The search bar is a navigation cheat sheet for online shoppers and a great source of consumer information for businesses. Users' searches states what they want, how they want it and how they'd like to find it. Understanding consumer search reduces the number of abandoned online carts, leads to greater volume of online payments and shows companies what items to promote.
The search bar
Kissmetrics emphasized the importance of the search bar and its visibility. Searches are an expected feature of every website, and users who can't find the search bar will end up frustrated and likely leave. Using a color that stands apart from (but doesn't clash with) company branding and providing dummy text draws the eye to the right spot.
Semantic search tools attempt to understand user intent. Most searches crawl for matching keywords, but semantic searches determine how the words relate to each other and the user. For instance, a woman could search for "midnight dress size 8" and semantic search would show her what size 8 dresses were in stock and deep blue in color. A text-based search would list dresses that have "midnight," "size" or "8" in their names. According to Total Retail, websites that use semantic search have a cart abandonment rate of 2 percent, while those that do not have a rate of 40 percent.
Filters are how shoppers pinpoint exactly what they're looking for amid dozens (or hundreds) of results, and common choices are perfect for finding items to promote. If data says many customers are selecting filters for a white spring jacket, those features can be advertised across marketing channels. Practical Ecommerce suggested using filters as keywords in pay-per-click advertising.
Not only do frequently searched terms represent the most sought-after products, they also describe how customers think. Do shoppers look for hats in specific terms – men's hats, red hats, work-related hats? Are people searching for specific brand names instead of the actual item? Are several users searching for the same item, and if so, how does this reflect the marketing of that item?
Frequently searched items also point out issues in navigation, according to Practical Ecommerce. If many shoppers are searching for a basic item, it may be that they're having trouble finding it on the site. The item may be too many menus deep or require too many filters to make it easily accessible. If this occurs often enough, it may be necessary to restructure navigation or implement a temporary promotion on the front page.
The "no results" page
If a user's search provides no results, the layout of the consequent page has a drastic effect on how the user proceeds. According to Nielsen Norman Group, users often miss the concept of "no results" entirely. Because it is rare for large-scale search engines like Google and Bing to have zero answers, users expect some sort of return and skip straight to the content area. This results in time lost searching for an item that doesn't exist. According to Nielsen, ecommerce sites should be designed in a way that empty searches are clearly displayed and understood by the user.
Nielsen also recommended providing suggestions. Links to similar items give consumers an alternative to satisfy their needs, and links to related items lead them to purchase products they hadn't considered. Suggestions also come in the form of corrected, alternative or regional spelling. This is especially helpful for sites that receive global payments from various regions.
When establishing an ecommerce site, it is important to understand how and why consumers use the search bar. A thoroughly developed search experience provides useful feedback for businesses.
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