I was recently browsing the website of a cutting-edge, market-leading tech company, and during my online journey, I hit a “no search results found” page. My first reaction was confusion.
The CEO of Google estimated that there’s 5 million terabytes of data available on the internet (of which, he added, Google had only indexed .004%). Web search engines aside, surely there should have been some content related to my search query on the site I was currently browsing?
Surprisingly, no search results still occur a lot, even to the best — and biggest — of websites. As a result of companies constantly changing pages and updating content, users stumble across empty search result pages all too often. According to Baymard, 68% of sites have “dead ends” in the form of a zero search results page.
It doesn’t have to be like this.
What Is a No Search Results Found Page?
No search results found means one of three things: there isn’t content, there’s an indexing issue, or the search engine couldn’t understand the query. Maybe nothing has been written or created on this particularly unique topic that a searcher is looking for. Or content or data matching the search query hasn’t been indexed by the search engine. Or the search engine couldn’t parse the search term well enough to retrieve a relevant result.
No results pages aren’t fun to look at, and can be especially frustrating if users attempt to use different queries to refine their search — only to hit the same wall over and over.
Why Avoiding No Search Results Found Pages Is Important
In the age of perpetual content, accessible and up-to-date information is essential for user engagement. Visitors increasingly expect easy, intuitive, and relevant experiences from websites. And no results pages aren’t something everyone will tolerate.
This is why no search results found become such a conundrum for businesses. A badly designed empty search engine result page (SERP) is like a virtual dead end for website visitors. With no suggested alternative page and nowhere to go, it’s easy for less motivated customers to abandon their journey and go elsewhere.
Design is not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.— Steve Jobs
According to data from Northern Arizona University (NAU) Experience Design, 79% of website visitors will search for another website if the landing page doesn’t meet their expectations. Nearly 40% of people will leave if the website’s content and layout are unattractive.
Luckily, modern search platforms like Coveo offer many SERP features that you can adopt to proactively prevent your visitors from having this type of experience.
Ultimate Guide to Avoiding No Search Results Found Pages
Crafting a user experience that offers not only what searchers are looking for but what they’ll also need next requires planning.
Here are high-level steps to get you on the right path toward providing the experience your site visitors will expect.
Identify content sources
We couldn’t put it better than Head of Digital Support at Zoom, Jeff Harling:
“If the user experience is the body, and the content is the blood through the bloodstream, then a platform like Coveo is the central nervous system for us.”
A great search experience is as good as the content made available through it. Start by thinking about what content the audiences who use your site need and want. Whether product catalog, blogs, PowerPoints, Slack conversations, knowledge articles, or more, you’ll want to know where that content lives.
This will also become crucial when it comes to selecting a search platform. You’ll want one that offers indexing options with the content sources your visitors access on a regular basis.
Create a unified index
Once your content sources are identified, index them. Don’t stop at simple federated search, as this will impact the relevance your search platform can serve to your site visitors.
With a unified index, content isn’t just compared against other content in that repository. It can be ranked against the entirety of the content available to the user.
Determine search hubs
You have your content sources, and that content is accessible via a unified index. Now it’s time to think about how users will query that index, or more colloquiality known, “search” it. A search bar on your homepage? A customer community? What about a user portal?
The most essential SERP feature to place on that search hub is a search box. Visitors can easily become confused and frustrated when they can’t find what they’ve naturally come to expect on a website. A good rule of thumb are search boxes that fit 27 characters.
Consider the entirety of your visitor journey to understand the different touch points where your audience will go for information.
Craft robust search result pages
There are many SERP features that can help prevent no search result pages, such as:
- Query Responsiveness: Must handle typos with features like did you mean and thesaurus rules. Which AI can help with by taking the manual work off your team’s shoulders.
- Query Suggestions: Just because a visitor goes straight to the search box doesn’t mean they know exactly what they’re looking for. With query suggestions, search can take a few letters and provide a list of contextually related words to point them in the right direction. When powered by AI, they get better and more uniquely accurate over time as the platform interacts with more users.
- Recommendations: Even after a visitor has found what they’re looking for, why stop there? Or even be proactive by recommending what a visitor might like. This can be predicated on both in-session behavior and historical data, aligning their interests with the “wisdom of the crowd.” This matches site visitors like shoppers with the relevant product that aligns with where they currently are in their search journey.
- Facets: On some sites, visitors can be quickly overwhelmed by the amount of content available to them. Facets let visitors refine a search to show just the items relevant to the current search. This is especially useful when a majority of searches are often conducted using just two words! With filters like size, format, or location, visitors have the power to customize their search results beyond popular products.
These features proactively suggest additional content or products that visitors may find helpful. As well as empowering your audience to navigate the results therein.
Ensure findability with correct metadata mapping in mind
Even if you have the best website search solution, it is of no use if your content isn’t optimized for search.
One way to optimize your content is to do keyword research into the search query your audiences use regularly. (You can do this with a search platform that provides analytics! We’ll talk more about this below.) Compare this list against what content you have. This allows you to determine whether you need to update existing content with specific keywords or create fresh content.
Don’t forget to evaluate the metadata you’re using to describe your content. These not only impact how your search engine serves content. It also affects whether or not a visitor clicks on the results provided!
Mislabeled content only contributes to a poor user experience.
Employ AI to enhance relevance
In the past, search relevance was calculated by the frequency of keywords within a given document. There are more manual ways to tune search engines that involve poring over search logs for long-tail results, adding wild card search to external and internal sites, autocompletion, and more.
These things do boost results, but they are onerous. It’s also impossible for humans to keep up with changing language and fashions. Enter artificial intelligence (AI) — the latest innovation in search, triggered by the weariness of both searchers and search managers.
AI-powered search promises to improve relevance by automatic synonym detection, ranking algorithms that learn from feedback, and geolocation information. AI can help drive search relevance and meet users’ expectations. It can do this by enabling what was impossible before. Genuine optimization of relevant results on an individual level, at scale.
After all, most visitors expect a site’s search to be as good as Google’s – is yours?
Leverage analytics to identify usage and gaps, and build a content strategy
Once your site search is up and running, don’t just let it sit there! Site search is a cornucopia of insight. Insight about your audience, what brings them to your website, and what they might be searching for but aren’t finding.
With analytics, gain a deeper understanding of what makes your digital experience successful.
- Search analytics can give you insights into the following:
- Search queries with no results.
- Products with greater or lower conversation rates.
- Popular search terms.
- Top performing queries
- Number of filters used
Modern search platforms include built-in analytics. With this information, you can design a content strategy designed to drive conversions and grow your business.
User Experiences Shouldn’t Include A No Search Results Page
You have content that your site visitors want; AI-search is the bridge that helps you distribute that content. UX components like AI-powered search and personalized recommendations can significantly improve your website’s user experience in ways you may not have considered.
This is also a great reminder that companies may need to think well beyond the traditional customer experience. Even when it comes to something as simple as a no results found page!
With advanced AI, Coveo equips your website with tools to quickly locating gaps and enhancing the customer experience. Be prepared to say goodbye to virtual dead-ends forever!
Want to see how else Coveo can help improve your users’ site experience? Check out our Ultimate Guide to Site Search User Experience ebook. It offers real-world applications of self-learning, AI-powered search, personalization, and recommendations.