Search box in your e-commerce store is really important

When optimising a website’s user experience, we too often focus only on the cart or product pages. Only rarely do we devote ourselves to other parts of the website, which can be very important. One such aspect that can have an extremely meaningful impact on how users buy at a website, and which we’ll take a lot at look at today, is the

Website search box

(The first thing I did, was to check if my website had it. It doesn’t. At this stage, with only 21 published articles, it’s probably not needed yet. We’ll see in the future. I might add it one day.)

(Another such part of a website that we often neglect is the UX of collecting e-mail addresses which is described at this link in this article).

The search box of a website is so important that Google is already making a video about it. Let’s take a look:

Is the website search box actually an important part of a website

Let’s get this straight. Looking at how websites use it, it would appear it’s hardly important. Instead, it might seem that the search box is just one of the functionalities that come with a website. However, this is not the case. The search box is vital for two reasons. First, because it is used by users who are seriously looking into buying what you’re selling, and second, because when users start using it, they will be more interested in buying what you’re offering.

We also need to be aware that we are not infallible when it comes to setting up menus and categories. Certain users will always want to use the search box, while others will instead use the search box once they have exhausted every other option that the website offers.

Search box use must be tracked

Of course, first, we need to know if users even use our search box. Next, we need to know whether users who use the search box buy more (better, more often and more expensive products). We are extremely fortunate that Google Analytics offers search box measurement that is quite reliable. All that is needed is to set it up, which is extremely easy to do.

First, check if you’re already collecting these metrics. Go to Analytics and find Behaviour -> Site Search -> Usage.

Find Site Search in the analytics.

What we get is a report which shows an awful lot of insight (If your report is empty, i.e. contains no data, then you first need to set up measurement. Instructions can be found at the bottom of the article).

Let’s compare the sessions by users who have used the search box to those who haven’t.

We quickly see that the number of visitors who have used the search box is (in my estimation) low. That is, only 9.26%. However, every metric of these users is better compared to the users not using the search box. The higher the bounce rate, the higher the number of pages per session and session duration. And more importantly, search box users are much more likely to complete a purchase. The conversion rate is 1.1 percent.

Of course, this is just one of the values that can be measured. Other metrics tell an even more detailed story about how efficiently we have presented the correct search results to the user. We can measure the search box CTR, the number of keywords changed, the URL/type of page where users use the search box (because the basic page is just one of the web pages on your website) and the time from keyword entry to purchase completion etc. However, there exist certain more advanced metrics that we will deal with when editing the basic pages in the search box.

Search box position

The position of the search box on a website is a major determinant of whether it will be used. Of course, its location and size should depend heavily on the sector you are engaged with. In certain business sectors, it is impossible for the user to find the right product without using the search box. My preferred example are online shops that sell ink cartridges. What we want to avoid is users becoming lost in the myriad of categories. Instead, we want them to search for their cartridges via the search box. It is therefore smart to make the search box the most exposed functionality of the homepage. Like here, for example.

A large search window with a search box next to it that indicates the most popular categories. That’s great. Because users really need it. Other large Slovenian online shops also feature highly exposed search boxes. Since I don’t have access to their analytics, it’s hard to say whether the search boxes are placed properly or inadequately. But I speculate that it would certainly be beneficial for them to run an A/B campaign and increase/graphically highlight/move/change the search box text.

Big Bang’s is the largest, followed by Mimovrste and then Enaa, which is almost hard to find.

On the other hand, Petrol has obviously concluded that it does not want users to use the search box on their site. This can also be a legitimate position if we want users to browse through the site (although in most cases, this is NOT true and we should consider better exposing the search box).

Search box functionalities

Of course, merely displaying a search box will not suffice. We need to make certain that users succeed in finding the correct product with the search box. The one that they want to find and, of course, the one that we want them to find. So, we need to help the user when they are not certain what they are looking for (printers), when they know what they need (Canon Pixma) as well as in other situations (they’re stuck, not sure what the product is called etc.).

The most important search box functionalities:

  • Autosuggest
    We should help the user type in their keyword as quickly as possible as well as correctly. So when the user starts typing in Cano…, we should suggest the full string.
  • Category and product overview
    It is often difficult to know whether the user is looking for categories or products, and in any case, both should always be displayed to the user, each in its own way.
  • Featured product
    Display the selected product from a category, the one that we know is on sale, offer at an exceptional price or that we simply want to sell because it costs more/we have a large stock/has a short shelf life.
  • Featured article
    Let’s not forget that we can also meet user needs with content. If the user is at an early stage of the buying process, there’s no use displaying 3 products. Instead, what they require is an article to help them decide which product to actually buy.
  • Others have also searched for…
    The functionality that suggests other keywords related to the one already entered in the search box. Perhaps no quality results were displayed and the user should have used a different keyword, or maybe, the user doesn’t actually know the correct keyword at all, so we need to help them.
  • Contact details
    I’m not sure why, but I feel that users who have used the search box should have better access to the contact details. Since the likelihood of a successful purchase is much higher, the phone number where we can be reached should be displayed in a large font.

These are the functionalities that can be found in Google as well as in other search engines. However, they are also rarely found in the search results of online shops.

Let’s take a look at how the big Slovenian online shops do it:

Displaying results

This is probably the most important element/strong>. Here, the results need to be displayed to the user. If the search yielded no results, we should show something else.

Again, we have to first think about which products to show, what happens if we don’t have the product and what happens if we don’t even know what the user actually wants.

In my opinion, the website should include

  • A product display area
  • A category display area
  • An article display area
  • Prominently exposed contact for the users to whom we have not been able to display the correct products

A slightly more sophisticated system would vary the sizes of these three areas. If there were a high number of products to display with a high probability of being correct, only the products would be displayed. However, if several articles were to be displayed, instead of showing 3 articles and 3 irrelevant products, it would be better to simply display 6 articles.

Of course, additional filtering options should also be provided so that the user can continue exploring and refine the search in order to find more accurate results.

I wanted to show the search results of our online shops, but they are pretty much identical to the search results displayed when there’s nothing to show (i.e. the same as below), so there’s little point to include screenshots at this point. Continue below.

When there are no results

This is an interesting question. If there wasn’t even a single product that the user was looking for, we have a problem. Either the user really doesn’t know what they are looking for, or we don’t know how to buy that product. Some would say that we should collect such information in order to assess the quality of our category management; others might say that we need to show the user something so that they buy an alternative product. In any case, something should be displayed, at the very least the contact details of our customer service. The worst we can do is to show the website header and footer, accompanied by “no results.” As can be seen in the two examples below.

At least Enaa can find a corset. Now, that’s something else. 😀

In place of a conclusion

I know that preparing a search box is an extremely complicated task. This is true both for preparing the algorithm for products, not to mentioned other steps. And then, the graphics. And regular algorithm updates. But, on the other hand, given that the conversion rate when a quality search box is used can be twice as big… By golly, it really is worth it. Take the first step, that is examine your work and if you use the default search box that came with your CMS, consider using a different one.

Next, check if it would be worthwhile better exposing the search box in order to improve sales.If you take this step, you can make a big difference.

Then, see if you can impact the results displayed via the search box (product tags, keywords etc.) with product contents.

Finally, check if you can display other search results.

How to set up search box use measurement

You may, of course, find that when you open this report, all you get is a blank table. Measuring search box use on a website is not a default functionality and needs to be set up. But it’s easy, so let’s set it up now. The rest of you can skip this chapter and continue with the next one.

Find Admin in the left menu of Google Analytics. It is all the way at the bottom. You can find it here:

Now, look for View Settings (as this is the setting that needs to be set in every View). All the way at the bottom, under Site Search Settings, switch the button ON. Next, what’s left is to enter the Query parameter. This is a variable that represents the search result in the URL. Don’t worry, it’s pretty simple. So, open the website and use the search box. Enter “Peter is the man” as the search string. The results of this search are then loaded and the URL changes to now include “Peter is the man”. In WordPress, it looks something like this:

This is the URL loaded after the search string is entered. If we take a closer look at the URL, we notice that the variable that specifies the search string is ?s=. Now, enter this in the Query parameter field in Google Analytics. Well, only, the “s”, i.e. without ? and =. All that’s left is to wait a week or so for the data to accumulate.

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