4 Essential Tips To Improving Your On-Site Search Engine

This week we welcome Steve Chou, co-owner of Bumblebee Linens and MyWifeQuitHerJob.com. Within a year of launching, Steve’s online store - Bumblebee Linens - successfully netted over $100,000 in sales. Yes, that’s right – 6 figures in one year.

He then created MyWifeQuitHerJob.com to share expert tips and advice on running a successful online business. Today his blog reaches over 90,000 monthly readers and has been featured by The New York Times and The Huffington Post. We invited him to share expert advice with 4 essential tips to improving your on-site search engine.

If you run your own online store, you probably already know that optimizing for the search engines (especially Google) is essential if you want to drive more traffic to your web site and increase your sales. However, as important as it is to drive traffic to your web site, the real key is keeping visitors on your site -- and encouraging them to buy.

Unfortunately, too many online businesses focus so much on optimizing for the big search engines that they completely neglect their own web sites. After teaching ecommerce and running my own online business selling handkerchiefs for many years now, I have learned the value of a good on-site search engine.

Here's an interesting fact. Most customers that land on my store home page don’t browse for the product they want. Instead, they head directly to the search bar to locate exactly what they want.

If your site isn't ready to handle those potential customers, you could lose thousands of dollars in business. In fact, the data indicates that more than 95 percent of customers will leave a site immediately if the search doesn't yield what they are looking for. One bad search, and that customer is gone -- and so is your sale.

Out-Of-The-Box Search Solutions Are Not Good Enough

If you blindly add products to your shopping cart database without taking into account your on-site search engine, then guess what? Your on-site search engine is going to suck.
Not too long ago, I analyzed some of the search queries on my site that weren't returning results for customers. Here were the results:

women’s hankies

It’s pretty clear, when looking at these terms, why no results were returned. The first two of those are misspelled. The third features an apostrophe that would normally be stripped out of the search string, but wasn't. The fourth is clearly an attempt to find a handkerchief for a man. All of these items are available in my online store. However, a customer wouldn't realize this from the search results.

Most ecommerce platforms won’t offer you what you need for an effective search return by default. Misspellings and synonyms could be costing you thousands of dollars, and you might not even realize it. If you want a chance at retaining these would-be customers and converting them to sales, here are 4 things you need to start doing:

1. Understand That Improving Your On-Site Search Engine Is Up To You

It’s true that most of your customers are going to find your products through Google, landing directly on the product page or on a category page. However, even with this reality, there are likely many potential customers using your on-site search tool.

While you don’t need to create Google’s next competitor, you do have to create a localized search engine on your site for your own products. In other words, you will need to populate product specific search terms to help potential customers find relevant results that keep them on your site. Even if you need a little help from a web developer, it is usually worth the investment.

PrestaShop’s onsite search is already pretty good in that it offers auto-completion and search suggestions, but most of work in optimizing your own search engine is going to require work on your part.

2. Log All of Your Searches

You will never be able to think of all the variations on your products. No matter how long you spend trying to pinpoint possible misspellings, syntax errors, punctuation mistakes, and other variations on your products, you will never think of them all. Searchers will constantly surprise you.

If you want a high-level view of what’s happening with search queries on your site, log them all. You can spot patterns and irregularities and adjust accordingly so that, even when searchers make mistakes, they will see results on the page. Here are the main things to watch for as you analyze the queries on your site:

Synonyms: Even if you have good product descriptions that provide alternative words for your merchandise, there is likely another word you haven’t heard of. Make note of those words and direct your on-site search to connect them to the appropriate products.

Plurals, apostrophes, and other punctuation: Make sure that your search strings strip punctuation marks and plurals. You can tinker with the code to make this happen so that errant grammar doesn't doom your customers’ search results.

Contractions: Many searchers use slang and abbreviations when looking for specific products. Factor these into your search as well.

Misspellings: People will always have trouble spelling. You need to make sure your on-site search takes that into account. Pay attention to “alternative” spellings and common typos so that you can return valid search results when customers make mistakes.

3. Allow Customers to Easily Refine Searches

My store sells handkerchiefs. More than half of the products I sell are labeled “handkerchiefs.” This means that someone looking for “hankies” is likely to run into trouble with the search. Most customers aren't going to stick around when they see the meager results. At the same time, it’s impractical for me to go back and add the search term “hankies” to all of those product search descriptions.

The good news is that you can use a little hack to get around that issue. Rather than displaying no results, or very limited results, you can include a new search link that asks the customer if s/he meant to look for something else. In my case, a search for “hankies” shows this message:

Did you mean to search for “handkerchiefs”?

This method can be applied to a number of misspellings and other errors that surface in customer searches. It’s easy to make this link prominent and clickable so that customers have to put very little effort into changing up the search. They receive better results, and stay on your site rather than abandoning.

4. Add Search-Specific Keywords to Your Products

Now that you've analyzed what people are looking for, it’s time to add search-specific keywords to your products. These are keywords that might not appear in your product name or title, and may not appear in the product description. However, you want these products to be listed for certain popular search terms on your site.

“Mother of the bride” is a popular term on my site. However, we don’t want to title or describe hundreds of products using that term. So this term is included in the search terms associated with particular products. This association means that customers can find hundreds of suitable items when they search for “mother of the bride.”

The best way to go about this process is to add the search terms each time you add a new product. Make it part of the routine when you add products to avoid time-consuming mass updates. If you are in a position that requires mass updates, block out time to do it little by little, starting with the most popular terms.

Bottom Line
Your on-site search matters. If you don’t want to lose customers due to frustrating search results, you need to make the effort to improve your on-site search.

With all this great advice, where should you begin? If you’re a PrestaShop merchant, we’ve got you covered with:

4 Steps to Get Started

1. Access and review keywords your customers have searched
         Back Office > Stats > Shop Search

2. Categorize each search word or phrase into
          a. Misspellings or Synonyms
          b. Attributes or Descriptions

3. For each word or phrase under the Misspelling or Synonyms category, figure out which keyword(s) you would like to redirect customers to. Then create redirects for each word.
          Back Office > Preferences > Search

4. For each Attribute or Description, find products that fit those descriptions and add the keyword(s) as tags.
         Back Office > Catalog > Product > Information Tab
(Learn more about managing Tags in our User Guide.)

Want a premium feature to ensure customers always find what they’re looking for? One of our certified agencies has developed the perfect solution. Give suggestions for “no result” searches with the Search AutoCorrection Module.

Not a PrestaShop merchant? Ask yourself, “Does my shopping cart software offer all these features – for free?” If not, it’s time to switch to PrestaShop! (Or help us convince you by testing our demo.)

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