If an enterprise is going to turn my website visit into a purchase—a subscription, sign-up, form-fill, what have you—they’ll need to woo me some. Sure, they can entice me with new subscriber discounts, free shipping, or complimentary reports. But I’m a no-friction kind of cat—the easier I can navigate to what I’m looking for, the louder I’ll purr. 

After all, that enterprise invested significant time and money toward bringing me here in the first place, right? Knowing what I know about search engine optimization (SEO) and search engine marketing (SEM), I’m guessing they spend thousands on search management—maybe tens of thousands, if you factor in the cost of campaigns. 

Better make the most of those investments when someone like me decides to click through from a Google search.

How Site Search and SEO/SEM Work Together

There’s a reason that effective search management requires significant investment: website traffic from search engines can translate to revenue. At a fundamental level, a website visitor is a potential customer, product purchase, subscription, brand loyalist …

Which is why it pays to get it right once your search campaigns score a click. Site search has proven to be an effective tactic for enhancing the post-search-engine experience—a “multiplier on top of your search strategy,” as outlined in our recent webinar, Why On-Site Search is the Best Investment You’ll Make in 2022

How? You can derive a number of insights from site search analytics that will more than pique the interest of SEOs:

  • Keyword insights: learn to speak the language of your customers and optimize content and increase conversions. This keyword data can be used to optimize SEO/SEM campaigns, too.
  • Null results: Identify top searches that yield no results or clicks and use that to address gaps in content strategy. You can use null results data to address coverage oversights in your paid and organic search campaigns.
  • Web analytics: Understand the journeys people take on your website to improve web navigation, address site structure issues, and drive customers to the content they need most.

The Three Categories of Site Search Tools

Enterprises typically deploy one of three types of site search tools on their sites: 

  • Native search: Embedded within the existing content management system, usually
  • Open-source: A third-party solution, such as Solr or Elastic, that the in-house team bolts on and customizes
  • Search platform: A premium software solution, such as Coveo, that integrates with existing site infrastructure and includes advanced options for personalization, recommendation, and analytics

The Two Types of Site Search Behavior

To optimize site search engines in support of user experience and, by extension, SEO/SEM investments, means optimizing for two primary types: informational and experiential.

The definition of informational site search is in the name: it’s people coming to your site looking for specific information. It could be an answer to a burning question. It could also be a solution to a specific problem. Typically, keyword research, optimization, and even content creation fall under this category. 

As for experiential search, it’s all about the browsing experience and search navigation—it’s about how site visitors “consume” content and, in many cases, convert. As Alistair Rennie, Jonny Protheroe, Claire Charron, and Gerald Breatnach of Google point out, the journey is not linear

Here’s how their team visualizes the model purchase process loop, in which site visitors must navigate an abundance of information and choice to come to the right decision:

The Tangible Benefits of Site Search for SEO and SEM

Think about what helps SEOs and SEMs be more effective. Keyword and intent data. Journey mapping. Post-click site metrics. A quality site search experience can provide all of this information and more.

It’s Reveals What People Actually Need (and Where They’re Getting Stuck)

The more those customers interact with site search, the more keyword data they create, data that SEOs and SEMs crave. Why? Because keyword data reveals top interests, questions, and issues. It tells us which content people look for most. It also tells us which content most searchers are looking for, but can’t find. This includes informational and experiential data that the folks in customer strategy, search, web strategy, and UX can use to make improvements. 

For one Coveo customer, site search data—specifically mobile site search data—revealed that a considerable volume of searchers from mobile were constantly using site search for info on how to find their account number. So the company made the data-backed decision to implement that functionality. 

It Can Increase Conversions

Remember my little spiel about friction? It’s all about removing friction and adding value throughout customer journeys (as opposed to simply convincing someone to buy). As to how, here’s another little secret about site search: people don’t lie to your search box. They tell you exactly what they want, which creates an opportunity to increase website engagement and drive revenue with personalized experiences

It’s a no-brainer in ecommerce, for example. The analysts at Forrester consider site search a must-have ecommerce feature. One Shopify customer enjoys a 7x higher conversion rate for site visitors who use their custom onsite search engine.  Life Extension, a Coveo customer,found that 27% of their site visitors were using search first. After implementing Coveo, customers are now 28 times more likely to add products to their cart.

Another customer nearly discontinued a product, but dug into their site search query data first. They found that this product was the most searched for on their site. The problem was it was never in stock. So rather than discontinue it, they used the site search data to inform better decisions on the merchandising and product supply side.

It Can Be Personalized to Intent

Though up to 30% of ecommerce visitors use site search to find products, people don’t just come to your site to buy products. They usually have one of four intents:

For how-to visits, site search can be used to see what clients are asking to do. It can also be used to create content around those how-to searches—experience-driven documentation that delivers answers. Again, great for SEO, as 1.5x more organic traffic comes from “How To” articles

For to-know visits, you can use data-driven content recommendations to orchestrate journeys based on the expertise and education people are looking for. Using AI, you can progressively refine recommendations based on site search data, creating real-time value for visitors and increasing time on site significantly. 

With to-go visitors, you can optimize the site search experience to help visitors find a location. Let’s say a retail customer needs to find a store carrying a certain product. Unified site search can connect online and offline channels to facilitate this journey.

And I’ve already touched on to-buy journeys. One interesting use case here is the ability to use site search data to suggest related products in the court, thus improving average order value. 

It Can Work With Limited Data

Most websites don’t require people to authenticate. What’s more, many people only visit a given business’s website once or twice a year. Meaning the data on intent can be limited

Yet, you can still deliver personalized site in a few very effective ways: 

Did you know cold-start shoppers make up 70% of site traffic?Blog: Why (And How) You Need to Personalize for Cold-Start Shoppers

A Decisive Advantage in a World of Rising Customer Acquisition Cost 

It’s expensive to acquire new customers. That goes for nearly any industry. Customer acquisition cost (CAC) is up about 60% over the past six years.

One explanation for the rise in CAC is market saturation. Put differently, people have many options! Which is why enterprises need to use every tool available to them to not only bring in paid and organic website traffic (i.e., SEO and SEM), but create incredible value for the people that do click through. 

As more enterprises are finding out, site search is a terrific way to enhance those journeys. 

Check out the full webinar, Why On-Site Search is the Best Investment You’ll Make in 2022, on-demand. 

Listen to the full conversationWebinar: Why On-Site Search is the Best Investment You’ll Make in 2022

Dig Deeper

Looking for strategies to improve your site search? We’ve got 15 of them for you.

Or if you want practical examples, here’s a showcase of real-world site search best practices in our Ultimate Guide to Site Search User Experience

Get proven methods for guiding usersEbook: The Ultimate Guide to Site Search User Experience
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About Martin Ceisel

Martin Ceisel is a freelance writer specializing in customer service and B2B. He can be reached on LinkedIn and Twitter.

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