By Mark Brixton

Monitoring site search reports on a regular basis can be instrumental in showcasing activity patterns, and can essentially help retailers present more relevant results for search queries and make better merchandising decisions. Yet, retailers continue to pass up the opportunity to better understand their customers and the way they shop online.

User experience guru Jakob Nielsen analysed users’ site search query experiences, finding that when users could not find what they were searching for online, instead of adjusting their search, they often assumed the site did not have what they were looking for and moved on to a competitor site.

In order to avoid losing potential customers and provide a better online user experience, retailers should use site search data and site metrics to garner a better understanding of user behaviours and determine trends and patterns. This can include incorporating the language of your users into site content, configuring your search to account for synonyms, addressing queries with poor results, and adding additional items to inventory lists.

Speak the same language as customers
The search tool can provide a treasure trove of search terms that your customers already use, and it’s quite possible that these words are different to those you currently use on your site.

For example, jewellery and accessories retailer diva discovered that its customers were using a variation of words for certain products, which resulted in poor search results. Using a Poor Search Results Report, diva found customers were searching for ‘BFF’ (Best Friend Forever) charms and necklaces, which were originally called Best Friend Necklaces. BFF wasn’t mentioned in product descriptions so the search query resulted in a poor search experience. Upon making this discovery, diva was able to add relevant keywords and adjust its search results with relevant products.

diva’s search results page for BFF products.

Common misspelling and grammatical errors
Site search must recognise the different ways potential customers spell product names or the variations they use, and serve up suggestions to help find what they’re looking for or provide relevant alternatives.

Reporting exposes trends and patterns, including the variation of product names like ‘laptop’ and ‘notebook’, which are essentially terms for the same product. Tying these terms together ensures that people find the right products on your site. You can also mimic the behaviour of search users, including spelling and grammar errors, building the observations into relevant search results.

The word ‘vacuum’ is sometimes misspelled as ‘vacum’, and DealsDirect provides relevant search results when this misspelling is used to help users find appropriate products and information when searching as seen in the below screenshot.

DealsDirect accounts for misspelled search terms.

Being intuitive with metrics
Tracking metrics like average rank, click-through rate, rate of complaints and revenue generated for people who search are a great indication of search relevance for your site. By tracking user activity, retailers are also able to learn how search and products relate to each other, delivering more effective outcomes.

Identifying low click-through results
Searches that end in no results have a zero click-through rate and keeping track of this information is important. These terms either relate to content that people are searching for that you don’t have, or more often, are examples of your visitors using different keywords to describe your content, products or services.

This information is extremely valuable in helping you understand demand levels for products you don’t currently carry. This may indicate popular products to consider stocking, and you can also tweak your merchandising to suggest alternate products.

CELLbikes has utilised intelligent search for maximum benefit. When a site user searches for a bicycle brand not stocked by the retailer, such as Giant, a clever banner is returned in the search results reading, “Don’t make a Giant mistake”, positioned above alternative product suggestions.

CELLbikes’ banners appear when certain brands are not in stock.

Going beyond the numbers
Leveraging site search data can help improve your onsite search performance, and when used effectively, can enhance the overall user experience. Not only will your site yield more relevant results for search queries, but users will also most likely be able to find what it is they’re searching for, resulting in happy customers and increased conversions.

Mark Brixton is the country manager for SLI Systems.