Customers navigate a website in one of two ways: they browse or they search. Yet on-site search is not always top priority when it comes to site optimization. Given the prominence of search and the impact it has on revenue, it should be one of the key areas in your testing plan.
This article addresses eight ways to optimize on-site search that will improve your customer experience and help your bottom line.
1. Test Search Results Display
Think about testing how search results are displayed and sorted for visitors. For instance, are results sorted by relevance, customer rating, availability, or popularity? This simple, yet powerful change can make search results align with visitor’s intentions and keep them along the path to conversion.
If you have multiple departments, ensure you are measuring how visitors interact with search in every context, including measuring how changes to search affect key metrics to other departments. Based on the search performance by department, you can show a unique experience tailored for your customers based on specific departments.
2. Optimize Search Metadata Display
In the context of on-site search, metadata is aggregate information about the search results data. For example, have you seen a star-rating system that symbolizes all customer reviews, or an in stock or out of stock badge on a site? That’s search metadata.
Metadata shows information that can help a buyer make an immediate purchasing decision, without having to comb through a large quantity of product information. Try testing specific combinations of metadata to find out what converts and works best with your audience. Some of the metadata elements you can test are the number of visitor reviews to show, local store availability, and showing information about what others purchased.
3. Test Search Result Refinement/Filtering Options
Many search results pages have a list of product refinement options available. For example, if you search for a digital camera, refinement options may allow you to narrow the search criteria for price, brand, lens focal length, storage card type, and more. One test idea is to alter the default state of refinement options that are shown, such as making them collapsed or expanded.
While this may not seem like a big change, enhancing your search capability to make the experience easier for the visitor can have a significant impact on conversions.
4. Test Number of Search Results Displayed
How many results are you displaying per page? Do visitors want more or fewer results than you are currently showing them?
You can answer these questions by testing the number of default search results you display per page. If your current default is set to 25, try testing a default of 30 or 35 results and see how it performs against the control. Also, if you have multiple departments, keep in mind that visitors may want a different number of results for electronics versus clothing.
5. Test Search Results Layout: Is a Grid Better than a List?
Most search results are shown in either a list or grid format that follow a pattern familiar to visitors. Testing a different layout or a hybrid approach, especially for varying audience segments and departments, can help discover a better experience for visitors.
In general, if your product requires customers to see details of the item, try showing results in a grid layout. If your product is more technical, try a list-style layout. These layouts are commonly accepted as the standard, but testing how each is displayed can provide an easier experience to your visitors.
6. Test How Product Type Impacts Search Display Preference
Visitors searching for a 42” HDTV versus a sweatshirt are likely to have different shopping behaviors. So why should their search and shopping experiences also be the same?
In this example, a visitor searching for a product within electronics may want to see a list of results, whereas a visitor searching for apparel may want more product images. Knowing these patterns of visitors will enable you to test different search experiences by department and find the optimal experience for each visitor — and help meet business goals.
7. Test Underlying Search Algorithms
The search algorithm that powers your on-site search functionality is the underlying mechanism to all on-site search testing ideas mentioned above. Testing a new or updated algorithm can provide data into where your current on-site search functionality falls flat, as well as areas a new algorithm could help improve.
Many on-site search vendors regularly update their search algorithms and we recommend you test different algorithms from different vendors to ensure you’re using the one that’s right for your site.
8. Test Ancillary Search Features
In our world of lightning fast connectivity and communications, we are bound to unintentionally misspell words. Look into your own on-site search analytics for the terms which visitors are searching, and you will likely see a few accidental misspellings and interesting search trends.
Many search algorithms have ancillary features that support showing the visitor a suggestion based on the term they typed. For example, if you mistyped “calandar,” the suggestion would likely show “calendar” and the results for that term.
These ancillary features can have a dramatic benefit to bottom line search and business results. Testing this search functionality alongside your algorithm can provide significant insight into search behavior so you can design and build the ideal search experience.
One of the main goals of any optimization program should be to create a better user experience that will draw browsers to your site and turn them into buyers. Using testing to create a better, faster and more seamless on-site search process will decrease the frustration many site visitors experience when they can’t find what they want, quickly. In other words, optimizing search will lead to happier customers and lower bounce rates.