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You know your onsite search isn’t good. You’re in good company. A recent survey we did of leading healthcare companies showed that 47% of the industry’s top keywords performed poorly onsite search. That’s consistent across industries, more so in B2B enterprises. But site search is the first personalized experience customers have with your site. Shouldn’t you make sure it meets their expectations?

Why is site search so bad? Well, some of that is because search owners don’t know what to fix. The good news is that getting started is easy and there are four things you can work on today that will improve your site search success rates.

Opportunity & Threats

As business leaders we’re always scanning the horizon for opportunity and threats. Some of these are obvious, others not so much. Often our awareness of a problem, and our desire to act, is colored by our ability to understand the problem (measure it) and our ability to fix the problems (some notion of the solution). Known problems are easy to relegate to the “not a priority” heap if a solution isn’t readily apparent.

When I talk to prospects about problems with their site search you can almost see the conversation going on in their head.

  • “Yes, I know my site search is awful.”
  • “Oh, great, you’re going to help me by putting a number on the problem?”
  • “Even better, the problem will be more visible and just as impossible to solve.”

One of the things I’m always quick to get to is that these problems are solvable. In fact, we’ve codified many of the methods for site search improvement into our Site Search Inspector Knowledgbase. And the beauty of many fixes is they don’t require complex technical skills. At the heart of search is content. Here are my top four things you can do for your content that will improve your site search.

1. Writing your content for search engines

While it’s tempting to think of site search problems in terms of technology, the technology is only half the battle. Very often failures in site search come from failure to write your content in a way that is searchable. The added benefit of fixing content for your site search is that it also will help your searchability in Google. To make sure your content is searchable, take these steps:

  • Focus your page on a single topic
  • Place relevant keywords early in the document and reinforce throughout
  • Subdivide content and include relevant keywords in page headings
  • Ensure appropriate content length (at least 300 words)

Google reinforces this message often. If you write great content for users, you’ll write great content for search.

Titles are another factor that can cause search failures on the content side. Titles are the first thing that a searcher sees. I was on a website of a large manufacturer recently. Their site search results were awful and one of the first things that popped out when the page loaded was the fact that many of their titles were duplicates. Bad titles are a problem not only for the algorithm but also for the users.

How do you fix this problem? Focus on relevant keywords at the beginning of the title, choose a unique title for each page, and a title length around 50 to 60 characters. It doesn’t matter how high quality or relevant your content is if you don’t have a searchable, relevant title. Titles are the “Headline” of your search results. Make it both relevant and compelling.

3.  Optimize Page Description Metatags

Your page description metatag helps both your searchers and search engine understand what your page is about. Here are some steps you can take to make your metatag more searchable and understandable for the searcher:

  • Provide a unique description for each page
  • Place relevant keywords early in the description
  • Ensure keywords appear in the first 150-160 characters

The role of the description metatag in driving search results varies by search engine. Some rely heavily on the information, while others ignore it altogether. However, a strong description will never harm your ranking, and might actually improve it. Like titles, you page description metatags also plays a key role in your searchers’ overall experience. It’s that snippet that searchers see when they look at a search results page.

4. Write keywords based on what keywords your searchers use

There needs to be a method to your keyword madness. Reviewing your analytics is important because it allows you to know what keywords your searchers are using and what content they’re looking for. If they use a different keyword to describe something than you have been using, make sure to include that keyword in your content as well. Optimizing your content using keywords isn’t just about using keywords, it’s using the right keywords so your customers find what they’re looking for. Here’s some good ways to find what keywords your searchers are using:

  • Segment searchers into target groups–understand the needs of the searcher and figure out what keywords they will use based on their needs
  • Review your web analytics
  • Brainstorm terms from your searcher’s perspective
  • Organize keywords by topic
  • Ask searchers what keywords they use

Your page will not appear if you don’t match the keywords your searchers use when looking for your content. Ensure that you’re continually reviewing your ranking for specific words and that those words match what your searchers actually look for. Use segmentation, analytics, brainstorming, and surveys to ensure you’re meeting the needs of your searchers—and improving how well your page matches your searcher’s intent.

Get started with the content

You can spend a lot of time focused on the search technology tuning weighting and features. That can definitely make a difference — I have a webinar on A/B testing site search. But at the end of the day, content is what largely drives a great user experience. Focus on the content and you’ll see your search success improve.

And as always, if you want to get the most value out of your site search, connect with us. And don’t miss our new ebook that looks at “The Six Personalization Truths Every B2B Marketer Needs to Know Right Now,” including how to make site search the personalized experience it should be.

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