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Return on Investment, or ROI, is one of the fundamental concepts in business. It is commonly understood across key stakeholders and business decision-makers, and as such, it is a pivotal aspect of building a business case for new investment in technology. Accurately calculating the ROI of improving site search can help to drive investment decisions that improve business results – providing both a tangible expectation of results and a goal for the new technology to strive to hit.

Even though internal site search is vital to your website, very few companies have resources – human or otherwise – dedicated to measuring and improving the success of onsite search. However, investing in onsite search is an investment in improving conversion rates, as searchers on your site have conversion rates far above the rate of any other site traffic.

Steps to Improve Onsite Search ROI

  1. Look for evidence of value of onsite search
  2. Understand risk and opportunity
  3. Define the onsite search data you’re seeking
  4. Perform the onsite search ROI calculation
  5. Make it a part of your onsite search DNA

Look for Evidence of Value of Onsite Search

We’re looking for value in everything we do. The question of “How much will we gain from doing this?” may not be explicitly asked, but it’s always implicit. Many decisions are based upon a combination of experience and instinct. But what’s very often skipped is going further to really look deeply into the drivers of value, to test the assumptions that are driving your gut. Internal site search is a great example of where a more rigorous decision-making process could change your default behaviors and increase the value you’re bringing to customers and to your business. First, let’s recognize the opportunity through some basic data gathering. For site search, traffic is the first place to start. You likely already have much of this data available to you via your web analytics program.

  • How many of your visitors come to your site each month?
  • How often do they visit each month?
  • How many visitors use site search?
  • How many searches are conducted?

That last question is the data that feeds the ROI calculation. However, if you can’t measure it objectively, you can use other data to estimate the number of searches by taking some educated guesses at the rate that search is occurring – for example, by calculating search sessions vs. total sessions. Learn more: SoloSegment KnowledgeBase Also, don’t lose sight of the context that these metrics can provide. What you’re trying to model is the value that can be unlocked by improving the customer experience. So, not only do you need to know how many searches are being done, but you also want to have some sense of the relative importance of search to your prospects and customers. Looking at search volumes in the context of your broader site search metrics can provide this perspective.

Understand Onsite Search Failure and Opportunity

The value opportunity in site search is in reducing the number of failed searches. For the optimists in the group, the goal is to improve the number of search successes. But failure is where we start. It comes in the form of two metrics:

  1. The percentage of site searches that fail
  2. The percentage of the failures that are fixable

While your current tools may make it difficult to measure these data points, most companies can make a reasonable estimate of failures and possible remediations.  If you have enabled search measurement in your web analytics tool, you may be able to locate search exits, which serve as a proxy for search success – the inverse of which is search failure.

SoloSegment Data:

Prior to installing the SearchBox tool, SoloSegment customers report search failures as high as 70%, with most hovering around the 50% mark.

20% of those failures are easily fixed! Plus 50% can be fixed with some effort.

Define the Internal Site Search Success Data You Need

What the values you’ve calculated previously will tell you (through some simple calculations) are the number of searches that can be fixed. But what you really care about is the value of fixing those searches. That requires three more pieces of data.

  1. How many of those searches are related to a sales-related use case?
  2. What is the average conversion rate for your website (how many of those searches turn into sales)?
  3. What is the average order size for each conversion?

If you run a B2C commerce site, the answers to the above questions should be easy to get (it also means you’re already paying attention to site search). But for complex B2B sales, they’re going to require some estimation. Many companies measure site search incorrectly. So what’s the right way? First, there are two primary business use cases on a website: sales and support. So, make an educated guess. We normally guess 100% of searches are sales-related. While that overstates the number of sales use cases, it actually understates the value you will calculate; it’s a more conservative way to go. Why? Well, fixing support use cases is generally more valuable than fixing sales use cases because the cost to your business of support calls is quite high. And, expense reduction is 100% margin, it all falls to the bottom line. So, estimate 100%. The average conversion rate is the next tricky aspect. Again, e-commerce businesses can measure this objectively. B2B guys are going to have a harder time but you probably have enough data to make an educated guess. If you assume that a site visitor is early in your sales funnel, an unqualified lead, you can use whatever metrics you have about yield on leads to estimate this number. In the absence of a number, choose something small — 1% is probably a conservative number. The final value, average order size, should be much easier to estimate – with some help from sales or the finance team.

Perform the Onsite Search ROI Calculation

The most common sources of anxiety (and pressure from your finance team) in ROI calculation are ones where the results aren’t immediate. Remember, this is a business case, a spreadsheet, and not reality. In reality, you’re going to have to identify people, acquire technology, learn, iterate, repeat. But not having immediate quantifiable results should not be mistaken for having any results. You’re going to need to build momentum but don’t lose sight of the end game, you’re harvesting the value you’ve demonstrated in your business case. For example, social media has transformed the business world, but some businesses have taken way too long to catch on, and even some still haven’t figured it out. Part of that is because despite the business value they know is there, they’re stuck in a chicken-egg loop. It can be difficult to quantify the value to social media and marketing in general, but the value is demonstrated every day. Don’t mistake the difficulty in quantifying results with no results at all.

Make ROI as Part of Your Onsite Search DNA

As a leader, ROI needs to be in your decision-making toolkit. While it can be intimidating to sit down and crunch the numbers, seeing the math not only helps you clarify your thinking but it also helps you communicate the value to others in language that is important to the business. While the role of experience and intuition isn’t going away, quantitative tools can help you check your decisions. Do research, consider all aspects of investment, and think critically about what value each choice gives you. What separates many successful businesses from the struggling ones is making excellent resource allocation decisions. Not thinking critically about your ROI is playing business on hard mode. Want to learn more about how site search fits into your company’s customer experience strategy and helps you drive greater ROI for your business? Don’t miss our “The Six Personalization Truths Every B2B Marketer Needs to Know Right Now” ebook for how you can make personalization powered by search data and machine learning work for you.

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