Customers navigate a website in one of two ways: they browse or they search. In fact, on-site search is the second most visited area of any given website, yet it’s not always at the top of the priority list 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 post will address eight ways to optimize on-site search that will help your visitors find what they want and help your bottom line.
Think about testing how search results are displayed and sorted for visitors by changing whether results are viewed by relevance to the search term, customer rating, availability or showing best selling products first. This simple, yet powerful change can make search results more relevant to visitors, and keep them along the path to conversion.
Measuring visitor actions and results is a key aspect of successful on-site search testing. If you have multiple departments, ensure you are measuring the full cycle of how visitors interact with search, 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.
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.
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.
How many results are you displaying per page? Do visitors want more or fewer results than you are currently showing them?
Those questions can quickly be answered by testing the number of default search results you display per page. If your current default is set to 25, try testing the default at 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.
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 and differing results are shown within the page can provide an easier experience to your visitors.
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 visitor 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.
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.
This article originally appeared in the March 2014 issue of CMSWire. You can read the original version here.