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6 steps to optimizing your site search

6 steps to optimizing your site search Terry Costa

If you sell online, getting customers to convert and buy means making sure they can find what you have to offer and making it easy for them to compare and contrast choices.

Site search has evolved to become a useful merchandising tool that can help your visitors quickly see many product and information options at a glance and view search results in ways that best fit their needs. This improved user experience makes it more likely that visitors will convert quicker and return to your site for additional purchases. Here are some insights to help retailers build a rich and engaging site search that can more easily lead visitors to the products they are interested in.

Make all content accessible

Retailers that have developed attention-getting and informative content such as videos and blog posts, along with building a presence on social networks, should present this content in such a way that visitors can easily access it within search results. For instance, by adding tabs to search results or showing different types of content on different parts of the screen, this non-product content can be easily accessed by visitors. You can see below how the health and wellness website Dr. David Williams handles this extra content.

Display search suggestions

It's good practice to show search suggestions on the search results page. These are search terms that are related to the term typed in the search box and can give people additional ideas for what to search. I recommend showing search suggestions at the top of the page and at the bottom of the page below the search result. According to our own research, about 25 percent of site visitors will click on a search suggestion.

Allow for a grid- or list-view option

Grid views work well for product searches that generate lots of results. Depending on the size of your images, you can display three, four, or five images across the page, which means you can show many more products above the fold. On the other hand, in a list view, you can offer a more in-depth description of the product along with information such as shipping costs and product ratings. If you allow your visitors to pick which format they prefer, they will appreciate the flexibility in how results are displayed.

Add search result sorting options

Most advanced search engines have a way to sort results by multiple criteria. For instance, your visitors may want to sort results by price, date added, brand, star rating, alphabetical order, or other criteria. Also, the popularity of social networks means that your visitors may be interested in seeing items with the highest number of Facebook "likes" or Pinterest pins first.

Use quick view windows

Give visitors the ability to get more product information without leaving the search page with a quick view button that opens a product detail window. These windows eliminate the need for visitors to load the entire product page and help narrow down their product choices faster. You can make quick-view buttons appear when shoppers hover over product images on search pages, or you can place them below product images so they are always visible.

Add inventory status

Shoppers like to know if a product is available before they begin the checkout process, so adding stock or inventory information to search results is a big plus. Include a notification such as "In Stock" or "Out of Stock" in search results next to each item. This way, shoppers can quickly find alternate purchases if their first choice is out of stock, and they'll be less frustrated and less likely to leave your site. You can also have your search engine display only items that are in stock or give a higher rank to those that are in stock.

By offering these customizable options in your search-results delivery, you not only help customers find items they're looking for in a more user-friendly way, but you also put visitors in control of their own experience -- which always goes a long way toward building customer loyalty.

Insights based on tips from "Big Book of Site Search Tips."

Terry Costa is VP of marketing, SLI Systems.

On Twitter? Follow iMedia Connection at @iMediaTweet.

"3d illustration of a magnify glass on a search word" image via Shutterstock.

As VP of marketing, Terry Costa is responsible for SLI Systems' global marketing efforts as well as for driving growth of SLI's search technology and services in the e-commerce and publishing industries. He is an experienced marketing veteran with...

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to leave comments.

Commenter: Yaro Park

2014, September 24

Every day it's harder to play with SEO.
But I like the ideas in this article and especially suggestion list.

Commenter: Nick Stamoulis

2012, November 16

I think adding inventory status is a great idea. No one like getting through 90% of the checkout process only to be told the item they wanted is not in stock. If you let them know ahead of time you can give them to option to signup for notification when the item is back in stock or show them related items they might still be interested in.