Ecommerce Site Search: 20 Best Practices & Examples

Search efficiency is something many of us take for granted nowadays, especially the Gen Z’ers of us who do not remember life without Google Search.

Yet when we seek to use websites’ local search engines, things get a bit tricky.

According to site search statistics, 61% of sites require their users to search by the exact same product type jargon the site uses, e.g. failing to find all relevant products.

And let’s face it: You probably do not want to be in that 61% of ecommerce sites failing to fulfill buyer expectations.

That’s why in this article, we have put together 20 best practices for ecommerce site search engine optimization to ensure you create a search tool that drives sales up.

First, we will dig a bit into what ecommerce site search means for your store and how it actually functions, and then transition into which tools you can leverage to set that up.

What Is Ecommerce Site Search?

Ecommerce site search is an integrated solution within your online store. Its job is to match the right results with your visitors’ search inquiries, regardless of the type of search they run.

The nature of the search queries varies. Some customers type in the exact search query (e.g. “Huawei wireless charger”), while others write in broader keywords instead of being more specific (e.g. “charger”).

And other search queries could be a bit more sophisticated, as some users are familiar with searching on well-developed search engines like Google or Bing.

For example, a more complex search query could be a problem-based keyword (e.g. “back pain remedy”) where the customer searches for a solution to the problem. 

The list goes on for the different types of searches users perform on your website.

To put things in perspective, a well-configured ecommerce site search strategy enables people to find the information without resorting to third parties or Google search. Your job is to build a site search engine that does just that.

A complete site search engine can be the equivalent of a 24/7 salesperson who answers questions, provides ideas, and handles an insurmountable number of customers for you; all without paying a single dime.

The Importance of Ecommerce Site Search for Your Online Store 

Now you might be wondering, “how does site search exactly contribute to converting new sales?”

Well, you can look at the visitors who use your site search features as people who are asking around for help. These people are so hungry for help, that on average, they convert 7-10 times more than other site users.

They are pretty much the equivalent of a confused customer at a store, and they represent 15% of your total ecommerce user base, and a staggering 45% of your revenue.

And just like if you had a salesperson in reality, how your site search engine responds ties directly into whether you get the sale or not.

Now let me ask you a question: do you remember how you felt the last time you performed a search and got no results?

Pretty frustrated, right?

We have all been there. And the sad fact is, 10-25% of all searches end up exactly there—the 0-results page.

What that tells your customers is that you do not offer what they are willing to buy; and therefore, due to only one dead end site search, you can easily lose them to a competitor.

Now imagine the leg-up you would have over your competitors by building an up-to-standard search engine. 

You boost your sales, gain happier customers, and know for certain that you have done your best to solve this possible loophole in your site.

Now this might sound a bit too complicated, but worry not: you do not need to dedicate a whole IT team to set this up. All you need is to pick the right site search tool and you will be good to go…

Ecommerce Site Search Features

Whether you run your store on Magento, Shopify, or any of the other ecommerce site builders, you can take advantage of some fascinating site search management tools.

Here are some must-have features your site search tool must cover:

Analytics

You’ll want your site search tool to deliver clear business insights you can base your decisions on. 

Your search tool should be able to track search page bounce rates, average order values, clicks, no-result pages, and more.

Moreover, you should be able to get quality reporting of the data through your dashboard and custom exportable reports.

Personalization

Anticipating what your customer is searching for is the cherry on the sundae of personalized shopping. The ideal search page incorporates intelligent product recommendations – items that other customers have viewed and purchased to guide customers along their journey. 

Using machine learning algorithms, you decode what customers truly want and surface exactly that for them to see. 

You can have specific products elevated based on your customers’ search queries; and therefore won’t have to worry about losing customers due to a typo or 0-results page.

Indexing

Indexing is key if you are in a dynamic industry where you continuously need to add new products to your ecommerce store.

Some site search tools have different payment plans based on indexing frequency. You will want to pick a tool in which the search results indexing frequency keeps up with your pace.

Now that you have a good overview about what capabilities your site search tool needs to have, let us dig into some of the best practices to leverage your local search engine.

20 Ecommerce Site Search Best Practices

Design

Make the Search Box Easily Visible

Visitors intuitively look for a search bar first when they feel like your website is complex or they could not find their desired products or services.

Your goal is to make the search box stand out using size and colors.

Ecommerce giant Amazon.com understands the importance of the visibility of a search box, and has set it up to be in a different color than the overall theme of the upper bar.

Make the Search Box Big Enough for Queries

Many users would get confused over a short search box that does not contain their full search query. A more comfortable experience would provide a box big enough to contain a decent amount of words.

If we take ecommerce websites ebay and Amazon as examples, the search bars provide space for around 76 characters (∼15 words) for desktop users.

But statistically, most queries do not exceed 27 characters. So definitely take that into account as a minimum size for your search box on desktop, mobile or tablet devices. This will help create ecommerce search experiences that truly benefit your shoppers.

Below is an example of the search bar from ebay.com:

Enable Product Image Browsing with Mouse-overs

As a busy shopper who wants to see it all, image browsing is one of my favorite features on an online store.

For many products, it is hard to base a buying decision off of one image, especially when it comes to things such as clothes, shoes, and accessories.

Wolf & Badger has a great set-up for image browsing when you mouse-over one of their products. In the example below, a picture of a model wearing the advertised shirt shows up after you mouse-over.

Enable Dynamic Thumbnails to Match Queries

According to Baymard Institute, 54% of online shops display static thumbnails that do not match their users’ search queries. This lack of resonation with search queries easily results in website abandonment after the users do not see the colorway or variable of the product they are looking for.

For example, if a visitor searches for “red armchair”, showing results of armchairs with other color variants will drastically decrease the chances of a sale.

IKEA does a great job of displaying dynamic thumbnails for searchers.

Show the Query on the Search Page

With all the distractions of social media and technology nowadays, shoppers can easily forget what they were searching for. And especially if the results are irrelevant or absent, your visitors won’t be able to easily go back and adjust the search query if it is not displayed.

Le Tanneur makes a good example in this regard. Here is how the search page looks when you search “briefcase”.

User Experience

Show Product Details to Save Your Customers Time

The lesser time it takes your visitors to find what they’re looking for, the higher are the chances of you closing the sale.

Product-specific details such as color, price, size, and other variables can come in very handy for customers. 

Here is an example from Berschka’s online shop for the search results of the keyword “jeans”. 

The jeans pants enlisted above are accompanied with details such as prices, jeans fit types, and product images. Users will scroll down further if any products do not match their criteria, and therefore will be more likely to find a product they would actually buy.

Enable Sorting Options

Sorting options are an underrated tool, and some retailers intentionally do not include this option in order to keep users browsing.

Some users browse on a budget, and others might be looking for the newest items. These users can easily get to their target products through sorting options.

Sorting options can include but are not limited to: 

  • Lowest price first
  • Highest price first
  • Highest rated
  • Most relevant
  • On sale
  • New products

You can change up the order of the sorting options based on which can provide the most revenue for your business.

Allow Customers to Filter out Results

It is always a disappointment to find a great product that does not match your size or any other necessary criteria you set for your purchase. For example, I hate to browse through XL only options for clothes, when the only size I can wear is S.

Filters are a similar feature to sorting options; their goal is to minimize the work for your user and display their target products as soon as possible.

Filtering options depend on the type of product you are selling, here is an example from About You, an international brand clothing retailer:

Enable the Search Box on All Website Pages

Your visitors may want to look up products or services from any page; therefore, your search box should be visible from all website pages.

The search box should be incorporated within the theme of all of your website pages, and preferably make it stand out from the other content in the header.

A great trick to implement this is to set up a sticky header that follows visitors along even when they scroll down. 

When the need arises for performing a search, your users will see the search bar right on the sticky header and take it from there with a single click of a button.

Focus on Mobile Site Search Optimization

With the increase in mobile use, it’s more important than ever to optimize your website for phone devices. 

On mobile, there is not much room for error. You can very easily lose users to a notification, wrong button click, or a tedious overall shopping experience.

Statistically, users convert less on mobile than on desktop. A good adjustment to drive up your mobile conversion rate is improving the site search experience.

Making the search bar visible and easily usable throughout your mobile site is a must for a healthy conversion rate.

Conversion

Suggest Upsells & Cross-sells

To increase the success rate of your visitors’ site searches, you’ll want to set up upsells and cross-sells.

You can set this up by associating the products in the results with your existing product bundles. Your search page will retrieve products that may interest your visitor based on their search query. This can increase your customer conversion rate and average order value.

Add “Favorite” and “Add-to-Cart” Buttons to the Search Results

Even if you optimize your site search perfectly from start to finish, you can easily lose customers due to lacking the right set-up for a sale.

Add-to-Cart, Buy Now, and/or Favorite buttons are all necessary for a site search results page to convert visitors to customers. 

Here is an example from Pull&Bear’s retail ecommerce website. There you can see an “Add” button alongside size options.

Show Results for More Than Just Products

Unlike most visitors, some might want to use the search bar to ask a question or access a certain page.

You will want to take these visitors into account to maximize user satisfaction with your ecommerce site search.

Amazon is the brand that comes to mind when it comes to this. 

Never Show a “Nothing Found” Result

“Nothing Found” pages are where most ecommerce retailers lose customers via site search. You will want to display products based on the user’s browsing history or show some best selling categories or products.

Here is an example from shoe retailer Foot Locker.

Algorithm

Show Results for Terms Customers Actually Use

Unless the vast majority of your buyers have a good grasp of your industry jargon, you will want to arm all of your product pages with simpler terms that your visitors actually search.

When you use the language your customer speaks and diversify the terms in your product pages, you increase the accuracy of your site search results and consequently benefit online shoppers.

Leverage Crowd Logic to Learn More About Your Customers

Running a successful ecommerce store requires a continuous gathering of intelligence about your customers and their behavior.

The more crowd logic you learn, the easier it would be to show the right recommendations to your customers.

Top product bundling tools such as Nosto’s Dynamic Bundles enable you to achieve that and get the most out of every performed site search.

Set up Strong Typo Tolerance

A good site search engine never lacks strong error tolerance. You do not want your users to end up on the “Nothing Found” page due to a simple typo.

USA retailer Walmart’s site search auto-corrects typos and shows results for the corrected query. Here is an example for the keyword “T-shirt”.

Enable Synonym Search (Metadata)

Like typo tolerance, this is another practice that reduces “Nothing Found” result pages.

According to Baymard Institute, 70% of ecommerce search engines fail to show useful results for synonym keywords for product-type queries.

Synonym search optimization is best done by including as many synonym keywords as possible in every one of your products’ metadatas.

For example, some users (like myself) would look up “pullover” rather than “sweater” when searching for this product type.

Clothing retailer Pull&Bear succeeds at showing synonym results for “pullover”:

Integrate Natural Language Processing (NLP) In Your Site Search

Search nowadays is all about user intent. Top search engines such as Google leverage natural language processing to return results that are more focused about the user rather than the keyword itself.

NLP for ecommerce sites involves studying the most clicked results to set up product ranking rules. You will want to float your best performing products to the top, followed by the lesser clicked products.

Setting up Natural Language Processing right enables you to save users the frustration of browsing through several pages and irrelevant search results.

Search Query Auto-complete

The purpose of auto-complete suggestions is helping users form a search query for the products they are searching for.

A good auto-complete solution will show the more relevant products, and some users will keep adding more details to the search query in accordance to the auto-complete results.

According to Baymard Institute, autocomplete suggestions lengthen the duration of the search, while maintaining a satisfied experience for the user. The longer the user is adjusting their search query, the more likely they are to find their target product.

Want one-on-one guidance to set up your site search? 

Contact your Customer Success Manager. 

Not a Nosto customer? Request a demo with one of our ecommerce experts now and discover first-hand how you can leverage user data to set up product recommendations.


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