Login

Think of this as a poor man’s BuzzFeed Quiz: Quick! Name the top three initiatives for e-commerce retailers in 2016. I’ll go out on a limb and say mobile, omnichannel and quicker delivery all came up more than a few times. And why not? They’re all important; all things that retailers have been working on for years. But every now and then something comes along to remind us of how important some overlooked aspect of selling online is. Take site search, that digital commerce feature represented by a small piece of real estate on Web sites, mobile sites and apps. The importance of site search hit me square on today when I searched my favorite newspaper’s site for a story I had seen in its print edition this morning. I didn’t even come close and have yet to find the story in digital form. It’s the sort of experience laid out in a recent Forrester Research study examining the importance of site search in the online world. Consumers expect brilliant site search keyboard Unfortunately, the consultancy’s full report is behind a $499 paywall. But what you really need to know about site search is contained in the report’s title and abstract. The summary says that the paper, “Google-ize Your Site-Search Experience,” tells the story of consumers who expect top-notch search capabilities on websites, but who regularly encounter websites that haven’t made top-notch site search a priority. Key takeaways

  • Consumers expect e-commerce sites to offer search that's as relevant and helpful as that provided by Google and other search engines.

  • E-commerce sites are coming up way short in giving consumers the kind of site search they expect.

  • High-quality site search is a key to provding a good mobile experience and offering meaningful personalization.

  • Consumers who use site search are your best and most valuable customers: the 15 percent of customers who use site search account for 45 percent of e-commerce revenue.

Google and other search engines have conditioned shoppers to expect relevant search results that anticipate what they’re looking for and consider the context in which they are shopping. You don’t need Forrester to tell you that. Consumers have said so repeatedly. A BloomReach survey, for instance, found that by a 2-to-1 margin, consumers wondered why their favorite retail sites don’t provide the same satisfying search experience that the big search engines do. The finding helped to explain why 44 percent of consumers said they start their product searches on Amazon.com , according to the survey, which was conducted by Survata. That was far more than turned to a search engine (34 percent) or a retailer’s site (21 percent). And what do consumers like about Amazon? Three-quarters of those surveyed said no retailer personalizes the shopping experience better than Amazon. Retailers are falling down on the site-search job And yet, site search — which has the potential to become a one-to-one conversation with consumers — rarely rises to the top of the list when retailers talk about technology and website improvements. In the BloomReach survey, which included questions asked of 500 online retailers, only 35 percent said their site search provided automated suggestions based on a consumer’s behavior, for instance. In fact, the Baymard Institute, after testing the United States’ 50 top-grossing e-commerce sites, concluded that site search is “broken.” Only a few sites, it said, delivered even a decent site search experience. Often a mismatch between what consumers want online and what e-commerce sites offer, comes down to a resource gap . So many priorities, so few people and dollars to pull them off. And site search, on the surface, can seem, well, unsexy. It doesn’t have the buzz of either omnichannel or mobile — although it is actually a cornerstone of both. Think about personalization and site search, for instance. Where else do consumers tell you exactly what they’re looking for and exactly how they describe that? It’s like having a mini-focus group right on your site. And It turns out those site searchers are highly motivated and incredibly valuable. Your best customers use site search House Brigham Young University professor Michael Hendron found that buyers are 90 percent more likely to use site search than are digital window shoppers who browse, but don’t buy. BloomReach’s own research shows that 15 percent of visitors use site search, whether on mobile devices or computers. But those visitors account for 45 percent of e-commerce revenue . And consider mobile, where small screens and tiny keyboards make typing product names and descriptions difficult. Retailers can ease the way with features like auto-complete and by providing extremely relevant site search results. There is no question that getting site search right is worth the trouble. Rackspace found that 34 percent of shoppers will abandon a website if they can’t find what they’re looking for within 10 minutes. Another 26 percent will leave after 15 minutes. That’s half your traffic. The finding reflects cognitive psychologist and search expert Andy Edmonds’ take on the best way, if not most practical way, to determine the quality of site search . “You ask somebody after they did something, how long they thought it took," he says. "And if they overestimate, it was hard and painful and if they underestimate, it was easy and fun. Time flies when you’re having fun.” A more scalable measure, Edmonds says, is to track the time to reach an item. In other words, chart the amount of time from the consumer’s first search until they actually reach the item they were seeking to discover. Given that not everyone ultimately finds what he or she is looking for, you also need to view the time-to-item metric against the backdrop of the percentage of searches that fail. How ever you slice it, time is a strong indicator of customer satisfaction. Consider that BloomReach’s survey found that 34 percent of consumers believed that personalization should help them find things faster. What better way to find things than to search for them on a site with superior search capabilities, right? The Baymard Institute’s work on the top-grossing websites found that nearly a third of searches ended in failure . And it pointed out that shoppers who leave disappointed are unlikely to return. In fact, BloomReach data shows that consumers are 45 percent less likely to return to a site within 20 days if they conduct a search and end up not clicking on any of the search results. And so it’s pretty clear that it’s time to take site search seriously, whether it seems the sexy thing to do or not. A few keys to better site search:

  • Think of site search as the backbone of your digital commerce strategy. Better site search includes personalization and it makes it easier for mobile-empowered consumers to convert from their mobile devices.

  • Start building that backbone by surveying the internal resources you can commit to site search or by exploring the range of technology solutions available to upgrade the search experience that you’re providing for your customers.

  • Understand that high-quality site search requires vigilance. Track your progress and be ready to tweak your technology, or how you’re using it, to keep moving in the right direction.

If you’re looking for added motivation, there is at least one other reason that site search is worth paying close attention to. Someone is going to get it right. Wouldn’t you rather be that someone than be the one looking up at a competitor who’s cracked the site search code? Photo of keyboard by GotCredit and photo of search sign by Pleuntje published under Creative Commons license. Mike Cassidy is BloomReach’s storyteller. Contact him at mike.cassidy@bloomreach.com ; follow him on Twitter at @mikecassidy.