Since January I’ve had dozens of discussions with marketing professionals as part of a product roadmap listening tour. My goal is to hear what’s top of mind for thought leaders, understand the pain points, and figure out how to align our product and our marketing messages with what I’m hearing. While most of the conversation focused around our new product thesis: effective visitor journeys and customer experience powered by behavior-based personalized content recommendation, people couldn’t help but talk about search failure.
While rushing to close 2018 deals, business teams everywhere are also finalizing 2019 plans. Business cases have been calculated, lists have been prioritized and they’re getting to green light 2019 initiatives. All of these are focused on yielding the greatest return for businesses. Increasingly, site search is on the list because of the hidden value in this capability.
Back in April I wrote about the two things you can do to improve your site search. Those are two things among many options you have available to you as you seek to keep visitors on your website and help them achieve the task at hand. Of course, one thing you can consider is a search engine replacement. Better technology has an allure. However, it shouldn’t be the place you start.
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?
Total Cost of Value
Last week I was working on a proposal for a client. We understand the value we need to deliver and we’re going to bring in some external tech to deliver a complete solution. There are several options for the client to chose. What’s interesting about this part of the process is that my role has gone from seller to buyer. Any good seller looks at the deal from buyer’s perspective. But when you actually become the buyer, your vision is narrowed even further. You focus not only on what it’s going to cost but what is it going to give. It strikes me that when looking at total cost, what’s really important is understanding the total cost of value. What does it take not just to get and operate the tech, but to get the total value that can be extracted?
If you close your eyes and imagine what a search engine results page looks like you probably see something that looks a lot like Google’s search results. You see a list of titles and text snippets that potentially describe the thing that you’re looking for. That’s what Google and Amazon and practically every other site has trained us to see. What few people see is a grid of tiles. This is probably a good thing as there are few use cases that tiled search results are effective.
Autocomplete is the bane of any message sent from a mobile device. However, one place where autocomplete shines is on search engines. Autocomplete, also called autosuggest or incremental search, improves the user experience by making it easier to execute searches by suggesting words and phrases that a matching algorithm determines are appropriate based upon the characters entered into a search box. Google has had autocomplete in their search box since 2008. Following in their footsteps, any company that values its customer experience has implemented autosuggestion in their site search. But there’s a new trend in the type-ahead game that we’ve begun to see cropping up on more and more company websites: Instant Search.
A/B Testing Site Search
A few weeks ago I participated in a webinar over on Biznology. I shared five strategies for improving site search using A/B testing. Long a part of the digital marketer’s toolkit, A/B testing has relevance for search analysts as well. Using these methods you can test new settings against a portion of your live traffic without risking tanking things altogether. Once the new settings have proven themselves, you can deploy them to the primary search engine.
Most companies don’t measure site search well. They rely upon out of the box measurements that measure activity instead of outcomes. Nowhere is this problem acuter than when you move from one search engine to another.
- How do you exceed customer expectations if you don’t have an effective baseline?
- How do you know you’ve done the migration well if you don’t measure the gap before and after?
- How do you ensure improvements in content and algorithms are effective?
A/B testing of the search engines is the answer. Check out the webinar. You can also read a short version I did in a blog post a few weeks ago.
Don’t let bad onsite search catch you by surprise – fix it now.
The biggest challenge in corporate IT is managing the never-ending list of equally important priorities. This requires what I’ve always referred to as “ruthless prioritization”; yes there are a lot of important things to do but you can only work on the most critical. More often than not, important stuff like site search gets left behind.
So what do you do when that important stuff all of a sudden becomes critical? You sweat and you work the problem. It’s easier if you have the right data.
If you’re working to improve your site search it’s sometimes difficult to know what’s working and what’s not. You do a bunch of stuff — modify settings, change the user experience — and measure the outcome. If search success is better, then you pat yourself on the back. Your search improvement efforts worked! But did they? Search is really dynamic. If nothing else changes, you know that the content changes constantly. So was it a content change that improved your search success or something you did to the engine? Fortunately, you can take a lesson from marketing to assess the effect of changes. You can A/B test your search engine.