eCommerce Search – Everything you Need to Know

John Ahya June 24, 2021
11 mins read Last Updated April 22, 2022
eCommerce Search – Everything you Need to Know

I had recently attended a small but niche eCommerce expo (via teleconferencing, of course) for new and up-coming entrepreneurs. I must say that the questions I got from the group were of the highest order – they mostly knew the ins and outs of running an ecommerce business. And the group of enthusiastic new entrepreneurs was seeing the first waves of success and they were hungry for me. They wanted the secret tips to success – and, after a bit of prompting and probing, I gave in.

When I recommended focusing more on the eCommerce search capabilities while developing an eCommerce store, I was either faced with utter surprise or absolute disbelief. That’s because they have only prioritized landing page optimization or dynamic pricing and neglected site search to the ‘to-do’ list.

The online store is like a thick forest, and customers, sometimes, can’t find the right tree they are looking for among the million trees present there. This allegory generally helps drive home the point.

The solution lies in ‘findability.’

  • 60% of customers will leave your website if they can’t find exactly what they are looking for.
  • 43% of site visitors navigate directly to the search boxes and are 2-3 times more likely to convert.

Your visitors – and prospective customers – seek help from the ecommerce search bar either because they know exactly what they are looking for or because the page they are on isn’t showing them the right results. Your store might have the exact product they need, but if you don’t optimize your site search, you will not convert visitors into customers.

It is essential to stop treating website search functionality as just another box to check. It would help if you started looking at site search optimization as a powerful weapon in your arsenal to help you achieve higher conversion rates. So let’s quickly get to the juicy parts of this discussion and learn how to optimize site search to drive the conversion rates up.

What is E-Commerce Site Search and how exactly does it work?

For the uninitiated, an eCommerce search is like an internal search engine either integrated within the store or built-in that helps visitors find the products they are looking for by matching their keywords. But a site search can – and should – be able to achieve much more than that.

A site search is the best ‘salesperson’ your store could ask for. When configured perfectly, it can turn up the correct information for your visitors, answer any of their questions, provide shopping suggestions, and guide them gently through the sales funnel.

A site search filters the keywords used by the store visitors and tries to match the input with the available product list.

However, your store’s visitors don’t always search for products the way you like them, or in ways your system can interpret. They are likely to misspell words or use utterly different product names to search. That’s why you need to implement a practical site search functionality that can interpret the intended search query and throw up relevant suggestions.

Most shoppers using the e-commerce site search feature tend to fall into these four distinct categories, according to Baymard Institute.

  1. Exact Search: These shoppers use the actual product name in the search field. They know what product they are looking for.
  2. Product-based Search: These shoppers use a generic product instead of a specific model or a brand.
  3. Problem-based Search: These shoppers seek solutions to a problem without actually specifying a product or a brand.
  4. Non-Product Search: These shoppers are looking for information rather than searching for products.

Why Does Site Search Matter for Ecommerce?

Andrea Polonioli, the product manager for Coveo’s eCommerce division, reports that 30 to 60% of visitors usually conduct an on-site search. These shoppers were 2 – 3 times more likely to convert than those who do not use the site search feature.

When shoppers use the site search feature in an eCommerce site, you can be almost sure they are looking for products. However, shoppers typically use a different method to search for products on an eCommerce site than they would when undertaking a web search. For example, shoppers are more likely to include criteria or define the ‘search range.’

Anyway, your shoppers are visiting your eCommerce store intending to purchase products. They are seeking help from your site’s virtual ‘salesperson’ in finding a tennis racket or a red evening gown. All your internal search engine has to do is guide them to the right product.
And it shouldn’t stop with the red evening gown. Your eCommerce search should gently guide the shoppers to pick out matching accessories and more. And, perhaps, add in a good word about your store while they are at it.

Advantages of Using the Site Search Feature in your Ecommerce Store

There are quite many benefits to optimizing site search functionality for your eCommerce store. Here are the most important few:

  • Your store achieve higher conversion rates
    When you provide a seamless and smooth path from the search box to the product list, offer customers recommendations and filtering options, the chances of increasing your conversion rate is higher.Need convincing?According to a study that looked at 21 eCommerce web stores found that user-friendly search experiences increased the conversion rates. When this search feature was used, the conversion rate jumped from the websites’ average of 2.77% to a whopping 4.63% – a phenomenal 80% increase.
  • It can create a memorable shopping experience
    On-site search is a major contributor to the overall shopping experience of customers. Most customers using the search are those who know exactly what they want and have come to just find it. Or customers who have a vague idea of their needs but require some help from the store’s end to help them find it. So, the site search can either make or break the sale for your store.
  • You can use the search query information to take better business decisions
    Which ecommerce store doesn’t want to know what their customers are looking for? The on-site search is a powerful marketing tool that can give you incredible insights into your customer’s psyche, their shopping behaviors, and the keywords they use to describe the products and the most sought-after merchandise.For example, if your customers are searching for products you don’t offer, you can take the clue and start including those items in your product line.

Ecommerce Site Search Best Practices with Examples

Let’s now look at some of the best eCommerce search practices that will yield the right results for your store.

1. First Focus on the Search Bar

First things first, the search bar is where the journey into your store begins. Don’t neglect this piece of the puzzle.
Draw attention to the search bar – use a contrasting color from your site’s general color scheme. Make it highly noticeable.
Site search should be hard to miss – so it should typically be above the fold area.

2. Keep the error correction and auto-complete feature on

You shouldn’t expect your shoppers to know the exact product names or spellings. So allow for error correction and give leeway for typos.
According to the Baymard Institute reports, 61% of sites required their visitors to search using the same product name. 32% of sites don’t support abbreviations or simple symbols in the search bar. And, 27% of sites won’t help users if they misspell even a single letter in the product name. 25% of site searches don’t support non-product queries.
Don’t expect shoppers to search smart – instead, make your search feature intelligently auto-complete queries.
Optimize your site search so that it can interpret the intended meaning of the query and can make sense of long-tail semantic searches too.
Use natural language processing and synonyms support that can improve the effectiveness of searches so that your store doesn’t throw empty results pages.

3. Don’t let the search throw up empty results pages

The shopper using the site search is mostly a high-intent shopper who is quite serious about making the purchase, and the last thing you want to do is send them back empty-handed (to your competitor’s site!).
You should make sure that the standard search queries turn up some results. If you don’t have the exact products, bring up relevant products or provide product recommendations – anything but empty page results.

4. Keep the industry jargon aside – speak your customer’s language

If you are a B2B seller and are sure that your customers understand industry jargon, go ahead and use all the jargon you want to. However, if your customers are using common words, you should too.
You are optimizing your site search for your customers and not your competitors.

5. Draw insights from search queries

Search queries offer a wealth of crucial information on what exactly your customers are looking for, how they search for products, and how they shop. With such data, you can try to fix the gaps between customer needs and your offering.
Additionally, you will also get to know if the keywords your customers are using match with your website’s product pages or if you need to make any changes.
With the information from the search queries, you can segment your customers based on their keywords and use this data to further your Google page rankings.

6. Optimize for mobile search too

The number of mobile shoppers is slated to exceed 187.5 million US users by 2024, a steep increase from 166.7 in 2020. In the first quarter of 2021, mobile devices generated 54.8 % of worldwide website traffic, and this figure has been consistently registering a 50% mark since 2017.
We all know the pain of clicking on the miniscule magnifying glass on our mobile’s tiny search box. To sort this out, you could try offering a drop-down list of suggestions based on keywords entered. Or stores could try having an automatically opening search tab. Regardless of what you choose for your store, make sure it is adequately tested before  implemented.

7. Apply Machine Learning to offer Personalized Shopping Experience to Visitors

Use the information received from the eCommerce search functionality to understand customers better. Apply machine learning capabilities to gain better insights into specific customer group’s buying behaviors. This way, you’ll be more equipped to offer personalized shopping and also enhance your inventory better.

Points to Consider while Selecting Site Search Solutions Provider

There are many third-party site search providers who offer tailored services to eCommerce stores. The following points will help you make the right decision.

  • Consider if you want to select an in-house development team or go in for a third party for your needs.
  • You’ll also have to consider whether you want to go in for a hosted subdomain or AJAX. Most third-party solution providers give you both options. They’ll either host a separate page on a sub-domain on your site or they’ll integrate a page within your site via AJAX.
  • You should also decide whether you want to provide search functionality pertaining only to your products or want to combine more pages such as your blogs, products and content pages.
  • Choose whether you’d want to have custom product attributes in your site search.
  • Decide whether you want to offer your customers advanced filtering functionalities based on product attributes.
  • You can also choose to push certain products to the top of the table – like the most popular products on your product line automatically to the top of the results page.
  • Decide if you want to have a system that allows minor misspellings, synonyms and auto-complete options.
  • You also need to consider the tracking and reporting functionality the vendor provides -it is one of the most important criteria to consider while choosing the search solution provider.

eCommerce Site Search Providers

Here’s a list of eCommerce site search providers you could try. Before choosing one, you should consider your store’s unique requirements and the benefits you are trying to gain.

  • InstantSearch:InstantSearch brings with it an AI self-learning aspect to the engine. It proclaims itself to be the best in the business with a sales boost of 55%. Look it up.
  • Algolia:Although it claims to offer a smooth conversion path, you gain access to Algolia through an API, but you might have to bring along your developer.
  • Searchspring:Searchspring prides itself in being able to integrate with any platform. It also offers a clear pricing policy.
  • Swiftype:This could well be the solution you are looking for if all its claims are valid. Swiftype provides solutions to both app and site search with affordable pricing plans.
  • Searchanise:Learn more about Searchanise with their free trial and a demo to know its robust analytics and full-text search capabilities.

eCommerce Site Search Best Practices

Now that we know why it’s crucial to optimize the eCommerce search functionality, and have also almost chosen the tool to be used, here are a few tested-and-tried best practices.

The site search feature will depend mainly on the tool you’ve picked or the platform you’re hosted on as a general rule.

  • Research, ask for a trial, or seek help from experts before choosing the best eCommerce search tool for your store.
  • Brainstorm to know precisely where you want your search bar to be and how it has to look.
  • Give the search bar some space – make sure it is distinctly different from the rest of the page.
  • Make the search bar easily recognizable. Use the universal symbol – the magnifying glass – to signify the presence of search functionality.
  • Keep it simple – make sure that visitors don’t have to go looking for the search bar.
  • Create a strong error tolerance – accept typos, spelling errors, and long-tail keywords.
  • Make sure there is a search bar on every page.
  • Don’t let the search queries lead only to the product page – link it to blog posts, category pages, gift guides, and more.
  • Keep a filtering option on the search results page.
  • Adjust the search bar size to accommodate longer keywords
  • Make use of auto-complete or type-ahead suggestions.
  • Test, tweak and try out if the new search bar offers you all the results you want. There’s always room for improvement.

Ecommerce Site Search Reporting

Ecommerce search optimization is not a one-off process where you ‘set and forget.’ It needs constant upkeep to run smoothly. Use it to its full potential to know more about your customer’s buying preferences.

If you are doing it right, you can gain many insights into:

  • The products your customers are searching for
  • The keywords they are using
  • The number of people using the search feature
  • The conversion rate
  • The filters that are most popularly used
  • A peek into your strongest keywords and improve the ones that aren’t working well.

Wrapping Up

This comprehensive guide to eCommerce site search will give you everything you’ll need to ramp up your store’s search conversion rates. The site search tool tells you a lot about your customers and their shopping journey through your web store.

The information given in this article should be enough to get you started on your search optimization journey. Now, you know what you should be doing to get to your desired conversion rate and the tools you need to get there.

John Ahya
John Ahya

John is the President and Co-Founder of WebDesk Solution, LLC. Living the digital agency life for over 10 years, he explores an extensive eCommerce world. He has immense experience in all major e-commerce platforms. Being a nature lover, he likes to breathe the fresh air on the hill stations during vacations.

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