Enhancing Ecommerce Search


Site search is a critical component of your ecommerce site and often holds the key to growth and shopper experience.

At the end of 2021, we conducted research and asked ecommerce professionals what some of their “hot-ticket” items were for 2022 – what things needed focus or change? What areas of business would receive investment? What issues do they feel like they haven’t solved just yet?

The overwhelming top answer was “website personalization.” The second most important topic was “ecommerce site search.” This caught us off guard. Searchspring is focused on site ecommerce search, yet respondents were still not happy with their search and how search impacts their shopper’s experience. So, we built a webinar to dive deeper into the conversation.

We invited some friends along to give their point of view on the importance of site search. Those experts were:

  • Sergiu Tabaran, COO & Ecommerce Specialist of Absolute Web
  • Sofia Giussani, Director of Digital Marketing and Ecommerce, of BHFO
  • Drew Himel, CEO of Consult PCR

Our conversation was divided into two sections. Part one focused on the limitations of basic search tools vs. advanced search solutions. Part two focused on tips and tricks to enhance site search overall.

We summarize the webinar in this post but highly encourage you to listen to the entire webinar recording. While I take good notes, nothing captures the spirit of the conversation quite like Sergiu, Sofia, and Drew’s direct commentary.

Part 1, Limitations of Basic Ecommerce Search Plugins vs. Advanced Tools

While this section sounds tactical, the discussion was anything but tactical. As it turns out understanding what product to use and when to make changes, is a strategic, considered decision. Here are some of the highlights:

  • Catalog size tends to drive the decision on what products to use, especially search. Our panelists agree that at about 1,000 SKUs, your site demands more horsepower than a search plugin or basic tools offered by a native platform. Another indicator of a need to upgrade search products is when 10%-15% of sessions are using search. Search sessions of this magnitude trend to drive null searches, zero-search results, or irrelevant searches. Nothing kills shopper experience quite like irrelevant or zero search results.
  • This brings us to the next topic: Clean data is key to your success. Deep discussion of data prep and cleanliness has been a key to every webinar discussion we have had this year. Everything from misspellings to the proper categorization of filter data. Shoppers expect “magic” and it is impossible to deliver the magic with dirty data. All panelists agreed that investing in data cleanliness is core to ecommerce and shopper experience.
  • Conversion is key. While this statement isn’t unusual to hear, it is an important reminder that even during a conversation about how to optimize search, what you are truly optimizing for is conversion. Steps as simple as making sure the search bar is prominently displayed in navigation can boost conversion 3%-5%.
  • Without proper search and clean data, moving to a more personalized and custom experience is almost impossible. More advanced techniques such as personalization require an understanding of your sites data and your shoppers behavior that is difficult to see unless you have quality search data. Personalization matters because shoppers demand levels of customization they have grown accustom to from Netflix, Spotify, and YouTubeTV.

Drew Himel capped off this section with an excellent statement, worthy of becoming your new ecommerce mantra, “You are spending all your money driving people to your site. Once they get there, convert them!”

We covered a lot of ground during this 20-minute discussion. Some items seem obvious, other items are more advanced. Regardless, every ecommerce site can benefit from the back-to-basics approach that the panelists recommended.

  • Make search prominent in navigation. The panel touched on this in the previous section, but elaborated during the second half of our discussion. From testing the location of the search bar to using an auto-complete solution, each panelist was convinced that search in the main nav is not only a driver of satisfaction, but conversion as well.
  • Service “zero-result” searches is a killer for your business and something that needs to be hunted down and systematically destroyed. Understanding the terms shoppers are using, building a database to flex, and understanding those terms is critical. Another tactic is to make recommendations for complimentary products when zero-results are served (for example, a shopper searches a brand you don’t carry but you have other brands of that product). Lastly the panel discussed have a redirect strategy for zero-results. Always make sure to redirect the shopper to a productive place based on their shopping behavior.
  • Examine your online experience as if you’re running a retail store. For example, if a customer walks into a retail store and asks for a product that isn’t available rarely will the sales clerk simply turn the customer away. More likely, the sales clerk will recommend a similar product. So, why are our ecommerce experiences different?
  • We also had a deep conversation about collaboration within your ecommerce company. Involving customer service and the merchandising team is critically important to growth and the understanding of your shoppers experience. Optimizing your site and driving “clicks to commerce” is a job for the entire organization, not just the ecommerce team.

Clearly, site search is not a “set-it-and-forget-it” exercise. Site search also goes far beyond simply providing a place for shoppers to type in specific queries. Site search is a critical component of your ecommerce site and often holds the key to growth and shopper experience.

Listen to the full webinar on demand

Special thanks to our friends at Searchspring for their insights on this topic.
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Steve has entrepreneurship in his DNA. Starting in the early 2000s, Steve achieved eBay Power Seller status which propelled him to become a founding partner of VisionPros.com, a contact lens and eyewear retailer. Four years later through a successful exit from that startup, he embarked on his next journey into digital strategy for direct-to-consumer brands.

Currently, Steve is a Senior Merchant Success Manager at Shopify, where he helps brands to identify, navigate and accelerate growth online and in-store.

To maintain his competitive edge, Steve also hosts the top-rated twice-weekly podcast eCommerce Fastlane. He interviews Shopify Partners and subject matter experts who share the latest marketing strategy, tactics, platforms, and must-have apps, that assist Shopify-powered brands to improve efficiencies, profitably grow revenue and to build lifetime customer loyalty.

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