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How does your search customer experience treat your visitors?

Different site layouts drawn in watercolor.

This morning I had to log on to United Airlines’ website to request a refund for accommodations from a recent overnight flight delay. Surprisingly there is no form specifically for this type of request on the site. I struggled with a bit of cognitive dissonance on how to fit my request in the standard fields where one might complain about rude service or a poorly maintained restroom.

Needless to say, I didn’t come away from the experience with a favorable opinion of United or its process. This at a time when they should be trying to take a bad situation (my original overnight delay) and turn it into something awesome. It didn’t help that there were errors in their login process as well as an inexplicable refusal to load a 900KB JPG file that was both less than 1MB size limit and one of the approved file types.

Am I less likely to return to united.com because of this bad experience? No, I’ll be back. Fortunately for United, oligopolists can get away with poor service. Can you?

What do you know?

Customer experiences are hard to measure. Online experiences makes measurement a little easier but it’s still an elusive concept. What makes your process or site good in the eye of the customer? Time on site? Engagement? Conversion?

Breaking down your online experience to its component parts makes the experience easier to measure. There are many vendors that can help you with commerce experiences as well as marketing landing pages. Site search is another experience that’s valuable to look at because of the importance of search to your customers.

The Search Customer Experience is often the default customer experience

We find that the site search customer experience is common area of underperformance for companies. That’s surprising given how critical site search is in the buying process.

For many people, search has become our default navigation behavior. Google has taught us well. Amazon taught us even better. Even for B2B companies, we’ve found that as many as 10% of visitors use site search to find information that they need to continue the buying journey. That’s probably lower than it should be, but many companies have trained their visitors to not use site search because it’s so universally bad.

In many companies, search isn’t managed by the business, it’s managed by IT. This often leads to a disconnect between the businesses objectives and the reality of the customer experience. You can see it in the numbers.

It’s startling how poorly site search actually works. According to SoloSegment’s data:

  • Between 70-80% of site searches fail on their first try.
  • Yup, you read that right, only 20-30% of searches are successful on their first try.
  • As many as 30% of of site searches yield no results.
  • Yes, that’s one of those big things contributing to failure.

Fixing these gaps is a critical step towards a better customer experience for your visitors.

Knowledge is the first step

I don’t know how united.com will assess my poor customer experience. I imagine their measure will focus on form completion and despite my frustrations I probably appear as a success. Getting the measures right is critically important.

So what can you do to get started in assessing your site search customer experience? Gather some data. There are two measures you probably have access to that may give you a clue.

  • How many of your visitors use your site search? This will give you a feel for the importance of site search to your visitor experience. For B2B companies, we find search rates (total searches/total visits) are usually in the mid-single digits. Anything higher would indicate that your visitors are using search more than average.
    • Don’t forget to do the math on how many people that actually is. One of our clients has a 1% search rate but they get 50 million visits a month. That low percent represents a lot of experiences.
  • How many of those visitors exit from the search results page? This is a bit of a an estimate due to how how some analytics packages measure the behavior but it’s safe to assume that if someone exits on the results page, you’re not giving them anything to click on. If your exit rates are high, something more than a few percentage points, you have a search problem.

Much like you do with marketing campaigns, focusing on your site search allows you to improve the customer experience, drive more success and progress visitors journeys. If you’re interested in more advanced capabilities in understanding and improving the site search customer experience, check our Site Search Inspector’s free trial.

Steve Zakur

About Steve Zakur

Stephen Zakur is CEO of SoloSegment. SoloSegment provides analytics that improve site search conversion and machine learning technologies that improve content effectiveness.