an email address, not a search term.
3. Consider storing and presenting recent searches to visitors. Being able to easily redo a recent search can help people that are returning to your site. Recent searches can be stored in a cookie and displayed anywhere on your site. (If you do offer this feature, add simple controls so visitors can delete the recent searches.)
4. Show the total number of results so visitors know how many are available. This helps them determine how far into the results they want to click. Additionally, if the search term yields a large number of results, they may want to click a refinement option.
5. Don’t show too many refinement groups. It’s hard to say exactly how many refinement options a search page should have, but in general, you don’t want to give visitors too many options or you risk confusing them. Determine the most appropriate refinements for the search terms used on your site — your site search data will be helpful here — by running tests to see what method works best.
The above tips can be implemented fairly easily and can have a great impact on the user experience on your site. Just remember to test any changes you make, so you’re assured that your business, as well as your customers, is getting the most from your site search.
Shaun Ryan is CEO of SLI Systems, a provider of hosted search solutions. Reach Shaun at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/shaunryan.