Practical Ecommerce

Site Search Can Pay Dividends

Improved site search and “recommender” functions not only improve a user’s experience at a website, but they can also help improve a site’s sales, according to site-search professionals.

Converting visitors into buyers frequently hinges on a site’s ability to quickly and correctly get the right products in front of the consumer.

“If someone is looking for a product, quite often the very first thing he will do is go to the search box,” said Chris Cleveland, CEO of search-technology provider Dieselpoint. “If people type in a few words and they do not see the product on the first page, they will go away. So, it is critical to hit it right the first time.”

Faceted search

The advent of “faceted search” has provided a new tool for ecommerce sites to deploy to help shoppers more quickly narrow down options and find the product for which they were searching. If I searched for “bears,” for instance, at a retail site, a “faceted search” would give me options to narrow the results based on price, colors, styles and various other attributes. If I”m in the market for a blue, porcelain grizzly bear that is between 5-12 inches tall and costs $7-$19, I can quickly see what a site has to offer if it has a faceted-search capability.These facets may be accessed through a navigation bar or pull-down windows, but the result is the same—customers can find what they want much more quickly.

“These attributes are going to be different for every product,” Cleveland said. “It is really very product specific. The choice of facets is very important. It requires some knowledge on the part of the ecommerce site owner as to which attributes are most likely going to matter to the given customer. That is all part of designing a good site.”

Increases average order size

Mike Baranov, director of ecommerce operations at Footwear, Etc. recently deployed the SLI Systems site-search technology, and he feels the software showcases a greater variety of products to shoppers. It has also helped increase the average cart size of each of his online transactions.

“This really adds power when people are looking for things beyond already knowing the exact shoe they want,” said Baranov. “I can definitely say we have noticed an increase inmultiple items per order.Whereas, before, somebody would order one pair of shoes, now we are seeing two or three pairs per order more frequently. When somebody wants a pair of shoes, it is easier to find what they are looking for. They can see more options rather than just clicking on a single pair of shoes.”

Not only can a more robust site-search technology impact the bottom line, but Sue Chapman, senior manager at site-search provider Mercado, notes that the functionality that includes spelling correction, synonyms for products, cross-sell and up-sell features and other merchandising functions can make a dramatic impact on a site’s bottom line. She also noted that it’s important a merchant have the flexibility to determine in what order products are displayed to customers: by the most popular products purchased, by the product having the most units in inventory or some other attribute.

“We realize every business is different, and everybody’s online catalog is not the same,” she said. “The ecommercemerchant should have the ability to decide how products are ranked in order when a search is returned so that it works for their customer base and their product line.”

Remember synonyms

Chapman noted that synonym functionality is important because many shoppers search by brand names. For instance, Mercado client Williams-Sonoma.com doesn’t carry Crock-Pots, but they do sell slow cookers. Many people search for the brand name “Crock-Pot,” and it’s important that the site-search software knows that it should generate results for various “slow cookers” rather than return a page stating there were no matching results. A site may not sell Nike shoes, but it does sell other brands of athletic shoes, and the search engine should return results for Adidas, Reebok or other athletic brands if someone enters “Nike” in a search box. “If you’ve got really good search, (customers) can find what they are looking for,” Chapman said. “You can turn a no-results page into a real shopping opportunity. People bail on a no-results page. That’s an abandonment area.”

SLI Systems recently expanded its faceted search to include regular navigation (i.e., browsing without typing in a keyword). Like their search offering, the navigation “learns” from consumers and continuously improves the relevance of the results. Shaun Ryan, CEO of the sitesearch software company, notes site-search engines also can help boost a website’s SEO appeal.

“We are very focused on the search engine optimization, so we have designed this to be particularly search-engine friendly,” said Ryan. He said that SLI’s system allows all combination of facets and the site-search pages themselves to be found by search engines, thereby, helping a site’s organic search engine rankings. In addition to providing pinpoint information to shoppers, contemporary site-search technology also helps a site owner gain critical insight into the search and navigation behavior of a consumer.

Prices for this type of technology can start as low as $700-$1,000 monthly, and it increases significantly depending upon various add-ons. There are licensed solutions and hosted solutions. Prices for hosted solutions often scale based on the quantity of searches at the particular site.

Improving site-search can dramatically alter a user’s experience at a site, help increase the amount of products the consumer buys and influence howfrequently the shopper returns to your site.

“We found there is a difference between the people who type in keywords and the people who browse,” Cleveland said. “Usually, the people who type keywords are actually looking for a product, a specific thing. They are more likely to be buyers. They are the people who have the higher conversion rates. So, it is critical that they see what they are looking for almost immediately.”

Practical Ecommerce

Practical Ecommerce

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