A good ecommerce site needs watching. You need to constantly monitor what goes on. If you ignore it and expect it to continue earning you money, then you will probably be let down.
Sometimes it is the obvious things in a site that get ignored. This includes the site search. It can tell you so much about your visitors and can be used to improve conversions — so long as you do not ignore it.
In Magento you can list the searches done by your visitors. It will show not only what phrases are used, but how many times they were used and what pages were served up as a result. This is invaluable information. If you have not been looking at this information, you should start now. Magento also has the feature that allows you to redirect a search result to a URL. Thus you can force a search to deliver a category page, a list of products filtered by a layered navigation attribute, or a landing page crafted to reflect the search phrase.
If your site has been running for a time, and you have not been analyzing this search information, then it is probably best to clear out all the old data and wait a week to see the most recent data.
First sort the list to see the most popular search terms used. This tells you what your visitors are looking for on your site. In an ideal world this would be exactly what you are selling and the search results will be exactly the right pages. In the real world, however, it will be very different.
It is possible that some of the search terms do not relate to what you are selling. The visitors are searching for things you do not have. So why are you attracting these visitors? What is on your site that has led these visitors to you from search engines? Using these phrases on Google, where does your site appear on the results? What pages has Google indexed, which it thinks are relevant to these phrases? Studying this may help you adjust your site so that Google indexes your site using better phrases.
Also what are you going to do with these visitors? Currently you do not sell what they are looking for, so they are most likely to be leaving your site very soon after they get the search results. You either start selling these products and hopefully convert some of these visitors to customers, or if you do not want to sell them consider redirecting the search results to a landing page that covers these products and has links (preferably affiliate links) on to other sites where the visitor can buy the product and you can gain some money from the transactions.
It is likely that some of these popular search phrases used by your visitors will be overly general, and need further analysis before you plan any long term change of stock. For me, one of the most popular search terms was “18 inches.” Literally thousands of my search requests were “18 inches.” I sell action figures — mainly 5- or 7-inch scale figures. I have not tended to sell the 18-inch figures. They are expensive, difficult to ship, and more likely to be damaged in transit.
However, seeing the interest in those products, I may consider selling them. But which ones? By creating a landing page splitting out all the main types of figures, and using the Magento redirect search facility to that landing page, I can see where the visitors then go and see which range of 18-inch figures I should stock.
Once you have analyzed the search phrases that do not relate to your stock, you need to analyze the ones that do. The first thing a search phrase tells you is that your site navigation is not as obvious as you think. The visitor has chosen to use your site search rather than trawl through your menus. If the search phrase relates to something you sell a lot of, then it really should be more clear in your menu structure how to get to it. So use the search data to review your menu structure. What may be blindingly obvious to you may not be so clear to many visitors.
The next thing to do is look at the search results. These days people are used to getting served good relevant results by the likes of Google and Bing. These search companies have invested billions in producing their algorithms to produce these relevant results. Your search is never going to be that good. It will either display too few products, the wrong products, or too many products. It will rarely get it 100 percent right. This is where the Magento redirect again comes into play. Where the results are wrong or misleading, put in a redirect to a relevant category, or a list of products filtered by a key attribute picked out from the search phrase. If no such category or filter exists and it is a popular phrase, consider creating a category. This is letting the visitor help design your navigation.
Visitors using you site search are starting a conversation with you. They are asking you a question. They are asking, “Can you show me your xxx?” It is a good idea to listen and show them as close to xxx as you can.
Once you start doing this, and start tailoring your search results to better answer the visitors’ questions, you must check your figures. Has your bounce rate improved? Do visitors stay longer and view more pages? Has the conversion rate gone up? Are you earning more money? As with any change you do, you must check to ensure it has actually improved your position. Ecommerce is the long game. Do changes slowly and steadily and test the results. In the long term, a steady improvement is much better than trying to do it all at once.
One final thought, if your search is throwing up a significant number of misleading results, or too many hits, consider dropping your site search. This would force the visitors to use your navigation and browse your site the way you designed it to be browsed. I did this years ago on one of my sites (before I used Magento) and the bounce rate went up slightly (as expected), but the conversion rate doubled and the average order value increased by 25 percent. This I put down to visitors actually seeing related items, and also seeing different things to what they initially wanted but could do instead.
Removing a site search is an extreme measure, and it would not work for many sites, but it might be worth testing.