You've likely heard about the importance of search engine optimization, or the process of improving a link's position on search engines like Google. But there's another aspect of search that small-business owners may be overlooking: the search bar on their own websites.
"Every consumer is familiar with the experience of going to a site, doing a search and not really finding what you want," says Matt Riley, CEO of Swiftype, a hosted search provider that powers search on more than 500,000 websites and apps. "It's a frustrating experience for your customers."
Few companies have adequate support for their internal search engines: A 2014 study conducted by the Web usability-focused Baymard Institute found the top 50 high-grossing e-commerce sites to be lacking in search support for the way people actually search online—misspellings, abbreviations, thematic searches (e.g., general terms instead of specific product names) and all.
"Having those customers actually do a search and find the content they're looking for, especially if you're trying to get them to purchase something, is a really key component," Riley says. "The search box offers you a way to get those people directly to what they want."
If you think a functioning internal search engine is something only big companies need to worry about, think again—"anything with more than about five or 10 pages on the Web, you can argue [needs] a search box," Riley advises. And as people are doing more of their searching and buying on mobile devices—"We've found on mobile that it's incredibly common for people to just look for that search box immediately and start typing," Riley says—a robust internal search engine can help keep you a step ahead of your competition.
Beyond User Friendliness
Many small-business owners also may not realize that the search bar can also be a source of untapped customer data.
"One of the most clear expressions of what they want is when they type into a [search] box," Riley explains. "That’s a very clear indicator from your customer what they're looking for. You don't have to guess, which you might be [doing] if you're just looking at something like Google Analytics, which just analyzes your traffic logs and what people clicked on based on what you've already provided them to click on."
Knowing what your customer is looking for can help you identify popular items that need restocking or new product possibilities. But there's also something that can be gleaned when your search comes up short.
"The most important analytics you get out of a search box is sometimes not what people are searching for, but [what they aren't] getting results for," Riley says. "So somebody types in a keyword that they’re expecting to find content for, but they don't get any results back. It might just be because you don't have that content and you should." In that case, you can create the content that your customers want, to fill in the blanks.
"As a small business, when you look at what your priorities are and where you can get the most bang for your buck," optimizing your internal search can be a no-brainer, Riley says. "When you've got customers on e-commerce sites doing a search and converting at a much, much higher rate, those are the kinds of people you really want to make sure have a great experience, because they'll become repeat customers."
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