Practical Ecommerce

Using Site Search to Grow B2B Revenue

If you help ecommerce shoppers quickly find what they are looking for, you will likely sell more. To accomplish this, look at your site’s navigation as well as its search function. In this article, I will share challenges for B2B site search — and how to overcome them.

Challenges for B2B Site Search

An optimized site search is beneficial for B2C and B2B ecommerce sites. But B2B sites often have unique challenges when it comes to search. Here are some of the most common.

  • Part number searches. In B2B, shoppers search by the part number they use to refer to an item. In some cases, they may search by a partial part number, or the part number may have a hyphen in it. Moreover, there can be more than one part number for the same product. Part numbers can be problematic for standard search platforms.
  • Similar products. Many B2B companies have multiple products that are very similar. They are represented by the same photo and, perhaps, nearly the same description. There may be 100 SKUs that look the same but are different in size, strength, and other attributes. This can make it difficult for shoppers to locate the correct item in a search.
  • No pricing or add-to-cart on search results. B2B companies often provide customized pricing by customer. Thus, a company may not list prices in search results and may exclude an add-to-cart button in the results. This slows down purchases.

Reviewing Your Site Search

A good way to review your site search is to set up Google Analytics search tracking. To do this, first determine the query parameter for your search. In the example below, the query parameter is “q” in one case and “keyword” in another.

The search parameter for Arrow.com is "q".

The search parameter for Arrow.com is “q”.

For Pensnmore.com, the search parameter is "keyword".

For Pensnmore.com, the search parameter is “keyword”.

Then, in Google Analytics, go to Admin > View Settings. Set “Site search Tracking” to “On” and enter your query parameter.

In Google Analytics, so to Admin > View Settings. Set "Site search Tracking" to "On" and enter your query parameter.

In Google Analytics, so to Admin > View Settings. Set “Site search Tracking” to “On” and enter your query parameter.

This will allow you to see:

  • How many of your website visitors use your site search;
  • The conversion rate of visitors who use your search and those who don’t;
  • The most-searched keywords.

In my experience, visitors who use search have a higher conversion rate. Reviewing this metric before and after you make changes to your search will help you understand their impact.

After enabling search tracking in Google Analytics, let a week go by and see the most common search terms. Now try those searches yourself. How do they look? Do you get the correct product as the top search result?

Optimizing Your Site Search

Here are three ways to get the most out of your site search.

  • Promoting specific products for top searches. Once you have used Google Analytics to identify your top searches, identify the products you want to appear for those searches. Manually override the search results if necessary. This could require a developer’s assistance.
  • Improve your search-results page with a focus on conversion. Consider a usability consultant for recommendations. Otherwise, compare your search results pages to large retailers like Amazon and Office Depot. Improve your product images. If possible, provide pricing and an add-to-cart button. Include product reviews for social proof.
  • Ensure part numbers return the correct results. As I noted above, B2B ecommerce shoppers often search on part numbers. Test part numbers and partial numbers based on what you see people searching for in Google Analytics. If these aren’t returning the correct results, talk to your developer.

Adding Functionality to Drive Revenue

To drive more revenue from your site search, consider these improvements.

  • Use faceted search. This is typically a list of filters on the left of the search-results page that enable visitors to refine the search results by specific attributes. This can be extremely beneficial for B2B shoppers, to help them find the right products.
NorthernTool.com's facet search, on the left, includes "Categories," "Brand," and "Price."

NorthernTool.com’s facet search, on the left, includes “Categories,” “Brand,” and “Price.”

Having good faceted search requires data for all of the attributes to filter on. This often entails a review of product data and a solution to more easily maintain data, such as integrating with product information management (PIM) software.

  • Identify misspellings and direct users to intended products. Typos are common, especially when users are on smartphones. Identify misspellings in search terms, and then quickly direct users to what they are looking for.
In this example from OfficeDepot.com, "lsr paper" was corrected, to display "laser paper," the correct spelling.

In this example from OfficeDepot.com, “lsr paper” was corrected, to display “laser paper,” the correct spelling.

  • Offer auto suggest. This is a feature where a drop-down box appears as a user types search terms. In the drop-down box are suggestions for what the user may be looking for based on common searches, your site data, and, potentially, data on that user.
Searching for "laptop power" at CDW.com activates automatic suggestions: "laptop power cord" and "laptop power adaptor."

Searching for “laptop power” at CDW.com activates automatic suggestions: “laptop power cord” and “laptop power adaptor.”

Built-in Search or Third Party?

Some of the improvements listed above you can likely make, with the help of a developer, to your existing ecommerce platform. Alternatively, consider a third-party search vendor — SearchSpring, Nextopia, Monetate, SLI Systems, to name a few — to implement the improvements.

Site-search vendors typically take a data feed from your site and use it to build search results with the features that I’ve outlined in this article. In my experience, prices range from $500 to $5,000 per month. The vendors can usually track conversions from their site search, and thereby measure the return on your investment. The platforms also offer analytics and management tools that enable you to have greater visibility and control over what your users will see.

Getting Started

Don’t let all of the possible improvements overwhelm you. Start by setting up site-search tracking in Google Analytics. Look at how common site searches are performing, and decide which new features will generate the best return. Implement those features and measure the impact. Continuous improvement is the name of the game.

Lori McDonald

Lori McDonald

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  1. Nicole O'Shaughnessy June 27, 2016 Reply

    Great article Lori. Website search is something we’re having a lot of conversations about currently at my agency. We just incorporated search on one of our eCommerce client’s websites actually. I will be sharing this article with our web design team.

    Thanks!
    Nicole O’Shaughnessy
    Vital.

  2. Brett Topovski June 29, 2016 Reply

    This is a great article. I work for a company that develops B2B Websites, the points made in this article are spot on! User experience can be a very tricky hurdle to overcome for large custom B2B websites that contain many items. I’m always a huge fan of providing a great search features for sites that tend to businesses that demand a higher standard of quality, in both functionality and usability.