What if people just told you what they wanted from your business? In your site's search box, they already do.

We all know how valuable on-site search is. It's the backbone of major consumer brands like Amazon, eBay, Pinterest, Zillow, and Airbnb. In fact, site search was rated as "most critical" by 56% of companies when looking for an ecommerce platform, yet only 21% would describe their current solution as "good".

As the volume of data, content, and products on the web continues to grow exponentially, and as our way of interacting shifts from visual interfaces to methods such as voice, search is only going to get more critical to the customer experience.

This also means the data associated with your search solution will only get more valuable to your business.

But who is currently configuring, optimizing and analyzing the search box on your website? Customers who search convert more often, but an eConsultancy study found that only 15% of firms have resources dedicated to optimizing their site search.

If anyone's paying attention to it at all, it might be your IT team, and it's easy to see why. Traditionally there's plenty of complex technology involved in building and maintaining a search solution, and grappling with concepts like normalized distributed cumulative gain scores aren't of much interest to you or your customer.

But there's a big difference between how it works, and what it means.

When customers use the search function on your website, they're literally telling you what they want. It's a bit like a focus group, except the data is more reliable; you're not asking a customer what they think they think. Instead, they're telling you without being asked!

We all want to be data-driven, but that doesn't have to mean generating millions of data points, enormous research studies, and blow-out costs. Some of the most useful data can be right under your nose.

So what about right now?

What can your search data tell you today? Plenty! Here are three ways you can start using your search data to improve your customer experience.

1. Connecting customers to the products and content they're struggling to find

Your search data tells you what people are trying to find, but may not be able to locate easily on your site. If you can't easily connect them to the information they need to make a decision, you're creating a bad customer experience and losing sales. Customers who search are also 200% more likely to convert.

The other side of the coin is increased support costs for your business. How much of your customer service time is already wasted answering questions people should be able to find the answers to on your website? Remember that support tickets are costing you an average of $15 to solve.

As an example, if your top queries are for "Update my details" or similar, you may want to consider adding an item to your navigation or including a highly visible link to "Account Details" on your homepage. You'll probably find you have a lot less frustrated customers calling you asking to change their address.

2. Adapting your content to speak your customer's language

How your customers describe your products is a great litmus test for the quality of your marketing. Are they using brand words to search? Product categories? Product names? In any case, making sure that you communicate with customers on their terms is part of a great customer experience. 

You could also find that your customers are searching for products that you stock, but are using different terms. One of our clients in the health insurance industry found that there was a considerable volume of searches for product names that had been retired two years ago

Now that this friction point had been identified, they were able to easily set a synonym in our software so that their new equivalent products were displayed when searching for the old ones.

By speaking your customer's language and adapting to their needs, you make your products more discoverable, and your customer experience more seamless.

3. Stocking the products and creating the content customers WANT to consume

Every store wants to sell the products that customers want to buy, but how do you find out what that product is?

You might run a large ecommerce store that stocks thousands of items. Your sales data shows you your most popular items, but it's your search data that shows you what could be your next most popular item.

Let's imagine you own an online shoe retailer. You know your most popular item is a model of trail running shoe. But when you look at your search data, you can see that one of your most popular queries is for "weightlifting shoes", which you don't even sell on your site. 

Obviously, there's customer intent to buy weightlifting shoes from your store, and it would be in your interests to begin stocking this item; you've already validated the market! The same goes for content; you can make sure your next content marketing series is exactly what people are already looking for.

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Regardless of your current search technology, this is data that you should already have recorded somewhere; you just need to unearth it. Hopefully it won't require too much effort to find, and ideally anyone in your customer or marketing teams should have access to it.

If you don't have this data, or if it's too much work to find, perhaps it's time to start taking search more seriously.

As mentioned, search has traditionally been considered part of IT but this is changing. As more data moves to the cloud and more infrastructure is managed as a service, search platforms are evolving. It's also getting easier and easier for anyone to access and leverage the associated search data. By investing in a dedicated search service with detailed analytics that staff of all technical abilities can use and understand, you can start better meeting your customer needs, lower your costs, and increase your sales.

Search is so much more than an icon in your navigation. It's where customers are literally telling you what they want, and businesses who continue to ignore it will be left behind. Relevant and intelligent site search is a tool that delights your customers and increases conversions and revenue; your business needs to see it as an opportunity, not a cost.

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