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Learn how to configure your ecommerce on-site search to show more relevant results that drive purchases

By: Kabir Merali

Today, consumers expect answers quickly.

Constant access to the internet has diminished attention spans and patience. A simple Google search can answer a historical question, end a trivial disagreement, help you find a product you need and everything in between—all in a matter of seconds.

Customers expect the same ease and convenience Google provides when searching on an ecommerce website. Ecommerce on-site search helps shoppers quickly find the items they want, add them to their shopping cart and check out.

Customers who use on-site search convert twice as often and have a higher average order value than everyone else.

With the holiday season and Cyber Monday fast approaching, there’s no better time to boost your site’s conversion rate. Let’s look at five ways ecommerce managers can improve search performance on their ecommerce sites:

  1. Use Google Analytics to understand your shoppers

  2. An on-site search strategy that leads to conversions starts with knowing your audience. You may have an idea of how most of your shoppers search—do they look for products via SKUs, categories, or features?—but an analytics platform like Google Analytics will confirm or deny those suspicions and provide much more detailed information. If you already have a Google Analytics account, simply go to Settings and turn on Site Search Tracking.

    Connecting Google Analytics to your internal site search reveals all the keywords people search for on your site—including the most popular search terms and those that lead to the most conversions. Once you understand what your shoppers search for, you can adjust your online store accordingly. Which brings us to our next point...

  3. Match keywords to content

  4. Keyword matching should be attached to all item names in your ecommerce platform because it ensures customers get relevant results for popular search terms. Lean on Google Analytics data to determine the relevant keywords for a product or group of products and include them in product names and the search keywords field.

    Keyword matching in ecommerce site search ensures that singular/plural versions of a word and root words are all included in search results as well. For instance, if a customer searches for “running shoes,” any products with a combination of “run” and “shoe” in the name will show up. If someone looks for “short,” results for “shorts” will come up.

    SuiteCommerce users should use the “Starts with” match type for the item name and “Starts with exact” match type for the item name and SKU. “Starts with” helps with type ahead, when a list of suggested items shows up in a drop-down as the shopper types. “Starts with exact” is great for customers who have a specific item in mind and search by manufacturer or retailer SKU.

    Klim starts with e-commerce site search

    Klim uses “starts with exact” match type to allow customers to search by SKU. A search for “4052” returns all products SKUs that begin with that number.

    Finally, use exact matching on the item name. If a customer knows the complete name of the product they want, there’s a great chance they will convert if they can quickly find what they’re looking for.

  5. Take advantage of synonyms

  6. The value of Google Analytics data doesn’t end there. The tool will also show you common alternate names and spellings that users search, which you can add as “synonyms” in your ecommerce platform. Using synonyms will help avoid searches that return zero results.

    There are a few types of synonyms. Group synonyms trigger results for multiple words with the same meaning. For example, a search for “sneakers,” “runners” or “training shoes” would each return results for all three keywords. A niche retailer that sells backpacks might set up “office backpack,” “commuter backpack” and “laptop backpack” as group synonyms because all terms are relevant to someone looking for a work backpack.

    One-way synonyms return synonyms if you search a “trigger word.” For example, if someone enters “tablet” in the search bar, it brings back results for “iPad,” “Galaxy Tab” and “Kindle Fire.” But it only works one way—a search for iPad will not bring back results for all brands of tablets. In addition to misspellings, one-way synonyms are valuable for abbreviations (HP renders results for Hewlett Packard) and different spellings of the same word (tee shirt vs. T-shirt, gray vs. grey, etc.).

    Always use synonyms with care. When used properly, they improve the customer experience, but if there are too many or they are not set up well, it causes confusion and hurts your search credibility.

  7. Use fuzzy matching (with caution)

  8. Think of fuzzy matching as a more flexible version of keyword matching. Fuzzy matching allows queries that are one or two characters away from a keyword to show up in ecommerce site search results. This includes missing characters, extra characters and mixed up letters. So if a shopper is looking for shorts but accidentally inputs “sorts,” “shortss” or “shorst,” they still get relevant results.

    Toad & Co fuzzy matching e-commerce site search

    Shoppers that misspell “sweater” in Toad & Co’s site search bar will see sweaters in the search results rather than a “no results” error, thanks to fuzzy matching.

    Many businesses assume that they should turn on fuzzy matching for all fields with the thought that the customer will always get search results, but that leads to a lot of false positives and therefore irrelevant results. It usually makes sense to turn on fuzzy matching for the name, but you should never use it for the description field—all that text increases the chance of false matches.

  9. Clean up your catalog data

  10. Adding products to your catalog should not begin and end with uploading a spreadsheet to your ecommerce platform. The product name and description need to include the information shoppers are looking for, not just the internal name in that spreadsheet. Sizing and dimensions must be consistent—you cannot have some T-shirts listed by S, M, L and others measured in inches.

    Additionally, don’t optimize a product description for SEO and expect it to work for on-site search. That's why it is smart to separate the information into different fields and only make the relevant field accessible to site search.

These simple adjustments to your ecommerce site search settings can boost conversions and ultimately revenue in a big way. Site searchers converting at twice the rate of other users is actually conservative—some research indicates their conversion rate is at least 200 percent higher. These are also your most valuable customers, accounting for a disproportionate amount of revenue.

That’s all the evidence you need to explain why optimizing your catalog for on-site search must be a priority.

Want more ecommerce site search best practices? Watch this video to learn how to set up your SuiteCommerce Advanced website for better on-site search experiences.

Author: Kabir Merali, Senior Product Manager, Commerce Search & SEO