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Three steps to solving your site search problem

User looking at a search bar

As digital professionals, we’re tasked with understanding and managing the behavior of customers and sales prospects across our digital properties. Really knowing what’s going on can be a challenge. Nowhere is that more true than site search. Most companies have a lot of of stranded customer value on their site search pages. Customer journeys are abandoned due to poor search results and poor user experiences. Acquiring the tools and building the expertise to deliver an excellent site search customer experience allows you to unlock that value.

Are you focusing on the right things?

Site search is often an area that doesn’t get enough focus given its level of importance to your customers. You can get some basic information about the use of site search on your site from your analytics system. At a minimum you should see how many of your users search. Ideally, you should look for data indicating how many searchers are successful and discover where it all breaks down when something goes wrong. Unfortunately, most analytics systems can’t provide that information. At this point, many site owners don’t know how to move forward to further tackle the problem.

Do you have too many results?

You could ask your users what’s wrong. However, one of the most difficult aspects of site search is that user feedback isn’t always useful—asking the customers what’s wrong usually doesn’t lead to helpful answers. Most often they’ll tell you that your site search gives “too many results.” You wonder what they’re talking about—after all, Google gives millions of results per search, and nobody complains about that. When they say there’s “too many results,” what they usually really mean is that the top results were no good.

Or too few?

What your users often aren’t telling you about is the “not enough results” problem. Try this test. Look at your top 100 most common searches and go through the results your site search provides. If you haven’t been paying a lot of attention to your site search, there’s a good chance many of your searches won’t provide anything close to the information the searcher is looking for. Sometimes this is a symptom of a bad site search engine, but it’s just as often caused by your site lacking the content the searcher is looking for.
At this point, many website owners get frustrated and give up, brushing it off as difficult and unimportant. This is a big mistake, because site search really is important to your customers. You know there’s a problem, roll up your sleeves and get to work.

Three steps to better site search

In their book, Search Engine Marketing, Inc., Mike Moran and Bill Hunt provide a three-step process on how to pinpoint the problem and work towards solving it.

  1. Determine how valuable it is to solve the problem. The first step in solving any problem is recognizing it exists. The second step is to understand the value of solving the problem. The value must outweigh the amount of time, money, and effort you will expend to fix it. This sounds like the easy step, but possibly the most frequent mistake in site search is not understanding the value that is left on the table by not fixing the problems that are often obvious. This doesn’t have to be a highly complex business case, the variables are often easy to find and you can use SoloSegment’s business value calculator to make the calculations.
  2. Optimize the most common search keywords. When I suggested above that you check the top 100 keywords, there was a method to the madness. Yes, you were able to see the scope of your problem. Now you also know where to start. Once you understand how well your site search is doing at finding the content your searchers want, you can set out to tune the engine and create content necessary to improve popular search term results. Start with the most popular keywords and keep going down the list until you feel your returns are diminishing.
  3. Tweak your technology and sharpen your content to address the long tail.For many websites, your top keywords will account for only a fraction of all your searches. In many cases there will be far too many different keywords to optimize everything manually. The top 1,000 keywords for a Fortune 100 Tech company we worked with accounted for only 27% of all search volume. For the long tail, there are three technologies that may have to be adjusted: your e-Commerce platform, your content management system, and your search engine. And it’s also important to make sure you have quality content that your searchers are looking for in the first place, and that you keep that content updated to the current needs of your customers.

A process that unlocks value

It’s not easy, but taking these steps to optimize your site search will yield an improved customer experience and more conversions. All that money that’s been tied up in abandoned site searches will come back to you. We’ve worked with companies that increased their conversion rates by 25% just by making simple fixes to the most basic aspects of site search optimization. Don’t let your best prospects leave your website. Work on improving your site search. The value is there for you to harvest.

Need help extracting the full value from your site search? Connect with us.

Author

  • Madeline Moran

    Madeline is the Marketing Assistant for SoloSegment, a company using machine learning and natural language processing to improve engagement and conversion for large enterprise, B2B companies. Madeline worked previously at Mike Moran Group and has a bachelor's degree in philosophy.

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