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5 Ways to Make Your E-Commerce Website Search Feature Convert

Compared to other metrics, site search usually gets passed over as one of those things you’ll improve “soon.” It’s not a high priority like landing pages and personalized email.

But taking steps to improve your site search can improve conversion rates; and it also can lead to happier shoppers – shoppers who come back and order again, and then share their experience with others.

So how can you improve your site’s search to do more than just return results? Take a look at how these retailers are making search more user centered, customizable, and interactive:

1. Focusing on the Search Bar

footsmart header

FootSmart makes its search bar more noticeable by making it a different color to offset it from the rest of the site’s color scheme

The search bar itself is the start of the journey, and an often neglected piece of the conversion puzzle. Offsetting it in a different color from your site’s color scheme is one method of drawing attention to it. Putting text inside the box, such as “Enter keyword,” lets visitors know at a glance what is expected (and differentiates it from a newsletter opt-in form). Top it off with a button that reads “Search” or “Find” and include some stylized arrows (indicating motion), and you’re off to a great start.

footsmart search results

The FootSmart search results page includes each product in its own individual cell for easier browsing and shopping

Notice how the results page of a search on FootSmart segments each product into its own individual cell, along with its name, price, and ratings. Sorting options appear on the left for further refinement. This method is ideal for displaying ecommerce products but could be improved even further by allowing the user to view a close-up of the product (or different product angles) without having to click.

Using analytics, FootSmart was able to identify underperforming search terms and act accordingly. By improving their site search and making relevant adjustments, they saw an 82% improvement in conversion rates.

Key Takeaway: Look for ways to make your site search stand out from your color scheme. Follow best practices to ensure that the search box and button make it push-button simple (literally) to conduct a search and get results.

2. Filtering the Results Page

The search results page is at the heart of whether a user clicks or leaves. And with a good site search engine, you can (and should) customize it a great deal, depending on what your target audience is looking for. For example, as women’s clothing and accessories retailer Caché shows with its site search, you can type in broad phrases like “blue” and get a range of products, which you then can sort by article of clothing, size, popularity/price, and other features. Shoppers also can refine items based on whether they’re on sale or they’re new arrivals.

cache search results

Caché’s search stands out by letting users sort by sale items or new items, among other filters

Key Takeaway: People expect their product searches to return filterable options, so allowing them to sort by size/color/style is no longer enough. Look for ways to raise the bar by allowing shoppers to optionally include (or exclude) sale/clearance items, new items, and other popular categories.

3. Handling Long Tail Semantic Searches

Long tail semantic searches push a search engine further by making it understand the intent behind the user’s search. For example, someone searching for “women’s long sleeve black tee size M” is much more likely to convert than someone just browsing “women’s tees.” According to a study in Retail Integration Online, sites with a semantic-based search engine have a low 2% rate in shopping cart abandonment, compared to as much as 40% on sites with plain text search.

yellow sneakers

TheFind incorporates long-tail semantic searches in its results

Key Takeaway: Shoppers are demanding improved search results; and, when it comes to relevancy, a semantic-friendly site search will beat plain text competitors every time.

4. Using Intelligent Autocomplete

Autocomplete is another great site search time saver for shoppers, and it’s getting smarter. Printerland, a U.K. printer and accessory retailer, recently worked with site search provider SLI Systems to add smarter search (including autocomplete features) to their site. As a result, they increased their overall conversion rate and now enjoy a per visitor value that’s four times greater than previous sales. In addition, customers who land on an autocomplete page suggestion are six times more likely to convert than those who don’t.

printerland search function

Printerland’s rich autocomplete search shows intelligent results and product pages

Key Takeaway: Autocomplete for site searches (to help customers find what they want visually) is especially worth considering if you have numerous products (or multiple products under the same brand). And including product photos and pricing is icing on the site search cake!

5. Including Smarter Breadcrumbs

Few things are more irritating than a site search that displays unhelpful breadcrumbs, such as Home > Search > Your Search Result. Allowing people to filter their results via breadcrumbs lets them pick and choose which features they want, without clearing their search entirely and starting over from the beginning.

Kohl’s automatically updates search results based on checkboxes the user clicks in the sidebar. And it goes a step further by also letting them take away options by clicking on the breadcrumbs, so they get more precise results without voiding their entire search.

kohls breadcrumbs search

Kohl’s uses smart breadcrumbs to let users filter and change search parameters and have the results show instantly

Key Takeaway: Don’t force users into a tunnel of limited search results. Let them check, uncheck, clear, and refine their results for a more perfect (and thus higher converting) search.

Currently, there are only a handful of semantic search providers that license their technology out to site owners (to incorporate into their site). However, with users demanding more from their search engine results, it’s easy to see that the smarter search will easily become a top conversion booster, and thereby worthy of more attention in the near future.

The Site Search vs. On Page Navigation Showdown

We asked 100 people to describe their search behaviors when looking for specific products online.

Their responses generally showed over half prefer to use on-page navigation, while 47% of respondents prefer to filter down to specific product details (size, color, etc.) on the product page itself. Check out their responses in the graphic below:

KISSmetrics Site Search vs. On Page Navigation Survey

About the Author: Sherice Jacob helps website owners improve conversion rates through custom web design, copywriting, and intelligent optimization.

  1. Hello

    Interesting post, especially the site search behavior that reveals that 30 percent of visitors prefer to use site search.

    I have one question to ask as I’m not a techy guy.

    Why don’t people use google or Bing for site search? You can easily implement one of the two on a site and have site only results. And you get the benefit of using a great semantic search engine. Even though you probably cannot configure breadcrumbs.

    • Hi Steven,

      My guess is, they may think that their site would either be inundated with ads (to their competitors) or they may be worried that certain pages will be indexed that they don’t want showing. On the other side of the spectrum, they may not want their site’s search beholden to the Mighty Google. :)

      • Jonathan Ross Jan 31, 2013 at 12:36 am

        Google and Bing function on a different principle. They use a word for word comparison approach, which they can do as they are indexing billions and billions of records. An intelligent site-search technology is not merely comparing word for word, but rather phonetic, spelling, shape, and other fine differences only a ‘fuzzy’ algorithm could detect.

        This tech allows modern site-search engines, to be able to find the most relevant search results, for a given user, without needing billions of records to compare in order to ensure relevancy. Instead using only the products that are in a particular site’s catalogue index.

        As Google and Bing have not concentrated their tech development on such niche shops, they are unable to perform vendors specialized in this ecommerce shop niche.

        Hope that was easy enough to understand.

  2. Cheers, don’t say it enough. But your newsletter and blogposts makes my life easier! Will do my best to contribute more in the future, but right now I’ll look into optimizing our site search :)

  3. Question is: is their some sort of SaaS plugin that will do all this stuff for me?

    • Jonathan Ross Jan 31, 2013 at 12:38 am

      Hi PJK,
      yes, there are quite a few. I don’t wish to be shamelessly “salesy” so please have a look at our website by clicking on my name above.
      If nothing else, we could take the discussion a little further and you would be one step closer to higher conversions, even without purchasing anything! ;-)

  4. Great post Sherice! Definitely a lot of things most e-commerce owners don’t spend enough time thinking about.(myself included)

  5. And don’t forget to analyze and create Funnels in your analytics account to track and adjust accordingly otherwise you’re just flying blind.

  6. Internal catalog search or Narrow by search are most important parts of website internal search. I was using both elements on my Ecommerce website. But, I have little bit confusion to set up attributes on website. Because, It may compile wrong search result during any query. That’s why I have shifted to Google custom search on my website. What you think about Google custom search on Ecommerce website? And, How can Google make it more better?

    • I really like Google Custom search. I think a lot of people are afraid of the “learning curve” that comes with adding something as sophisticated as Google search to their website (even though Google has made it really easy to do so). For tapping into the sheer power of the leading search engine, there’s really no comparison.

      • Jonathan Ross Jan 31, 2013 at 12:44 am

        Just a quick note: as mentioned in one of my comments above: Google’s focus is not ecommerce site-search. Unfortunately, their name opens a lot of doors into unaware ecommerce shops looking to get a great site-search. Although their search facility, on-site, is better than a terrible one, it is unable to keep up with what modern site-search vendors are able to do, as Google’s focus is not on-site catalogue search but web search, which requires a different set of algorithms to return most relevant results.

        Also what Anand is describing about building attributes: this is all done automatically, based on the catalogue file, with any modern site-search vendor.

        Hope this was helpful.

  7. joao da silva Feb 12, 2013 at 7:57 am

    Great post.. ecommerce websites are a new way of getting more feedback from the consumers

  8. well, search function for every eCommerce website is really important. A user can search the name of the product he is looking for. !

  9. Interesting post, especially the site search behavior that reveals that 30 percent of visitors prefer to use site search.

  10. I am searching for some help. I am currently creating my own website with a very minimal amount of formal training and have come to a problem, I am trying to set up a website that has filters similar to what ebay has so the user can pick what year, color, etc. Are their any tools or tricks out there that can help me with this process. I would love to set it up similar to the Kohls website. Any help would be appreciated.

  11. based on experience, having a site search application is very important especially if you have a large website with lots of store information. So, everytime you create a site, you also need to consider tools you are going to use to maintain and have the said site smoothly.

  12. Do you know what shopping cart has the best search functionality? I used Volusion in the past and had to manually go in and uncheck sold sizes for my “Search by Size” to work. I plan to open another online store soon and hope to avoid this headache.

  13. Saumya Sharma Apr 14, 2015 at 12:21 am

    Hey, great article. yeah, everyone should use that techniques to make their website visible over search engines.
    You should more focus on keywords because they are important for search engine ranking.

  14. Hi Sherice Jacob,

    Good Article for an E-Commerce site and i have a question for you,
    i want to know how i can track the keyword for which a user search on my website and the product is not available. Please help me out. Many Thanks

  15. A very nice article.People often igone search part.
    I want to know how to make search and autocomplete faster?

  16. I like the intro about drawing attention to the search box (colour, text inside, label outside).
    It seems so obvious – but too many recently redeisgned sites have stripped visual clues.
    I’ve seen (but only after a couple of minutes) a mid-grey ping-pong bat on a white background, next to empty white space (i.e not even a border)
    Only a pointer trawl confirms a hidden search box.
    Do those designers even think of the casual visitor?

    I don’t use site search boxes much – because mostly they’re cr*p.
    Most seem to assume ANY of 2 or 3 words rather than “and”. The former almost always returning irrelevant results.

    So I favour filters.
    Perhaps I misunderstood, but you seem to support auto-update of filters.
    Personally I find this really irritating as (mostly) there are 2, 3 or 4 criteria I want to use from the off. I don’t want to wait for 2, 3 or 4 re-sorts.
    Elsewhere, someone suggested auto-sort for people browsing. Surely those unsure are already budgeting for extra seocnds – so they shouldn’t mind clicking to sort?

  17. Smarter breadcrumbs nearly killed me once, true story.


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