Site search is one of the most important ways to communicate with and understand the behaviors of website visitors. On average, 1 in 3 visitors to a website will use the search function to find specific content they are looking for- these visitors are more likely to convert versus a user who browses using standard site navigation. This is because site search users tend to be “objective focused” – they are looking for something specific and are telling you in their own language what they want. This is borne out by the conversion metrics from site search- in a recent study of ecommerce sites, visitors that used search converted at 4.63% versus the websites’ average of 2.77% – that’s 1.8 times more effective. Consequently, these visitors went on to contribute 13.8% of the revenues to these sites.
However, site search has been conventionally considered an IT tool more than a marketing solution, and the tools used have been rudimentary and basic. The result is that the visitor will usually find a varied mix of non-specific content based literally on the keyword they entered, and in some cases, nothing at all. Visitors searching for information on a specific item or program for example, will receive content results on everything tangentially related to that keyword in no particular order, including old press releases from years ago, and other bits of irrelevant content. This represents more than a simple waste of time and effort for the user- it represents a wealth of missed opportunity for the marketer.
Given the increasing focus on content marketing across all industries, and the consequent rapid rise in spending on content creation, marketers are missing a golden opportunity to deliver highly relevant and compelling content directly to their target audiences by using “passive” search tools that lack the intelligence being woven into every other aspect of the digital customer journey. One event that has brought light to this issue, was the news from Google regarding the discontinuation of Google Site Search, with all its strengths and shortcomings, as well as Google Search Appliance, by April 2018. With most of Google’s popular site search products retired, the gap is being filled with intuitive new search solutions from providers that offer more features based on customer preferences, data analytics and ease of implementation.
A New Era For Search
The good news for marketers is that we now find ourselves at the dawn of a new era of intelligent, user-centric search solutions. To support customer engagement with specific pieces of content that are relevant to them, a nascent category of “guided” on-site search engines is emerging. Guided search provides both users and marketers with visible options for clarifying and refining queries. It enables users to filter their searches based on different attributes to get more focused results. Beyond the traditional search and browse function and a list of results, guided search serves up results in an intelligently categorized layout that leads the user down an easy path to the information they are looking for. This type of solution also enables the marketer to pre-define aspects of the user path, guides their decisions via behavioral analytics, and allows them to manually rank and modify the results being served on their sites. Guided search is more of a discovery tool than a mere search tool, as it covers different dimensions of your site’s content, allowing users to understand what is available on your site and revealing content they may not have been conscious of. It narrows down results into different dimensions which allows users to easily review and select what is relevant to them.
The use of guided search offers a solution to marketers who are constantly dealing with irrelevant search results. It improves the search experience, helping users drill down from general results to specific ones; marketers and content managers can then take this information and build a pathway within the search that can essentially guide the user down the track they want them to be on. With guided search, marketers can learn how particular bits of content relate to others by following them down the search funnel. This knowledge can be used to leverage lesser known content within the site by tying it to more popular search terms. This also enables marketers to exert a significant amount of influence on the user journey within their search, by using various tools to refine results, tag, and tie pages to search terms.
So What Should I Be Looking For?
While on-site search has traditionally been a responsibility held by the IT department, marketing and content teams should have more claim to the tool because they are the ones who understand their target users and can best determine what pages should ideally show up at the top of the search results. New CMS solutions have given marketers direct control over corporate websites and landing pages, allowing them to iterate upon and learn from their content mix- it’s now time for them to take control of the site search as well—monitoring and optimizing it for the best results possible.
Onsite search should not be considered a superfluous element of your site’s design, but should be recognized as a vital aspect of the user experience, brimming with information and opportunity for marketing and content teams. Only when you understand what motivates your users to make the choices that they do on your site, can you provide the best experience for them. A guided search solution can deliver profound behavioral insights that help marketers understand these motivations. The data it collects can reveal much about your user’s behavior and intent, as well as the obstacles that they are experiencing on your site. The search solution you select for your website should have the perfect mix of intelligent autonomy and customizable features, giving you control over your search engine.
Properly utilizing search and user profile data, and experimenting with the search results, will bring about a wealth of benefits that will help accelerate your marketing strategy, providing an enriching experience that enhances brand engagement, loyalty and conversions.
 Charleton, Graham (2013) Ecommerce Best Practice Compendium. eConsultancy U.K.
 Charleton, Graham (2013) Is site search less important for niche retailers? eConsultancy U.K.