The Aberdeen Group recently released a study on the effectiveness of optimizing the results that are displayed to visitors using site search. Their report, “Web Site Search: Revenue in the Results” reported that visitors who used site search were “more likely to convert from browsers to buyers”. Many of the big box retail sites fine-tune their site search results to take into consideration user actions, current promotions and collective behavior. However, many sites aren’t taking advantage of utilizing a site search engine to optimize search results for visitors and drive them to content they are looking for or content that you’d like them to find.
John Lovett of Aberdeen said, “These metrics show that leading companies are thinking about their search tools as a way to serve up products and inextricably link their merchandising process to their product discovery tools.” You may pay close attention to how your web pages rank in the search engines and what information is displayed to searchers, but do you pay attention to what visitors see in your on-site search results? Site search is a great way to promote the content that most effectively meets your business objectives and the needs of your customer. Site search can assist your customer but also can assist you by keeping them actively engaged on your site and even reducing support costs by providing information online. In this article I will outline important features when reviewing site search engine vendors, optimizing search results for your visitors and for you, and interpreting analytics reports.
Keywords are King
The most important element in deciding upon a site search vendor is finding one that will allow for keyword customization. Features such as matching by simple, phrase, exact, wildcard and Boolean searches is a must have. In addition you’ll want a tool that will provide spelling suggestions, synonyms, and suggested search refinements. Lastly, the tool should allow you to pull keywords from title and meta data information and not just the title like many free tools. You’ll want a tool in which you can input rules and filters. If you have multicultural visitors, you should also find a vendor that supports Multi-language search.
Flexible File Types and Content
Since not all your files are html files, you should look for a vendor that will include various files types like PDF, XLS, DOC, GIF, JPEG, Flash, MP3 and various video formats. If you have newsgroups, forums, or blogs on your site, remember to include those in the index as well. And if you are running more than one web site or a partner or affiliate site and would like to include that in the index, do so as well.
Seamless Integration and Customization
You don’t want visitors to feel like they’ve left your site to search for your content, so find a vendor that will keep the site search engine on your domain and allow you to create a template based on the look and feel of your site. You will also want a tool where you can create ads or highlight certain offers to all searchers in order to up-sell/cross-sell. You’ll also want a system where your visitors can find information based on relevance, of which you have provided some logic behind and date scoring as well. Finally isn’t it nice when the engine helps you by highlighting the keywords you used in your search and where it found those on the page? Find a tool that will do this highlighting for your visitor.
Plug and Play Options
Once you’ve provided the site search engine tool with logic, rules, and filters, you won’t need to check on it too frequently. Features such as automatic and regular re-indexing are important to allow you some freedom. Also, find a vendor that provides usage reports or even use a third party site analytics provider such as Google Analytics.
Tying in Analytics
If you use Google Analytics, you’ll need to enable Site Search in your profile settings, and once enabled you can view reports under the Content section. There you can view an overview summary of site search activity which will help you understand just how many visitors are using your site search engine — you just might be surprised at the number. There you can view more granular statistics like search terms, start pages, destination pages, categories, and trending. The Search Terms report is very helpful in that it will show you terms that visitors started with and how they attempted to refine any unsuccessful searches. It will even tell you percentage of visitors that exit after the search and where, which is called % Search Exit. The Categories report shows you the product groups and areas on your site that visitors search, giving you a roll up report to find trouble areas. And the Trending report allows you to track individual search metrics over time. Even if you don’t use Google Analytics, Ominiture, Visual Sciences, and HBX all over similar reports.
Mine the Data
With keyword and page reports such as these, you’ll want to mine the data for insights you could only get through your site’s search engine. Keyword insights such as how visitors are referring to your products and services, misspellings, keyword combinations and seasonal keyword usage, can be used in your SEO and PPC campaigns, and even up the chain to the product marketing and R&D groups. Utilizing site search engine reports is like holding a customer focus group and asking them how they refer to your products, only cheaper.
And there’s no better way to round out the traditional site analytics tool than with usage reports. With these reports you’ll be able to find out where the customer runs in to a “brick wall”. These will be pages you might find out need more information about a certain topic or that you need to build a new page altogether. You will also find out which page enticed them the most to click, if it met their needs, caused them to do another search or exit the site entirely.
Even if you have implemented a site search engine, perhaps you haven’t optimized it fully or haven’t enabled site search reports. Or maybe you have just spent tens of thousands of dollars on a new site and didn’t even think of adding a site search box.