It's time to talk about your website relaunch—and the crucial misstep too many marketers make.

Marketing teams feel the pressure every year to deliver a better website than the year before—from UX best-practices, to appealing design, to customer-centric content that converts.

Too often, though, marketing leaders develop an entire plan for a website and get started on development without considering arguably the most crucial part of the digital customer journey: the search experience. And even if the search experience does find its way into the conversation, it's more of an afterthought and less of a results-driven conversation.

To ensure they're offering the best possible customer experience, marketers (and the organization as a whole) need to have the search conversation early in the website relaunch process. Not doing so is based on outdated beliefs about site search—that it's a commodity. It's something that comes out of the box with the CMS, after all. Why invest in anything more?

Because it matters to your customers.

If your organization is like most businesses today, you may well have a relevance problem. And even if you are extremely relevant to your audience, perhaps there's more you can be doing to let customers know. After all, they are overwhelmed with messages, as many as 3,500 per day. What they need is relevance: the right information at the right time.

And when they go to your search box, they are telling you what is relevant to them and how you can meet their needs—but you have to be aware.

Customers are up to 60% through their research before engaging with a salesperson, and 84% of B2B buyers admit that this research is done on the given business's website.

To capitalize on this behavior for the latest edition of your site, you need to have the conversation about site search earlier in your website relaunch project and focus on it as a strategic vehicle for customer engagement, satisfaction, and ultimately—your bottom line.

Questions to Consider for Your Website Relaunch

Before writing a single line of code for your new website, ask the following seven questions.

1. What are our customer expectations when they search the site?

This question is huge. Outline exactly what your customers expect when they submit a query. The expectations should fall along the lines of relevant content that understands the user's intent, and a back-end that learns from your users what content is most relevant, and maximizes the existing data from your visitors to deliver an optimal experience.

2. What are the features that meet those expectations?

Too often, website leaders view the search as a detour in the customer journey rather than an atlas that can point customers to relevant content. The only catch? Those users need to know how to use your "atlas" or search experience. Without the clues to assist them, they are more likely to get frustrated and head right over to your nearest competitor.

Accordingly, the following features are must-haves:

  • Facets. Facets allow you to search by content type, date, source, and so much more. They allow your user to categorize their results and simplify their search.
  • Auto-fill query suggestions. Let's face it, thanks to the proactive nature of external search engines (rhymes with "poogle"), Web users have grown used to an intelligent search experience that guides them every step of the way. When they start typing, they expect you to fill in the rest. Machine-learning makes this possible by learning the behavior of similar users.
  • Content recommendations. Your customer journey is not a linear path; it's a meandering exploration, with their content needs as the guide. Don't wait for their exact query to prompt them down the path; use predictive intelligence to create the experience.
  • Mobile-optimized. Think of the context of your mobile visitor: They are on the go, using a small screen, and they have a job that they need to get done—quickly. Site search can serve as the core of the mobile experience. Even if it's not the core of the mobile experience, your search box, results pages, and search-driven content pages need to—at a bare minimum—not frustrate your mobile visitors.

3. How will the search experience fit into your overall personalization strategy?

As your content team starts to build out the digital customer experience journey, the conversation needs to turn toward search. The key is to keep the user on their content journey by providing the relevant content they need. Otherwise, external search engines are one click away—and that is where your customer will find your competitors who may have the answers they need.

4. How does the other data that we have on the visitor influence what they see as results in search?

View search as a question-and-answer conversation after, or as part of, a larger discussion with your website visitors. Imagine how frustrating it would be to ask someone a question and have them answer as if they suffer from short-term memory loss of your previous discussion. Emails clicked, previous queries, IP addresses, everything—this is the "discussion" your prospects are having that your search experience needs to keep in mind.

5. What is the ecosystem for results?

When someone searches your site, are you including the ability to search all your digital properties? Even though content lives on another blog or website, the most important goal of your content strategy is to get in front of the right user. Having content in the Cloud enables you to search across your Cloud for the right document, as well as keep a tight lid on version control with documents. Instead of having multiple versions of the same document, the Cloud enables multiple collaborators to work on a document, then upload the final version.

6. How are we going to systematically understand what content is missing on our website?

A file of your query logs is not the answer to this question. You need to see the full picture of the search experience. It's also the queries that return results with low clickthrough rates, and those that lead to more searches from the user. How will your existing search help you identify the content that you still need to create? Your search usage analytics can point you to the content that you still need to create with the metrics of your clickthrough rates.

Your users think about your product differently than you do, and they will need content that your marketing brain may not have considered; but search metrics can point you to your users' content needs.

7. How will our search experience scale?

You're consistently adding new content to your site—but does your IT team need to go in, interpret your search usage data, and make adjustments every time? This is a major investment, and one that may not be needed, especially with solutions that incorporate machine-learning to automate the tuning and analysis. Although having a team perform analysis and manual tuning may seem doable now, it quickly gets out of hand if your business grows. Investing in a solution that provides out-of-the-box machine-learning will enable you to deliver a superior search experience as your website traffic, audience, and content grow.

Wrapping It Up

Without keeping these questions in mind at the start of a website relaunch, marketers again fall victim to outdated beliefs about search. Marketers pay for basic keyword, out-of-the-box search with every missed conversion and opportunity to keep customers engaged on the website. Once it becomes obvious that a step was missed in the relaunch, it's often too late for marketing teams to course-correct on the relaunch.

Get ahead of the competition by answering these questions as you develop your website relaunch strategy.

Search makes a difference for your customers—and its importance is only expected to grow as users become more mobile and more inundated with content. Gone are the days of browsing and viewing page after page.

When your users know what they want, they go to your sit'es search box and type it in, whether you have optimized the search experience or not. It's time to make search a key part of your website relaunch strategy.

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Seven Questions to Help You Avoid the Biggest Misstep of Your Site Relaunch

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image of Mark Floisand

Mark Floisand is the CMO of Coveo, provider of intelligent and predictive search technologies. He has 20+ years of marketing, sales, and general management experience in the technology industry.

LinkedIn: Mark Floisand

Twitter: @floisand