Internal site search improvement is an undervalued task for marketers, content managers, and UX designers looking to improve user experience and conversion. Most marketers expect a site search product or integration to work on its own or with little to no effort. To provide an exceptional search experience, however, requires an ongoing effort. With up to 30% of ecommerce website visitors reporting they use the site search function, we think it’s an area worth spending some time improving.
By utilizing site search analytics and the below checklists, you can make it easier for your customers to find what they’re looking for. The challenge is to find the right combination of levers to pull that will enable them to complete that search.
Understand the user search journey
To improve search experience, the first task for you as a person tasked to improve the website search experience is to discover and define the problem user is trying to solve, and help them in reaching a solution as swiftly as possible. Whether they are finding information about a product, an article or webpage, their search experience begins when they perform an internal site search, which typically involves these steps:
- Click on the search button or search bar
- Start typing their query and are provided with search suggestions
- Use filters to narrow down their search results
- Browse through the results
Optimizing the search experience for an improved user experience
From a website administrator’s perspective, your goal is to improve user engagement and to improve the user experience for your customers. The most important considerations are:
- How is my search displayed?
- What filters or categories are shown?
- What search features (autocomplete, suggestions, spell correction, etc.) can improve the user experience?
- What data is recorded and how can I use it?
- Are the search results relevant for most queries?
Let’s dig in specific areas where you can make improvements to deliver a better user experience.
1. User Interface
Depending on the website UI, the placement of the search function might vary, but it is almost always an icon or a search bar. Small UI improvements can improve the user experience to a great extent. For example, if you have a media website that has infinite scrolling (content that loads content continuously as the user scrolls down the page), then an overlay search might be an ideal choice. In contrast, if you have a website with multiple categories like an ecommerce store, then opening search on a separate window might be better.
Try searching for something on your website and decide which user interface options could improve your website user experience.
Other interactivity considerations for your on-site search include:
When the user hovers over your search feature,
- Does the search icon or search bar tell the user that it is an interactive element by changing appearance (e..g color or size)?
When the user clicks,
- Does the search bar change appearance (border color, length, etc.)?
- Does a flashing cursor appear to prompt the user to type?
- Does it open an overlay window on the same webpage?
- Does it open a search interface on a new webpage?
When the user starts to type,
- Do you get auto-complete suggestions, drop-down suggestions, or both?
- Does it appear differently than the text entered by the user?
When the user finishes typing,
- Are the results shown immediately or when the user presses ‘Return’?
- How does the search results appear and what is displayed (title, description, URL, tags, etc.)?
2. Suggestions and Autocomplete
As users type, does your site search give them autocomplete or drop-down suggestions? These techniques can help your users find relevant search terms as well as reducing the time and key-strokes needed to execute a search. Users love it when the tasks they have to perform are made easier.
3. Enhancing search through rich media
At Sajari, we notice that a lot of websites do not use images or any other rich media to enhance search experiences. One of the easiest ways to improve user experience and engagement is to show images in the search results. However, as web pages may have more than one image per page, it gets complicated for search engines or third party applications (like social media websites) to find which is a representative image for that webpage. To tackle this problem, we recommend using the open graph protocol on your website to ensure that the best image is displayed in your search results and social media.
4. Filtering & Faceting
When website users search for something, they often want to drill down further to find relevant information more quickly. Depending on your website content structure and metadata, you can create filters (e.g. blogs, products, support, etc.) to guide the users to their desired destination. You can decide on a specific set of filters, or have them brought in as suggested filters on the fly based on your metadata. Make sure that you have analytics in place that records usage data so you can optimize your filters over time.
5. Promotional Results or Banners
With some search products, you can promote specific results above the rest for a specific term. Promoted results can be helpful in improving conversion and have some useful applications for ecommerce. However, we suggest doing this very selectively as it may make the user experience worse. You don’t want irrelevant information to stop your customers from getting to their desired search result as soon as possible.
Needless to say, speed is crucial to any search product. According to research by Google, any noticeable delay that an eye can detect (approximately 400 milliseconds) can lead to lower search volume, which can often result in site-abandonment or lower engagement. Make sure to check that your site search product does not slow down the user experience.
Another essential aspect of an optimal search user experience is to optimize for mobile devices. Check your website traffic statistics, select the mobile devices that your website users use the most and test your mobile search experience thoroughly for those devices. You can simply use website browser inspect tools or use an emulator tool (e.g. MobilePhoneEmulator or view a list of other emulators).
For any government, not-for-profit, or large enterprise, meeting the industry standard for ensuring accessibility for people with disabilities is crucial. Site search products from a third party or in-house built search interfaces should meet the World Wide Web Consortium’s (W3C) Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). There are different levels of WCAG (A, AA and AAA), and each organization would have different compliance standards according to their own IT or ICT policies. Make sure that your site search experience meets the level of WCAG that your organization follows.
An important part of your user experience is to improve internal site search experience for your users and visitors, which also leads to better engagement and conversions. Make sure the site search product you are choosing has all the necessary features that will make the effort and investment worthwhile.