Unless you’re with a large e-commerce company or publisher (think Amazon, eBay, or Yahoo!), it’s easy to overlook the innovation of site search. Most think it should simply work as expected for those who use it. Whether you call it onsite search, enterprise search, or corporate search, right now is a great time to take a closer look at how it can support SEO and audience building.
As SEOs and marketers, we’re in the middle of a shift from focusing on algorithms to paying more attention to users. Onsite search can help us optimize our online audience—both from search engines and from users on our sites. In this article, I’m going to talk about five great reasons to pump up your onsite search.
1. Better User Experience
We always hear that you can’t make everyone happy all the time. But if there’s any SEO tactic that approaches this ideal today, it’s creating a great user experience (UX).
How many times have you left a website because the search box didn’t work very well? Maybe it was too slow, gave you “no results found,” or returned a hard-to-read list. If you’re like me, you feel kind of gypped in a situation like this.
Research has shown that users prefer search boxes to site navigation. After years of “just Googling it,” we’re all programmed to enter search queries rather than navigate by clicking links. We also expect answers to our queries, even if they’re not a perfect match. Moreover, we expect them to be fast.
Without even thinking about it, we’ve come to expect a certain experience from all search situations, whether they’re on Google or a single website. As marketers, we can use this knowledge to our benefit.
Here’s an example of a good site search improving my own UX. If I want to dig into an SEO topic to learn what’s current, I often bypass Google. The Internet has matured enough that there are many great sites out there with solid track records of putting out consistent, reliable, relevant content. To the extent that sites like this have good onsite search, I’d rather go there than start with general search.
Search Engine Watch is one such site. I like knowing that I can use their search box to return a list of great articles on my subject. Reputable authors put these out. They’re organized by relevancy or recency. They’re clearly laid out, and they include snippets long enough to show me the basics of each article without clicking on each one individually.
This adds up to a great user experience for me. My expectations are met and my frustration level is low. On the other hand, if I did this search in a major search engine, I’d have to cull through lots of blue links from unfamiliar sources, unless of course I’m interested in SEW only and use site:searchenginewatch.com, which is a Google shortcut to zeroing in on content on one domain. SEW’s onsite search benefits me, and it benefits SEW. Will I come back to the site after this kind of experience? You bet.
As you consider how to optimize your site search, think like a user. What do you expect from general search, and how you could recreate an experience that’s as good (or better) than that on your own site?
Some big companies are now using semantic technologies for onsite search. In fact, semantic search was being used in this way before it went global with Google and Bing. However, even if you aren’t in that league, you can create a great onsite search experience with a keyword-based program, or improve the one you have.
By refining this element of your onsite UX, you can lower your site’s bounce rate. As people come to know and trust your site experience and content, you can decrease your dependence on general search for traffic generation.
2. Improve Customer Support and Retention
For customers who know exactly what they want, onsite search is critical. If I’m a customer interested in how to use a specific feature, upgrade a product, return an item I’ve bought, or otherwise get help, and I’m inclined to use search, then site search is THE way I’ll get there. So improving onsite search can indirectly drive improvements in customer retention and reduce customer service headaches by ensuring customers can find the content that helps answer their questions. Then, of course, the burden’s on the content or customer service representative to fulfill the customer’s question or concern.
3. Increase SEO
Improving onsite search is also a great tool for post-Hummingbird, offsite SEO.
As I mentioned above, UX has gained by leaps and bounds as a component of SEO. In fact, Marianne Sweeny recently said UX is the new SEO in a blog post for SEMRush. Google has been incrementally tweaking its approach to put more value on the UX, through Panda, Penguin, the “not provided” shift, and more recently, Hummingbird. Onsite search is by no means the only component of onsite UX, but it’s a big one. In fact, website customer satisfaction is largely associated with overall digital user experience, global navigation, and site search.
The thing I like about onsite search is it helps optimize for onsite traffic retention as well as external search. By optimizing content effectively, it should rank equally well in both internal and external engines.
4. Support Content Strategy
Onsite search offers great benefits for content strategy as well —something that’s popping up in many SEO discussions lately.
The key here is analytics. Doing regular, robust analysis of your site traffic, search terms, and user behavior can inform strategy in many ways:
- Identify new or underrepresented topics for content.
- Develop ways to edit, republish, or reformat content you already have.
- Figure out what questions people want answered.
- Find excellent content keywords for paid search.
So another element of getting the most out of onsite search is making sure you have the right analytics in place.
5. Encourage Social Sharing
In addition to keeping people on your site and engaged with your content, a fast and high-quality search function can encourage social sharing—another big plus for Google. It can give bloggers, journalists, and others a fast way to find your content, much as I described above in my example about Search Engine Watch.
In essence, onsite search is a powerful tool for enhancing the value of your content because it makes the content so much more usable—which also means shareable. As more enterprises conceptualize and manage content as a permanent business asset, the advantages of a robust and relevant onsite search function will only grow.
Stellar onsite search has many benefits for users, search engines, influencers, and content managers. It can help you become less dependence on external search. Don’t neglect this key aspect of user experience—especially now, when it matters so much.
How is your company using onsite search to boost user experience and external SEO?