When site search UX is outdated or not done well in the first place, it can be a major point of frustration for a website visitor. Think about your own website search experiences. 

You, a new website visitor, search for your desired item via the homepage search box. But you find that the results page lacks the relevant results you’re looking for. Instead of continuing your search on that site, you’d likely bounce off the page only to seek help from Google or Amazon (sites that make their name by having incredible search UX).

Don’t let this be your site search experience. 

It’s no secret that a lost customer equals lost sales. But the connection some fail to make is that a search box with a great UX and UI design can improve the ROI of your website. In fact, visitors who engage with your search box are 1.8% more likely to convert. That alone should have you racing to make sure your search box UX is fully optimized.

So, how do you keep from losing visitors due to poor site search UX? Is it possible to keep them looking around your site even if they come up short on the results? Yes! We’ve put together some site search UX best practices that will help you ensure that every visitor who uses your search box has an amazing experience that will keep them on the site.

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7 Search Functionality Best Practices to Improve Your Digital Experience

Search Box Design and Placement

Thanks to companies like Amazon and Google, website visitors expect the search field on a website to be central, obvious, and always easy to access. 

Sites that produce this type of search UX design create a sense of familiarity for their users, which can make them feel more comfortable using the search functionality and navigating the site in general. 

Color contrast is another important factor in search ux design practices. For example, Walmart’s search query field stands out, using white space against a blue background, with a bold yellow search icon that users click to initiate their search. Additionally, the blue bar where the box is located never disappears no matter how far they scroll or what page they’re on, so visitors always have instant and consistent access to site search.

Because searchers are more likely to convert, making your search box prominent, clear, and consistent will increase your chances of increasing conversion rates.

A screenshot of Walmart's website shows an easy to find (and use) search box

Hint Text

Another search bar UX best practice Walmart does well is using “hint text.” 

Within the search box, there is placeholder text that prompts users to “search everything at Walmart online and in-store.” This not only gives site users a clear call to action, but it’s also informative, giving helpful information that you can use the search to find items that are available either online or in the actual store. 

Hint text leaves no question to the user about the purpose of the text field, and it can help guide and direct users in their overall search.

A screenshot shows Walmart's contrast-colored search bar

Thorough Facet & Intuitive Filter Option

Humans have a “natural tendency to organize information with categories”, and this is why search facets are so important to implement in your site search. 

Facets and filtering options are one way to offer scoped search. This can improve user satisfaction by empowering users to narrow their search results. This is done by grouping items in categories such as “women’s dresses” or “mens shoes.” 

Relevant reading
Free Download | The Complete Guide to Designing Faceted Search

ASOS uses facets thoroughly by first offering “womens” and “mens” categories, then further breaking them down into subcategories, which guide each user closer to what they are looking for. This saves users time and creates search efficiency, which increases site usability. 

A screenshot shows ASOS layering in facets and filters to make searching more intuitive

Filtering options used in conjunction with facets help to further refine a user’s search results. They allow the user to select multiple criteria to filter by at once. And when these filters are intuitive and easy to use, it makes the user experience seamless. For example, ASOS allows users to sort dresses by different categories and choose between things like size, color, season, etc., which makes it oh-so-easy to shop for that little black dress.

A screenshot shows how ASOS shows a range of facets and filters during a search

Results Stats 

To help ensure that users won’t come up empty-handed with results, Craigslist uses results stats. 

These stats appear before the user hits “enter” so that they can see just how many results they will find if they do. This manages the user’s expectations so they don’t feel a sense of disappointment with the amount of results. It also allows users to change their search query if they don’t feel that the amount of results they will be given is sufficient. 

They may go from searching “black sweater” to “sweater” to ensure they have more options to choose from (or the other way around when someone may not want to feel overwhelmed by options). This aspect of CraigsList’s site search gives more control to the user and can help improve satisfaction with search results.

A screenshot shows how Craigslist displays the number of results in a drop-down bar

Predictive Query and Autocomplete Suggestions

Predictive queries and autocomplete suggestions, especially when backed by artificial intelligence, can be extremely helpful for your site users and your business. 

These search techniques save users time, helps them enter more searchable queries, and reduces typos. It can also be a tool used to promote certain products depending on your business needs. To take it a step further, autocomplete can help users save even more time and can improve site search efficiency. 

Relevant reading
Blog | 7 UX Design Best Practices for Autocomplete Suggestions

To ensure optimal search box UX, it’s important to constantly monitor the performance of your site’s predictive query and auto-compete to improve its functionality

Amazon has nailed its predictive query feature and gives numerous relevant options to choose from, even when user input includes minor typos.

A screenshot shows how Amazon provides type-ahead suggestions in a drop-down

Trending Searches

The moment you click on Target’s search box, a drop-down appears with trending searches. 

This search feature can help guide a visitor when they don’t know exactly what they are looking for, but further, it acts as the kind of social proof called “wisdom of the crowd.” It causes visitors to think something like: “Oh look, a lot of people are buying shoes at Target; they probably have great shoes.” 

Visitors trust a brand more when they see many others trust the brand enough to buy from them. This tool also communicates that other people are using the search box specifically for their needs, which gives them a deeper sense of confidence in its functionality. 

A screenshot shows how Target provides trending searches before a user has even entered a query in the search box

Comprehensive Results with Unified Index

Relevant results are the linchpin of the search box user experience. Searchers want accurate and comprehensive results that steer them closer to their goal. 

Many sites simply link the search box to their catalog of products. Yet when a search is unified throughout the entire site, the results can reflect different aspects of the site that a user may find helpful. At that point, it’s no longer just searchable products but support topics or other relevant information to the query. 

Relevant reading
Blog | What Is Unified Search?

Apple does a great job of this. They categorize search results and default to products but can click over to other tabs like ‘Support’ or ‘Accessories.’ This gives users more comprehensive results and makes it easy to search the site holistically.

A screenshot shows how the Applestore unifies content from different repositories in one search engine result list

Alternative Suggestions for No Search Results

If the worst has happened, and a visitor’s search has come up with that pesky “no results found” message, you still have the chance to save them. Though this is where many users will leave the site out of frustration, all is not lost. If you can provide alternative suggestions when there are no matching results, you increase the likelihood of keeping that user on the website. 

Offer Recommendations

One way to do this is by using effective product recommendations or content recommendations that are similar to the search or that are most popular among customers. This switches the communication from a “no results, this is a dead end” message into a “no results, but look what we have here” message. Mejuri does this by adding an “oh, you might also like” section right underneath their no-results text.

A screenshot shows how Mejuri provides alternate routes on a no-results page

Contact Us

Another alternative you could offer with the no-results message is providing commonly asked support questions or a “Contact Us” link to communicate that the company is willing and ready to help solve any user problems. In fact, when it comes to ecommerce, consumers are “most likely to trust a business that makes it easy to contact people at the company.”

So, providing the option to contact someone can help create a sense of trust that was almost lost when the visitor didn’t get the results desired. Best Buy uses this tactic and offers a link to visit customer service support or look for your tracking info if you already have something on order.

This pushes visitors to another part of the website to keep them around until they convert or nurture the lead by providing great customer service.

A screenshot shows how Best Buy provides routes to 'purchase history' and 'customer service' as resolutions for a no-result page

Designing Search To Convert Visitors

These search box UX best practices ultimately create more usability and a better experience for your website visitors. The search box, though it may not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think of UX, plays a huge role in creating an experience that is seamless and effective for online shoppers.

Dig Deeper

Want to see how Coveo can help improve your users’ site experience? Check out our Ultimate Guide to Site Search User Experience ebook, for real-world applications of self-learning, AI-powered search, personalization, and recommendations. 

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The Ultimate Guide to Site Search User Experience

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