Though 43% of users go directly to the search bar when they land on a webpage, site search is often overlooked. What is it, and why should you care? Well, site search is important to your business in probably more ways than you might know.

Site search, in a nutshell, is the functionality that enables users to search a given website’s content (for example, webpages, product catalogs, articles, videos, and much more) with speed and accuracy, often summed up as relevance.

On-site searchers are about five times more likely to convert. When done right, internal site search allows companies to gather important data about users at every step of the customer journey. That data increases companies’ ability to reach other, similar customers as well as serve more to existing customers.

But good website search isn’t as simple as adding a search box on a site — it’s about understanding what is relevant to your customer’s searches and showing them what they need before they even ask for it.

How Does Site Search Work?

Site search isn’t just a part of the online experience. For many, it defines the experience. Providing a no-fuss, no-muss method of connecting visitors with content, search provides an easy way to sort through hundreds if not thousands of content items on a search result page.

So let’s get a better understanding of how to build that experience with what seems like just a little box in the corner of your site.

  • Index: Indexing is the action of retrieving content from a repository, processing it, and storing it in an index. In layman’s terms, before a customer visits your site, your site search engine gets to work, taking stock of your content. This can be either a full content piece or just the most important bits of metadata such as a document title or categories. Learn more about different types of indexes, like federated versus unified.
  • Query: Search queries, more specifically, are expressions sent to a search service, such as our above-mentioned index, to return matching relevant items. A customer enters, in their own words, what they’re looking for in your site’s search bar. A search query could be a question, phrase, keyword, or model number.
  • Processing: Pulling results up by typing a word or question into a search box often seems like magic, but it goes through a careful indexing process. A great site search platform makes it all look easy because in the end, it scours your index to find the results that best match a searcher’s query.
  • Results: The results populate a page, in a list of hits that the search engine thinks are most relevant to the customer. If there are no matches, your site search may return the dreaded zero-results page.

Basic website search may display results based on a direct match between keywords in the query and content metadata. Because it doesn’t consider any of the context about the visitor, the results may miss the mark. If you’re a footwear company and someone comes to your site to search for shoes, a simple search may return a list of every shoe in the catalog, regardless of style, purpose or size. That’s a lot to sort through.

A graphic shows the indexing process for site search

Caption: Typing into a search box seems simple, but indexing all that searchable content takes careful consideration. This is why picking the right search platform is important!  

Alt text: A workflow shows all of the steps involved in making content searchable to website visitors.

Great site search adds layers of artificial intelligence to each of those building blocks. It may suggest synonyms, specific products, or related recommendations as a visitor types in a query. It analyses each visitor’s behavior — along with the behavior of others like them — to predict the kind of shoes that are most desirable. And it presents the results along with recommendations of other products that might be just their style.

Tips & tricksBlog: 7 Sites with Search UX Best Practices You Should Steal

Why is Site Search So Important?

Search is ubiquitous in our day-to-day lives. When you want to buy something, you type it into that magic search box on your favorite online store. In fact, 80% of U.S. adults know exactly what they want when they visit a website. And if they can’t find it, they’ll try their luck with a competitor.

Site search is also a deep source of data about your customers — after all, where else do they tell you exactly, in their own words or through their actions, what they want? And what better way to track what’s working (and what’s not) so you can better gear your content for those needs?

Not only that, but AI-powered search can collect and analyze vital information about visitor intent and behavior to deliver exactly the experience they’re looking for. It can even predict what they want before they realize it themselves!

How Does Site Search Benefit Ecommerce Businesses?

By making better on-site search a priority, you position your business to improve its bottom line, too, through a better user experience, optimized content, deep insights about website visitors, reduced support costs, and SEO advantages.

Better User Experience

Poor search that doesn’t return the right results forces customers to either search again, browse manually, or leave your site entirely in frustration. That’s why it’s important to hone in on the best search results as quickly in the process as possible. (Yes, even when it’s a first-time visitor to your website.)

A great search experience is…

  • Personalized: By personalization, we don’t mean filling in a user’s name on-screen or assigning site visitors a predefined persona. We mean predicting every visitor’s individual intent when they visit your site and serving up relevant results that are unique to them. Not only do customers increasingly expect this kind of personalized service (42% say they get annoyed when content isn’t personalized) but it can generate anywhere from 5 to 15% of additional revenue.
  • Intelligent: You can help your visitors find the best results with additional features such as automatic suggestions that populate as they type in their search, synonym detection that searches related terms, autocorrection that compensates for misspellings and typos, and facets that let site visitors narrow results even further after their search is complete. All of these features can be powered with artificial intelligence and machine learning (though, that’s not all AI and ML can do), giving you a helping hand along the way.
  • Engaging: Customers don’t know what they don’t know. Search engine results that are paired with relevant recommendations can help them discover new products, services or content that keep them clicking on your site.

Optimized Content

You have great content, but are people finding it? By analyzing search behaviors, you can identify:

  • Content opportunities: Analytics reveal content gaps. If many users enter a search term but don’t click on the results — or if there aren’t any results at all — you might have a relevance problem. With this new insight, you’ll know which issue you have and what steps to take to fix it. In the former instance, you can create new content that will fill in that gap.
  • Underperforming content: This follows the same line of thinking as above, except you know you have a piece of content to fill that search need. Don’t let your content stagnate. If users aren’t finding or clicking content that’s already on your site, you can boost it until it starts rising to the top of search results.
  • Popular content: If many users are interested in a particular search term or engaging with a result, you can create more of what they love or bump it up on your search results page.

Deep Site Visitor Insights

Internal site search is important in data and analytics, as visitors tell you exactly what they want and need, in their own actions and words, in real time. The other half of the equation is putting that data to good use.

  • Learn who your customers are: Gathering information about each internal search and click helps you build a richer picture about who visits your site — and who converts. You can use these trends to help predict what other site visitors want and serve more relevant results to everyone.
  • Create new products or services: With deeper analytics into who your customers are and what they want, you can capitalize on emerging trends as they begin to appear and offer them ahead of your competitors.
  • Make changes over time: Tweaking your site and measuring the resulting change in key performance indicators (KPIs) can help you create an experience that performs at its peak.

Reduced Support Costs

When visitors find what they want on their own, you don’t have to worry about them calling your customer support representatives. Give them a confusing list of results, or no results at all, and you might find yourself spending more than you’d like on helping them find their way.

Get your copyEbook: Guide to Delivering Intelligent Self-Service

SEO Advantage

Search engine optimization brings people to your site. Via search analytics, you can gain insights into what keywords are most important to capture from looking at the on-site searches your visitors perform (after all, visitors are likely searching for the same language there and on other competitors’ sites, too). With that knowledge in hand, you can adjust your own pages, create targeted content, and draw more traffic to your site.

Site search isn’t just for product-heavy ecommerce giants. It can make a particularly dramatic difference for businesses that need help managing:

  • Scale: As your business grows, so does your product shelf and content library. Site search offers a seamless way for visitors to navigate information and pinpoint exactly what they need without spending time or effort digging through irrelevant content.  
  • Change: If you update products, services or content frequently, your visitors need a way to stay up to date with what’s on offer without getting lost or feeling confused.
  • Support: If you find your agents are busy handling calls from website visitors when they could be better deployed elsewhere, a better search experience could be the answer they’re waiting for.
  • Competition: Are your competitors offering great site search? If they’re gaining an edge on search, you should too — otherwise, you may lose visitors who want a better search experience to the other guy who’s just a browser tab away.

Choosing the Right Site Search Platform

Site search is an investment — and its value stretches beyond the price tag. Rather, we recommend that businesses look for overall fit across the factors that matter most to your business and industry.

When evaluating your options, consider the following questions:

Are the results relevant?

Look for: Search that tailors results to each individual visitor and takes other visitor journeys into account, rather than one that returns the same result to everyone.

How will it scale with your business?

Look for: AI-powered search that automates the way it gathers and indexes data so that it can keep up in real time as your business grows.

Is it easy to implement and maintain?

Look for: A platform that doesn’t require intensive IT backend support to put into place or keep running. Ideally, a site search solution will work out of the box and integrate smoothly with your existing systems. It might even be headless.

Does it provide helpful insights?

Look for: Search analytics that track every step of the visitor journey from the moment they first land on your site through every interaction so you can better understand their behaviors, predict their needs, and improve their experience continually.

Can you (and your customers) rely on it?

Look for: Search that comes with top-notch security (like ISO, SOC, and multi-tenancy) and support. The provider should be there when you need them with comprehensive support and robust infrastructure.

Site search may seem like a basic building block of a website. But if there’s anything to take away from this article, it’s the value that it can add to your business. Whether you’re running a marketing campaign, designing new products, or looking to boost sales and revenue.

Ready to see what you can create with Coveo? Try it out for free.

Dig Deeper

Looking for tips to improve your site search? Read up on our list of 15 Strategies to Improve Your Search and Increase Your Conversion Rate

Want real-world site search examples? Our ‘Ultimate Guide to Site Search User Experiences’ digs deep into a variety of world-class site search best practices.. 

Get your copyEbook: The Ultimate Guide to Site Search User Experience
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About Jackelyn Gill

Jackelyn Gill is a tech storyteller at heart. As a journalist and writer, she’s curious about pretty much everything that crosses her path… and as a marketer, she loves sharing it with everyone who reads her words.

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