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If you're like most digital marketers, you're focused on producing relevant content, conducting email and other direct-marketing campaigns, placing ads online, and trying to get the most out of search-engine optimization and paid search to drive traffic to your site.

But it's equally important to ensure that visitors find the information and products they're looking for once they arrive. Whether you're marketing an e-commerce, informational, or B2B site, your site search is a critical feature of your site and deserves your time and attention.

By making some small improvements to your site search, you can reap higher conversion rates, more leads, and happier repeat customers.

Research has found that visitors to retail sites who use those sites' search box are 2-3 times more likely to convert than those who don't. Moreover, our own studies have found that if customers can't find what they're looking for in the first couple of minutes, they'll leave a website, possibly never to return.

Below are several tips that can help you ensure your site search delivers on its promise. The result will be happier customers who are more likely to make a purchase or download information, and who will keep returning to your site, helping you capture better bottom-line results.

(The tips are taken from our whitepaper, Big Book of Site Search Tips.)

1. Don't confuse visitors by placing the search box near other boxes, such as newsletter sign-up forms

Make sure the search box is distinctive and easy to find. Because visitors expect to easily find the search box—and may abandon your site if they can't—keep the search box prominently highlighted, by itself, on a Web page.

For example, in the newsletter-subscribe box you may want to put the text first.last@youremail.com, which indicates that this box is expecting an email address, not a search term.

2. Search all content on your site

Many sites will search only their core content (for instance, articles on a news site, or products on an e-commerce site), but often a site contains many types of content—products, articles, blogs, videos, forums, informational pages, comments, etc.

All that content should be accessible through search, but you can still highlight the more-important content in search results—for example, your products, if you are an e-commerce site. You can present the various types of content in numerous ways, such as by using tabs on the search-results page for each content type.

3. Incorporate images into search results

A picture is worth a thousand words. Showing images in results helps visitors find what they're looking for faster and with fewer clicks, improving the overall site experience.

Images are especially useful if your products are available in several variations, such as different colors or configurations. Images can also be used as a visual clue of the content type, such as an article, a video, a PDF, etc.

4. Show ratings and reviews in search results

Site visitors place high value on the opinions and feedback of other people who've shopped for similar products or services, and showing the average rating in search results helps them better determine what they want to click on.

Allow visitors to further refine or reorder their search results based on ratings. You should also show in the search results the number of reviews a product has.

5. Show video in your search results

More sites are adding video content, and that content should easily be found in the site search and potentially played directly from the search-results page.

For example, onlinegolf.co.uk found that visitors who watched videos are 85% more likely to buy. When the company made the videos available in its site search, video viewership doubled.

6. Don't present search results in alphabetical order

Although it might offer a logical way for site visitors to scan results, alphabetical ordering usually has no relation to the relevance of the results. Sometimes it does make sense to offer alphabetical ordering as a sort option.

7. Rely on user behavior to improve the relevance of search results

By examining search data, you can learn that users who enter a given search term are likely to click on a specific product. Your site search can rank that product at the top of search results, making the results more relevant and easier to find.

8. Integrate your analytics package with your site search

Making sure your analytics software is tracking search activity on your site shouldn't require too much effort. Your site-search provider might be able to help you with that.

Being able to measure site search—like any other marketing activity—demonstrates the value and return-on-investment benefit you're getting.

For example, you can track the conversion rate for site-search results pages vs. other pages on your site, as well as the percentage of revenue that visitors using site search generate.

You can also determine the average order size for site-search users vs. those who don't search; if your site-search solution is performing well, those numbers should be higher.

* * *

The above tips can make the difference between a poor, unsophisticated site-search experience and a rich, intuitive experience that spurs your visitor to take action—such as purchasing a product or registering to download information.

However, there is one caveat: Whatever you do, always be sure to test the outcomes. Whether you're guessing at what will work best or following expert advice, test various approaches so you're sure to see the most positive impact on your bottom line.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Shaun Ryan is CEO of SLI Systems, a provider of hosted search solutions. He can be reached via shaun.ryan@sli-systems.com.

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