Ecommerce Site Search: 12 Ways to Make the Most of This Superpower

10 minutes

Your eCommerce site has a single superpower that can drive higher sales, increase revenue per customer, and dramatically improve your customer’s shopping experience.

Site search is your superpower.

Not convinced? Let’s talk about what site search is, and then we’ll show you what it can do for your site.


What is Site Search and How Does it Work?

eCommerce site search works like a Google search engine for your eCommerce site. It allows your customers to type an item or a search term into the search box and see relevant results from your website.

The benefit of a search tool is how it helps your customers find exactly what they want, when they want it. Most customers access the search interfaces when they are ready to buy, so having an effective site search tool gives these customers a quick way to find and buy what they are looking for.


Site Search Engine features

eCommerce site search solutions usually have a few features in common:

Basic site search produces search results closely linked to the query. The most basic form of site search matches products and pages more or less exactly to the customer’s query. The weakness in this approach is how often a ‘no results found’ page appears.

A more advanced site search engine adds semantic search. These search engines can handle search queries with synonyms and language structure to provide more accurate search results.

Faceted search adds a set of filters, or facets, to the initial search results. A simple implementation of faceted search is the ability to select products of  specific color.

Savvy eCommerce website operators add product ranking. This allows them to give more weight to certain products they want to sell more often or move inventory.

These features are increasingly common for eCommerce search engines. Together, they help to provide a more comprehensive eCommerce site search solution.

Having told you a little about site search, let’s have a look at how powerful eCommerce site search is for an online store.


The Power of eCommerce Site Search

Here are several numbers that show how important site search functionality is for your eCommerce site:

  • Visitors who use eCommerce site search convert 180% more often than those who don’t.
  • Visitors who use site search on an eCommerce website account for nearly 14% of all revenue even though they make up slightly less than 6% of users.

As valuable as this is, many websites do not offer a useful site search functionality. Up to 70% of websites do not offer relevant results for product-type synonyms. There is a search box on the website, but the site search tools simply don’t work as well as shoppers expect.

Let us show you the effect of bad site search for an eCommerce site.


Shoppers Abandon an Online Store After a Bad Search Experience

According to research done by Forrester, 68% of visitors leave an eCommerce site after receiving poor search results. This is a big problem because research done by BigCommerce indicates as many as 72% of sites fail to satisfy customers through the search box.

If your site is driving visitors away, then you can take steps to fix this immediately.

Start by reviewing what site search is, how it works, and then discover our 12 tips for creating a positive search experience for your users.

Now, let’s take a quick look at the types of search queries a search engine must handle.


Types of search queries

Customers can create a huge variety of search queries for an eCommerce search engine to manage. However, it is helpful to break them down into the four most common categories:


Exact search

These queries and searches occur when a customer types exactly what they want to find in the search box. Exact searches are common, but can also lead to no results pages if the individual keywords don’t match to exact products. Here are a few examples:

  • “Size 11 Nike shoes”
  • “Red storage box”
  • “Small Rubik’s cube”


Product type search

Product searches are broader because they do not use a specific brand, but instead use a wider term, such as “televisions” or “men’s shoes.” These may provide more matches, but customers can also be overwhelmed by too many search results.


Problem-based search

When a customer is searching for a solution instead of a product, this is a problem-based search. An eCommerce site search engine must be able to match products, descriptions, and details to relevant blogs and help articles to answer these search queries. Here are a few examples:

  • “Get grease out of clothes”
  • “How to organize lego pieces”
  • “How to squeeze lemons”


Non-product search

Some customers want to find information about your company, such as your warranty or returns policies, shipping times, or your background. eCommerce sites can add this information to their search function to satisfy these user searches.


Query qualifiers

Qualifiers are additions to searches that intentionally limit the search results. Customers use these to find specific items, such as “4K televisions”.

Here are some of the most common on-site search qualifiers:

  • Feature search – searches for a specific attribute, such as size
  • Thematic search – searches for items with a common idea, like a holiday or event
  • Compatibility search – useful for tech and electronics, such as usb-c cable
  • Relational search – searches based on connections between products
  • Subjective search – searches based on opinion, such as ‘beautiful picture’

These qualifiers can make searches far more complex. However, a tool that uses lots of available commerce site search data can return very good results for even these complex queries.



How to Begin Your Work with Site Search Tools

The best place to begin improving results for your customers is with your existing eCommerce site search data. You should try to answer the question, “How are people already using site search on my eCommerce store?”

From your existing data, you should try to do a few things:

  • Respond to customer searches already being made. If there are many searches leading to no results, then try to fix them or look for a solution that allows you to do so.
  • Tailor your search results to lead customers to products better. Use natural language processing and search suggestions to handle more complex queries.
  • Configure mobile search functions because nearly everyone is mobile-first now. This is especially true for B2C brands.

Those are just the basic steps. Now, let’s discover 12 more search optimization techniques you can use to embrace eCommerce site search best practices.


Start with these 12 eCommerce Search Optimization Strategies

Now that we’ve covered some of the basics of site search, let’s turn our attention to twelve ways you can make your site’s search better for your customers.

Predictive Autocomplete for Faster Results

Build an autocomplete function into your site search engine to help customers finish their search queries faster. On mobile devices, this is especially useful because it saves people time and effort of typing into their phone or tablet.

Predictive Autocomplete Site Search Best Practices:

  • Make your autocomplete as effective as possible by connecting common user searches to product pages intentionally.
  • Highlight the difference between customer search queries and suggestions.
  • Track search history and data to eliminate irrelevant search results and suggestions.


Have Text In Search Box to Encourage Searches

We’ve mentioned why eCommerce site search is so important, so let’s cover a few ways to make it happen more often. First, add text into your search box. This has been shown to encourage people to use the search bar.

Search Bar Text Ideas:

  • Use common search queries to fill the search box. These will be seed ideas for many customers.
  • Fill the search box with an invitation, such as “Find your perfect…”
  • Make the text automatically disappear so the customer doesn’t need to delete it.


Have a Search Box Big Enough for Usual Queries

The second UI tip is to make your site search box big enough for normal queries. This prevents part of your customers’ queries from disappearing as they fill up the text box. Small text boxes don’t change your search function, but they do make the search process less pleasant for your visitors.


Search Box Size Tips:

  • Use your search data to calculate the average length of your queries and adjust your size accordingly.
  • Make your search bar visible by placing it in a common position and making it big enough for people to see.
  • Keep your search bar consistent and visible across your entire website, including the search results page.




Implement Tooltips, Suggestions, & Search Prompts

Helping your customers engage with your site search tool should be a high priority for eCommerce sites. A good way to do this is to offer tooltips and suggestions for new visitors. You can use cookies and tracking to identify first-time visitors.

Helpful Tooltips, Suggestions, and Prompts:

  • Eliminate any popup tooltips for repeat visitors because they will probably find them annoying rather than useful.
  • Serve up 3-5 product suggestions as people type into the search tool. Don’t opt for too many, especially on mobile devices.
  • Along with your product suggestions, you can choose high-quality thumbnails to provide a little extra information to your users.




Natural Language Processing for Better eCommerce Search Results

Forcing customers to type exactly what is in your product catalog is not a smart move. On-site search that doesn’t recognize synonyms and interpret language is going to frustrate users. Instead, opt for natural language processing to make your eCommerce site search experience much better for the customer.

Top NLP Strategies:

  • Use an NLP search engine that can process complex queries and understand context, so they match queries to products.
  • Variations may be extremely important for your eCommerce store, so make sure your NLP search engines can manage variations.
  • Synonym recognition is hugely important for NLP and query processing. Understanding sneakers, trainers, and shoes could all be the same product.


Strong Error Tolerance That Shows Relevant Products Helps Users

Nobody likes making spelling mistakes. It’s even worse when people point out our errors. Yet many eCommerce search solutions do this all the time. They don’t use autocorrect or synonym search. Instead, spelling errors lead directly to a no results page that becomes a bounce.

Error Tolerance Winning Strategies:

  • Offer autocorrect query suggestions during the search process to avoid errors.
  • Track common spelling errors and match them to useful products and results.
  • Use machine learning to show relevant products even when the query is spelled wrongly.




Sell More Products From the Site Search Tool

eCommerce merchandising opens up a world of possibilities for your online store. Using this tool, you can show relevant products to customers using the site search. Customers searching for products can be directed to specific products you want to sell.

“Searchandising” Strategies for Greater Success:

  • Ensure all your meta and tag information for your product descriptions and product attributes is complete and accurate.
  • Create rules for boosting specific products around certain searches.
  • Add visual suggestions to searches so customers see ideal products as they type.


Online Stores Using No Results Positively Perform Better

No results pages found during site search matter. They do not need to be dead ends for customers that lead directly to a bounce away from your website. Instead, you can view no results pages as a moment to help customers engage with your site search again.

Ways to Optimize No Results Pages:

  • Take responsibility for the lack of results instead of blaming the customer. Say “We didn’t find any matching products” instead of “Your search…”
  • Use synonym search to show related products or popular products that can lead the customers forward instead of sending them away.
  • Invite customers to make another search by showing your search bar more prominently.


Personalize Results Through Machine Learning

Use user data without being creepy or intrusive. Your search engine can understand an individual user’s behavior, compare it to the behavior of other users, and alter the site search results based on the analytics data.

Personalization Strategies for Your Online Store:

  • Boost products related to user searches. As an example, when someone searches for women’s shoes, their results for that search and others could be boosted to show more women’s products.
  • User group behavior can be used to influence search results. Popular products can be shown to someone who is making the same search that led to previous purchases.
  • Personalization can be used to boost products related to events and seasons such as Christmas or Halloween.


Use Redirects to Promote High Converting Pages

You can customize eCommerce site search redirects to move shoppers to pages you choose. One of the best tactics is to move customers from site-search to special pages on your site. This allows you to move customers towards pages with higher conversion rates.

eCommerce Site Search Redirect Tips:

  • Move shoppers from a brand search to a brand page. This draws them further into your site and gives them access to loads of purchase options.
  • Add redirects to relevant content pages, such as your shipping information or returns policy.
  • Create hybrid product and content pages that explain how to use specific products as well as listing them for sale.


Use Search to Help Mobile Device Users Find Products Faster

Many eCommerce site owners are seeing the majority of users on mobile devices. Phones and tablets, but especially phones, are the top shopping devices for consumers. That’s a good thing! People shop impulsively on their phones because of the convenience. So, let’s cover some eCommerce site search best practices for mobile devices.

Mobile Site Search Strategies:

  • Always keep limited screen size in mind. Use a prominent, but small search box. Limit the number of results. Autocorrect and suggestions are super powerful on mobile devices.
  • Activate and optimize voice search for your eCommerce site. It is easier for users and many people are using voice search as their default option.
  • Make sure your system can process a complex search query from a mobile device. The aim is to make the site search customer experience as easy and pleasant for the user as possible, so understanding complex search queries and turning them into useful results is a big bonus.


Use Data to Make Better Decisions for eCommerce Websites

Data is the best friend of people optimizing their eCommerce site search solutions. Search analytics data gives you powerful insights to maximize searchandizing possibilities. Let’s cover some of the reports you’ll want to have and how to use them.

eCommerce Search Analytics Data Reports and Strategies:

  • Searches by volume. Use this report to identify high-volume searches with low conversion rates. Optimize these with better products or new products.
  • Searches by location. This is also available through Google Analytics. Use this information to offer location-specific products or offers. Larger sites might consider altering shipping locations to save money or speed up delivery.
  • Searches by conversion rates. Use search rules to direct users to the highest converting pages and products. Evaluate low converting pages and searches to make more sales.



Site search is a superpower on your eCommerce platform. You can use it to boost on-site conversions, gain valuable data to make better decisions, and provide a much more satisfying user experience to build brand loyalty. The best way to start is to deploy as many of these 12 strategies as possible.


About the Author



Paige is the Head of Marketing at Prefixbox, a leading eCommerce site search solution. She’s an American who’s been living in Budapest since 2017 and loves giving #alwayslearning sessions to help people optimize their online stores.



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