Recently I have been concentrating on meeting with marketers across a variety of industries to take a close look at their external web sites and evaluate how well their site search is performing.  It has been very interesting and enlightening.  The fun part for me (as a site search expert) is how relatively easy it STILL is to uncover what could be done better for the vast majority of these websites.  Quite frankly, there are a few leaders out there who have site search nailed and are reaping the benefits, but most sites still have some basic yet potentially very fruitful work to do.   One interesting (non-scientific) tidbit has been that Internet pure play businesses seems to be doing the best job of site search optimization.  Makes sense, I guess as this is their one opportunity to sell, but an interesting finding none the less.

A few takeaways from these informal website  “audits” come to mind.

For example:  The search box should be the 2nd element that is seen when your visitors land on your home page, right after your company logo.  This is because visitors who search for items are 3x more likely to convert than those who use navigation and browse only.  On many of the sites that I’ve seen recently, the search box is still small, not tied into the company’s branding and may have a message in it that “turns off” users instead of engaging them.  This is simple to fix and can really help visitors with high intent, convert.

Another site search best practice is to offer auto suggest functionality.  An example of this is when a visitor begins typing in “glov” in the search bar and “gloves” pops up and the visitor then click on gloves.  Auto suggest features are still not universally used and this can be a lost opportunity. Help your website visitors get to where they’re going, faster.

Being able to merchandise goods and services via site search is also very important.  For example, being able to push higher margin items or highest converters to the top of a search results page will hopefully move the needle in terms of meeting your business goals.

Lastly – using analytics to do some digging is really important.   Check to see if there are search terms that are rendering null results.  Could you add products to your inventory that customers indicate that they want via search  so that they do not abandon your site or could you tweak your search results so that similar products are displayed that might potentially fulfill a customer need instead of having them get a “not found” message? Don’t let them leave frustrated.

Hopefully some of these tips prove useful as you work to optimize your website’s search experience.  Happy searching.