Search isn’t the sexiest of marketing topics, but it’s probably a part of most marketers’ daily bandwidth.
Take paid search – research from IgnitionOne looking at Q2 figures found paid search spending was up 22% year-over-year, and separating mobile out of the overall lift uncovered a 71% increase. But, there’s one area of search that probably hasn’t been thought about, tested or meaningfully measured since the development and deployment of your current website – site search, that little box on your site that visitors use to help find what they are looking for.
To get some insight into how to optimize site search for your visitors, and more importantly to help improve your on-site marketing, Marketing Dive got some tips and tactics from Matt Riley, CEO and founder of Swiftype, a site and mobile app search solution.
Riley explained why just relying on Google isn’t the best option, listed the site search analytics you should be tracking, discussed how to approach mobile, and offered five tactics to improve your site search.
On why site search is often overlooked, Riley said, “Marketers and users believe that searching for something and not finding what you’re looking for is a normal site search experience and the average company doesn’t have the technical ability or bandwidth to solve this problem.”
He added that marketers can just use Google to power site search, but that approach has limitations such a no flexibility to control or curate your visitor’s search experience. Riley explained, “If you want to add or boost content for a specific search experience, like launching a new product or featuring content that has high reviews at the top, then you’ll be out of luck with Google”
The key drawback with relying on Google for site search is the depth of analytics you receive. You get basic site search analytics, but not deeper data more meaningful for marketers such as metrics around a key conversion like an on-site download or purchase.
Site search analytics are important, but what to track?
Riley said there are three analytics that should be most important for marketers: top searches queries, searches with no results, and searches that generate a conversion.
Top searches identify what Riley described as the “low hanging fruit for optimizing your search experience.” And it provides insight into content or products to promote. He said around 10% of searched queries typically result in no results, and that is frustrating for website visitors.
“Searches that generate a conversion is the best stat to show what’s generating the most leads and/or revenue,” Riley explained, “The conversion experience could be downloads of content, event/webinar registrations, or products purchased through search. Knowing this number helps you identify how much potential revenue you’re generating from a site search experience.”
Mobile search comes with its own challenges – speed of delivering results and resilience to typos. Speed is an issue because phones are typically on slower networks so latency can really affect a user’s experience, and working around typos is probably obvious to anyone who’s texted or otherwise tried to type on a mobile device.
Riley pointed out two differences between mobile and desktop users – not surprisingly mobile searches are shorter, and mobile users do more browsing. Something to keep in mind when planning site search user experience on desktop versus mobile websites.
Tactics to improve site search
From a marketing perspective spending time on site search is likely pretty far down the list of priorities. However, providing your visitors with a better-than-expected experience can pay off. Riley offered five tactical recommendations for site search:
#1 - Location, location, location
A large search box placed prominently in the center of the page can cause up to 40% of users to search, and users who search convert at a 50% higher rate.
#2 - Resilience of the search engine to common typos and spelling variations
Your users expect any of variation of iPhone (i.e. "iPhone" vs. "i-phone" vs. "i phone") to show the same results. Similarly a search for "high heels" should match "highheels," and "grey pants" should match "gray pants." These different examples touches on a different type of text matching technique. Each is technically challenging (though possible) to accomplish with off-the-shelf open source software, but much easier to accomplish when you’re delivering a powerful website search experience.
#3 - Speed of results
Speed has a huge impact on how users perceive their search experience. Unfortunately, most SMB websites are hosted on a single server in a single location (on earth), but your users are distributed everywhere. In order to serve fast search results to people all over the globe you need to decrease network latency between your (search) servers and the users by serving results for a server that is nearby physically. By using a search provider that has servers all over globe, you ensure that your results are delivered fast.
#4 - Index all of your content
For corporate sites, content that’s designed to generate leads (like white papers, ebooks, and webinars) are rarely given the attention they deserve. A good search engine will index this content so that you can generate more leads through a search experience.
#5 - Autocomplete should take you directly to content, not result pages
Most search engine autocomplete suggestions simply suggest what the search query should be, and once you select one it takes you to a search result page for that query. That is fine in the context of a Google search, where you're typically searching for something that you hope exists, but is not as good on an individual site where you're more often searching for something you know exists. That is a big difference between web search and site search, and in the case of site search your autocomplete dropdown should take you directly to a piece of content, not to a search results page.
By harnessing analytics beyond basic search metrics, marketers can actually tap into site search data to improve strategies and campaigns across their marketing channels.