Site Search Is Serious Business

Site Search Is Serious Business

An internal site search engine is a key component of any website with many pages/products or complex content. If it’s available, visitors will often use the site search immediately without any reference to the navigation template or other links. So it’s vital to provide what they’re looking for quickly and easily.

Your site search engine can also be an extremely valuable tool for you. Tracking the keywords and phrases that visitors are looking for can tell you a lot about their expectations of you and the terminology that they use to describe their needs.

For example, you can evaluate which of your offerings are most sought after, and consider featuring them more prominently. You can see common misspellings of words, or if visitors use different search terms than you expected, which can provide suggestions for tweaking and enhancing your copy.

StoneL, a part of Metso Automation USA, Inc. is a leading supplier of process networking and valve communication technology, based in Fergus Falls, Minnesota.

As part of planning for a major website redesign, the team took a close look at their internal site search statistics and discovered some interesting things:

• Less than 10 percent of visitors overall used the site search

• Visitors often entered misspellings, such as “neumatic” for “pneumatic”

• Most visitors looked for specific model numbers (they often had outdated information for obsolete components, so there were a high number of “No results found” responses)

• Many visitors searched for very generic terms, such as “limit switch,” which returned over 50 documents

This information suggested that many potential customers might be frustrated and leaving the site prematurely. Accordingly, we specified a number of improvements.

Given that StoneL manufactures many different components, the number of visitors conducting searches seemed very low, suggesting that they were not seeing the search box, which should be more clearly displayed within the redesigned page template.

A sophisticated site search utility should allow the input of synonyms and misspellings so that it can suggest corrections and alternatives. These can include differences in spelling due to language, such as U.S./U.K. English, as well as actual mistakes. The data in the StoneL site search reports provide a good starting point for this list.

Tammy Lueders, Marketing & Sales Coordinator, was very pleased to see the evidence contained in the reports. She says:

“The numbers of queries that gave “No results” prove something that I had been suspecting-that people do search by complete model numbers, and they often have an old number. They probably get very frustrated, since they don’t know how else to look, or perhaps they think they’re at the wrong website.

We do have the ability to export all possible model numbers for a given search from our database. Now that we know that people have old information, we know that it’s important to develop a crossover reference from the previous number to the replacement, so that we can give them the updates that they need.

We’ll also explore providing additional criteria to narrow down results when a vague search term like “switch” is used. We could ask questions about what type of switch they’re looking for, or we could ask what they want to do with it, and then provide results based on their response.”

In my experience, very few smaller businesses are monitoring their site search usage in this way, even if they do have a search engine installed. This information can be eye-opening market research for you, and it can be very helpful in improving your visitor experience and conversion rates. If you have site search, don’t waste it-track the results!

© 2011 by Philippa Gamse, CMC.