Online shoppers visit an online store with only 2 intents – To browse through a large number of products and make a purchasing decision or simply visit the desired product page and place an order.
To fulfill these 2 key needs it is important that both navigation and search functionality makes products more discoverable. People who search on your store have a higher intent of buying as they usually know what they are looking for. Better the search results higher the chances of the user finding and buying the product.
According to econsultancy site search report, about half the site search results on top e-commerce sites have proved to be unsuccessful. One major reason for this shortcoming is the lack of proper search algorithms even in top e-commerce solutions like Magento and Open Cart.
This post is an insight into the best practices followed by top e-commerce sites which smaller online retail stores can learn from.
There are 2 aspects to a great search experience on your online store. They are
- Search Box
- Search Results Page
This article covers the best practices followed by top online retailers in both these aspects.
Category of search
It is not just the search but the category of search is also important. A person looking for mobile in books section might be searching for some book on mobile app development or user interfaces. While a person searching for mobile in electronics section will be more willing to buy a mobile phone. Letting users choose the category of search helps them type lesser keywords and see much more relevant results. Category search narrows down intent and should be part of your search box if you have product searches which have multiple intents.
Amazon Category Search
Flipkart Category Search
Dropdowns with suggests
It is quite common for a user to expect a drop down for his search terms. Dropdowns help user to narrow down on the exact search term faster. When a user is typing out his query in the search box he is a good idea of what he is looking for but the search term which can lead him to his desired product is still very vague. Dropdowns remove friction by giving relevant suggestions to the user.
Toms.com uses a drop-down which breaks into tabbed results as shown below. If you search for shoes the drop-down lists all possible queries for shoes. Hovering over any of the search query drop downs shows the first 6 results for the query. This is super useful as the user is given an option to directly land on the product page.
Repair clinic Its universal search box lists search queries in dropdowns in the form of categories. As in the example below searching for the keyword “lawn” resulted in the segmentation of drop-down based on brand, product type, problems, and videos.
Bodybuilding.com uses a combination of category division and navigation in its drop-down. In short combination of repairclinic.com and toms.com. As you hover over each search drop down you see segmentation based on article, shop, and videos.
Staples does a great job at educating their users about weekly deals in the products of their interest within the search dropdown itself.
Image search can help offline shoppers who try products offline before looking up for a good deal online. This concept is called showrooming and has been a trend for more than half a decade. Offering image search can help your customers who want to find a product online. Since most online retailers don’t offer image search you making it a functionality can give you a competitive advantage.
Wayfair.com uses an image search along with text search.
Position of the search box
About 8 out of 10 top e-commerce sites place the search box above the navigation. Search has become a culture and is often a shorter path to a product of interest than through plain navigation. Hence deserves a priority over the rest of the website. If you have hundreds of products in your online store it is best to make search box visibility a priority as this gives users a power to navigate your online store his way. It is also important to place the search box at the same position throughout the online store. Consistency in design makes your website more usable to the user.
There is a reason why Amazon places a huge search box right beside its logo. Amazon wants people to search.
Search results page instant load
Faster you load the results the better. Dreams.co.uk uses an instant search on its online store. Unlike traditional dropdowns wherein a user has to type and pick his query and click on it dreams.co.uk dreams.co.uk directly loads the closest query search page as the user types in. Try the search here.
Search Results Page
Optimize search results for zero results
Your search engine should communicate when the search has failed or when the query entered by the user doesn’t match any of your products. This is important as the user might revisit his search query or find an alternative way of navigating through your website.
Bestbuy.com uses its zero results page appropriately. In this page, it communicates to the user to “Try a related item, a more general term, or check out some of our suggestions below.”. The page also links to category pages as alternative ways for the user to navigate the site.
Give users control to sort and view
The user should be given control over how the results are displayed on the search results page. A budget-friendly buyer might want to sort the page based on price while a person looking for the best product might sort the results based on reviews. The feature becomes a lot more important when each of your searches lists hundreds of products. Apart from the sorting a user might want to view the listings in a gallery view over a list. An option for the same would be handy.
eBay allows both these options on its search results page.
Give the option to search within
Once a user searches for a query he might want to narrow his search further. It is best to give the user an option to take his search a level deeper by offering a search box within the search results page or giving search suggestions as links.
iHerb.com offers a search within option for users to narrow their search further.
Account for Mis-Spellings
Quite often by default in many e-commerce software like Magento, Opencart and Zencart no results show up when a user misspells a product name. This will lead them to an empty page and give an impression of the product being unavailable. Amazon’s search engine deals with mis-spellings very efficiently. A search for “angry bird” in Amazon gave results relating to “angry bird”.
Search algorithm to improve relevance of results
An average internet user uses a search engine at least once. And with Google/Yahoo/Bing providing highly relevant results the expectation to find what he/she is searching for is already set high. Providing highly relevant results is a great way to increase conversion rates as the people who generally search are people who already know what they want to buy. But the key problem with providing relevant results is that most of the popular open source shopping cart software have very poor search algorithms.
To improve the search engine results in relevance you have to set up keyword elements and set the priority. A simple search engine algorithm for a medium sized e-commerce store could be
- Keyword in H1/H2 on product Page – Priority 1
- Keyword in Title Tag – Priority 1
- Product keywords entered during product listing – Priority 1
- Product Description – Priority 2
- Category – Priority 3
- Relevant verticals – Priority 4
Once the key elements and priorities are set a simple search algorithm which searches through thousands of product pages in H1, Titles, description, and Category will deliver a lot more improved search experience for the user. If your online store is built on Magento then this is a decent plugin.
Offer option for a quick view
Quick views give the user a quick close glimpse of the product without moving back an forth between pages. This makes checking products faster. See Freepeople.com quick view option on its search results page in action.
Faceted navigation is an important feature for an online store which helps users segregate the product based on their tastes and interests. For suppose a person searches for Samsung Smartphone on your site and lands up on a search page the faceted navigation on the search page helps users filter the smartphones based on operating system, screen size, price, color, and warranty. Faceted navigation gives the user the control hence higher the chances of engagement and purchase. Following are few best practices to be followed for faceted navigations on search pages
- Use Quick links: Link is easy to click and follow.
- Allow users to filter based on price.
- Condense long list of facets.
- Allow users to filter based on brand and product type.
- Make it easy for users to revert back, change or broaden their search filters.
Search is a powerful function on an online store. The key to giving a great experience to the user is to help him find the product he is looking for in the least amount of time and clicks. Search is about finding answers and retailers who give these answers fast will close the deal with their customers.