The search function is a vital part of a website’s usability. While you may think that your website’s navigation is easy to use, many visitors are seeking more direct pathways to reach their goals- these are especially high-value visitors who are more “objective focused” – they are looking for something specific and are more likely to convert. In these cases, your site search solution should ideally act as a quick and informative portal to guide the visitor to the information they are seeking. This is not just a “nice to have” function- it has a direct effect on the ROI of your website and content marketing efforts.
With a fully functional site search solution, 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. This is a solution for marketers who are constantly dealing with customer drop-off and a lack of online engagement due to irrelevant content. It improves the search experience, helping users drill down 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, all the way to conversion.
Equally important are the insights into your customer’s behavior, needs and desires that your search solution should be able to deliver. A search query is a direct communication from your customer about what they are seeking from your organization- a robust and intuitive analytics platform is essential to capture, distill and act upon this data. By installing a search and insights engine, marketers can get a clearer view into what content is making a difference to their bottom line, saving time for their staff, or answering their customer’s needs. The alternative is a much less targeted content marketing approach, which can result in significant time and resource waste.
Given the importance of this functionality, Cludo has created a helpful guide for marketers and IT professionals shopping for a new website search product. This guide will help you ask the right questions and look for the right functionality when evaluating site search solutions to meet your specific needs.
What to consider BEFORE selecting your website’s search solution
Content heavy sites will logically require an intelligent site search that can execute more refined searches with more features built within the search. Smaller sites however, will not need a search as sophisticated and a simple solution will work fine in indexing the limited content. However, if your small site has plans for growth, you should include the implementation of a more powerful site search in your future plans.
Sites that look to gain a lot of traffic will do well with employing a separate server to handle the load brought by visitors. Another more viable option is to implement a search from a third-party search solution which shifts your search to a separate server and provides you with the additional advantage of various features and elements that could help you optimize your search to cater to your traffic.
Having control over your search results comes with the effort of reviewing, adjusting, and optimizing the search. Therefore, you should consider a solution that makes that level of control user-friendly and effortless. An actionable analytics dashboard can be extremely helpful, as well as an AI powered solution that can assist you by fine-tuning your results based on activity data.
Growing trends in implementing artificial intelligence into site search technology has brought on a new era of intelligent search that powers itself through machine learning. To future-proof your website, you should select a site search with technology that is on par with other advanced solutions on the market. The search should be intelligent enough to identify the relevancy of content within your site and display them in the results accordingly. More advanced solutions should be able to provide results that are targeted to the searcher and presented with speed and accuracy.
Most software products on the market that offer such high-functioning capabilities are extremely technical systems that need to be built from the ground-up. This a possibility for large organizations with extremely proficient and dedicated development resources. However, some of the best new options on the market are cloud based SaaS search solutions that provide ready-made platforms. When selecting one of these, look for a fully-packaged and user-friendly interface that incorporates intelligent software, without heavy coding work required to build or implement it.
Artificial intelligence and machine learning driven search systems are powerful, but they are not infallible. Especially when dealing with smaller data sets, or when an organization has a smaller data collection history, machine learning algorithms may not initially have the data to make accurate search results predictions. Plus, even in the case of established machine learning systems, sometimes marketers know best, what results they would like to rank the highest in their search results.
Ensuring that your new site search platform will allow you to adjust suggested rankings, and easily fine-tune your search solution to meet your needs is key. Previous solutions like the Google Search Appliance did not allow this level of control, which was often a hindrance to webmasters and marketers alike.
While your search may be intuitive enough to offer useful results, it is important that you consistently monitor it to ensure that it remains relevant and targeted towards your visitors. Staying updated on your users’ behavior, objectives and queries should be part of your ongoing process. An extensive toolbox of customizable features enables you to keep in-line with the trends of your visitors and optimize search to meet their needs and your site’s goals. Here are some core features you can use to provide the best search experience possible.
This is crucial for adjusting which pages rank first in the results. No matter how good your AI is at prioritizing pages effectively, having a tool like this is sometimes necessary to give you control over relevance and shape the results to your site goals. The page ranking tool can also act as another level in a marketing funnel as you can move certain pages to the top of the results, thus guiding the customer’s path throughout your site.
An advanced site search feature is dynamic banners that change based on the search term. Your site will benefit from using banners to provide focused and visual direction- when tied to the search results, banners have the advantage of being a prominent, stylistically different way of promoting content based on the search query. Banners can be used as part of your site’s marketing strategy to promote content and products, or for various informational purposes such as displaying opening hours, rules & regulations, events etc.
In many cases, with multiple pages of results to trawl through, having a more focused search process will help your visitors find what they seek more efficiently. Guided search using facets and filters changes the search experience from time-consuming hunting to a process of exploration and discovery. By providing a more guided search experience, you can provide your visitors with an easy to sort overview of all your site’s relevant content, categorized in a logical manner. They can then drill down into sub-categories to create a more focused search.
Find a site search product that allows you to adjust your results to follow your general content strategy, where the search can be adjusted to focus on certain areas of your site. For example, you may want the search for your web shop to be specific to products within the web shop, rather than pulling up results from all across your website. Your site search should also have the capability to boost certain areas of your site that you deem more relevant to your users based on specific attributes. Referring back to the example, consider the convenience of boosting the whole category of product pages within the focused web shop search, so that these pages appear higher in the web shop search results and drive more conversions.
A good time-saving tool to have is a quick-linking tool that sends your visitors directly to a page on your site based on their query. This tool provides speedy results, efficiently bypassing the extra step of reviewing the search results page in between. This increases the efficiency of the search, and moves the visitor along to the information they are looking for faster, improving engagement and their perception of your website.
Your search crawlers will automatically re-index your content at regular intervals. However, there may be instances where you add, update, or delete pages on your site and need these updates to be reflected in the site search results immediately. Your site search solution should offer you an easy way to instantly index and update content so the necessary pages will appear/ disappear from the results instantly without having to wait for the your crawler to re-index your site on a standard schedule.
Site search reveals what your users are seeking from your business, and with every query of theirs comes a treasure trove of internal data. A good site search should be able to provide an overview of your users’ activity to offer you a general idea into how it is performing. A great site search should be able to sort through that data and categorize it into detailed analytical sections for you, delivering deeper insights into what your customers are looking for and how their behavior is trending. In your quest for the perfect site search solution, consider one that provides you with sufficient data on search activity and your user queries to help you optimize your search effectively. Having powerful analytics that can update in real-time is also a great benefit that can help you keep track of your search performance and provide highly targeted content to your visitors.
Your site search solution should possess the analytical capabilities to:
There is nothing more frustrating than a search that returns no results. Being able to track these “zero result” searches is crucial as it exposes in-demand content areas where your site is lacking.
The volume of searches for certain keywords may increase based on a specific period of time, such as during a particular season or an event. Discovering what these keyword trends are, can help you shape your content strategy and assist in driving marketing efforts as they provide a valuable resource for marketers to learn what visitors are seeking at particular points in time.
Unlike the trending search words, popular search words are based on the overall searches conducted by visitors across time. These show what visitors search for most frequently on your site and indicates what kinds of content they seek out most. This analytical tool provides insight into the evergreen content that you can take advantage of by updating or expanding upon it for further site optimization.
An ineffective search is a search where the visitor does not click on any of the results that are delivered to them- the results have little to no relevance to the user. These searches with a zero-to-none click-through rate from results, mean that either your search engine is not performing well, or your site lacks pertinent content in a given area. This is therefore a valuable alert to examine your search engine settings or optimize certain content areas within your site to remedy this issue.
A “search origination page” is the page a visitor was on when they initiated a search. Comparing the search terms used to the content on the origination page is critical, because it’s a key indicator of whether the visitor was satisfied with the content on the page and is continuing forward along a path, or if they did not find the information they were expecting to discover and are stuck. In the latter case, you’ll want to examine the content on the page, as well as the navigation paths on your site.
The important thing to do when analyzing search data is not to look at each element individually, but to see what story they tell when cross-referenced against each other. Gaining the entire context around the search query is important. This is only possible if you're able to easily integrate search analytics with other website data tools like Google Analytics etc.
Searches on your website are your customers directly telling you what they are looking for. These are low-funnel buyers who typically know what they want, so they’re more likely to produce greater ROIs.
This primer will tell you how you can use the behavioral data derived from site search analytics to optimize your website and content. It will cover how you can use site search analytics for both tactical initiatives that are primarily focused on website health, content gaps and search engine optimization (SEO), and strategic initiatives that will guide your overall marketing and communications strategy.
Reducing friction and speeding up a your visitors search journey is the best way to increase website stickiness and customer engagement. There may be times where your visitors may search with words that differ from those within your website’s vocabulary. The best way to resolve this is to ensure that you have predictive technology built into your search platform. Ideally, you should have the following features available, in order to create a more intuitive search experience.
The act of searching requires a significant amount of interaction cost. Nevertheless, this interaction cost can be significantly lowered with the addition of an intelligent autocomplete tool. Ensure that the site search you invest in has the power to predict queries and suggest relevant ones based on preliminary typing, so that the search process is sped-up and your users exert less effort.
In the event that your visitors use words, jargon, slang, or abbreviations that are different than what is on your site, you can add synonyms to tie those words to those that you already use. For example, people searching for "footwear" should also be able to find content related to "shoes" or "boots". This is also important when matching technical terms or acronyms to their related content items.
Visitors often make mistakes when typing, or don't know the proper spelling of a word. This is especially true when dealing with long technical terms. Having a search solution with a built-in dictionary to detect and correct the words is vital- it will help your users find the answers they need without having to spend more of their time searching.
For vague search terms where your search engine cannot detect the query, having a “did you mean… ?” function can help pose suggestions from a similar theme based on your website’s content. This helps retain visitors on your site, and encourages them to explore alternatives, rather than have them leave because their search turned up no results.
Here are some other important elements you should take into account when selecting your site search solution. These items are the key to selecting a search platform that will serve the needs of both your IT and marketing teams.
Another main element to examine is the design of your search display. Your search experience should ideally be seamlessly tied in with your overall web experience, so look for a search product that allows you to customize the styling of your search input and results display. A poorly styled search will hurt the overall visitor perception of your website, and could also result in a poor user experience.
Consider whether you would prefer an inline search display that redirects to an independent search results page on your site, or an overlay search display, that emerges as a pop-up dialog box over the page where you searched. Both styles of display have their pros and cons, but select a design that suits your website’s usability goals.
According to a study conducted by Flurry Analytics, U.S. consumers spend over 5 hours a day on their phones, and that number is set to increase over time. Website visitors using a mobile device are also more likely to use your search function rather than trying to navigate on a smaller screen to find information which may exist on a sub-page or menu.
It is only logical that your website and its search adopts a mobile-friendly strategy to ensure that you are not losing vital traffic from dissatisfied mobile users. Select a search solution that caters to mobile-devices and works with a responsive interface to provide clear results that are quick to load and easy to read.
Predictive text, autocorrect and spellcheck are also extremely important for mobile users, as they increase the efficiency and accuracy of the user's search on a small screen with a virtual keyboard.
Control over site search is increasingly held by marketers and content managers, as they understand the site’s content best. However, up to this point, in most cases a high degree of coding skill is required to build and customize a site search effectively, which results in the task being assigned to the IT department. Hardware solutions like the Google Search Appliance have also been popular, but require a lot of maintenance over their lifetime.
Our recommendation is to seek out a SaaS site search solution with a low code implementation. This will eliminate the need for expensive consultants and expensive hardware, and you can get up and running faster with predictable costs. You'll also get an easy to use and maintain search platform, with security updates and technology upgrades being pushed by the provider on a regular basis. You'll also benefit from the knowledge of data scientists and developers who are exclusively focused on site search- skill sets that wouldn't make sense to bring in-house.
It is crucial that your website, as well as your search, is accessible to people living with disabilities. An accessible search is one that removes most barriers that prevent interaction or access to the website for those with disabilities. A well-designed, accessible website and search should provide all users with equal access to information and functionality.
Your site search should be ADA, Section 508 & WCAG 2.0 (Web Content Association Guidelines) compliant with assistive tools for people with disabilities, including text highlights, reading tools, and more. Accessibility testing should also be a part of your search implementation process.
Failure to meet accessibility guidelines not only creates barriers for a large number of users, it can also result in a lawsuit.
This is an item that a lot of search providers lack. Having a site search provider that provides ample customer support can be invaluable to an organization. Things may not always go according to plan, and there may be questions that you would like to have answered quickly.
You can also offload or get assistance on tasks like implementation, design, testing and customization. Also, look at the small print closely. Some provider may charge you for standard support calls, and those can add up quickly. Google search products on the other hand have very limited support from a live person, so you're left on your own to a great extent.
Having access to an efficient customer support department can be extremely helpful at providing guidance and troubleshooting to ensure that your site search journey is as smooth as possible.