Over 34% of consumers around the world bought 10 or more products online in the first three months of 2022. Given this, it is no surprise that the pressure to deliver memorable online experiences has never been greater. When a potential customer visits your ecommerce site, their expectation is to either search for a specific product or intuitively find something interesting.
In fact, more than three-quarters of consumers use the search functionality on ecommerce websites. 49%, on the other hand, rely on navigation to find the right products. This is exactly why no ecommerce business can afford to provide a sub-optimal search experience to their online visitors (i.e. their potential customers!). Given that US retailers lost a staggering $300 bn due to poor search experiences in 2021, and that 37% of web users say that poor site navigation and design lead to them hopping off of websites, it’s clear that online business owners need to optimize for both search and navigation.
How site search helps your business
A well-designed site search experience makes it easier for customers to find what they need, which means better conversion rates and more sales for business owners. High-quality site search can also be used to provide personalized results, based on the customer's history and previous interactions with the site. Lastly, site search engines that make use of Natural Language Processing (NLP) can also allow your site visitors to look for things in a conversational manner.
The importance of seamless navigation
In many cases, navigation is more important than site search because it allows customers to browse through a store's entire catalog of products without having to enter specific keywords into a search engine.
Good navigation should be intuitive and easy to use, with clear labeling and well-organized menus. It should also be consistent across all pages on a site so that customers can always find their way back to the home page or the product they were originally looking for. Well-thought-out navigation is especially important on mobile devices, where space is limited and users rarely have the patience to search through a long list of results.
Thus, it's clear that ecommerce businesses need to put a fair bit of effort into making sure that their navigation works smoothly.
Best practices to improve your site search functionality
Here’s how you can build a user-friendly search experience for ecommerce website visitors:
Use autocomplete (with images) and predictive search
Autocomplete, also known as auto-suggest or type-ahead search, is a feature that suggests possible results as you type. This can be based on previous searches, popular queries, or simply the most relevant results for the current query. Adding images to autocomplete results can help users more quickly find what they're looking for. By displaying images along with product names and prices, autocomplete can give customers a clear idea of what's available and help them narrow down their choices.
In addition to helping shoppers find what they're looking for, autocomplete can also help promote certain products. If you have a special or clearance item that you want to push, you can use autocomplete to ensure that it appears whenever someone searches for related terms. If you're not using autocomplete on your ecommerce site, you're missing out on a valuable tool for helping shoppers find what they're looking for.
Avoid jargon and optimize for words that your customers are actually searching for
Jargons can be confusing and off-putting for customers, which is why it is best to avoid using them in the site search experience. Instead, focus on using words and phrases that are more likely to be used in a search engine query. In addition to using common terms, you should also consider incorporating popular keywords into your site’s search functionality. This will help to ensure that your customers are able to find the products and information they are looking for without difficulty.
Incorporate synonym detection and typo tolerance/autocorrect functionalities
Your internal site search must accommodate and correct synonyms and typos in the search queries. This means that if a customer searches for a product using a different word or phrase, the search results will still be relevant and customized to their search. For instance, if a user inputs the search query “running shoes,” but your product is listed as “sneakers,” they will still find the product they are looking for.
Typo tolerance is critical because it allows businesses to account for mistyped searches. For example, if a customer types in “sunscreem” instead of “sunscreen,” the search engine should still be able to identify and display appropriate search results (in this case, the different sunscreen options available on your site). You can further enhance the search experience by suggesting related words that can help users fine-tune their search results.
Offer personalized suggestions
Product recommendations are one of the most commonly used forms of personalization. By analyzing past behavior, ecommerce sites can predict what a shopper is likely to buy and then display those items prominently on the page.
Another way to personalize the shopping experience is through dynamic search results. This is when the order of search results changes based on the shopper’s individual preferences. So if someone frequently clicks on results from a particular brand, that brand will start to appear higher in their search results.
Optimizing your ecommerce site navigation
It's no secret that ecommerce sites can be complex beasts. With so many products and pages, it can be hard for businesses to create a site hierarchy that is easy to navigate. Optimizing your site navigation, thus becomes pivotal in facilitating your online visitors' experience of your brand. Here are some of the best practices that can help you do just that -
Be intentional with your categories and sub-categories
Despite the severe usability issues, 60% of sites have poorly organized category hierarchies. It's important to have the first few levels of your site taxonomy implemented as intermediary categories in order to optimize your ecommerce site navigation. Intermediary category pages are pages that sit between your top-level categories and your product pages. They help provide extra structure for your website and can be used to highlight subcategories, sale items, or featured products.
A good rule of thumb is to start with a small number of broad categories (10 is a safe number), then add more specific subcategories as needed. You can always add more levels of navigation if needed, but it's usually better to err on the side of simplicity. If you have too many categories, consider consolidating some of them. For example, if you have a "Jeans" category and a "Trousers" category, you could combine them into one "Bottom wear/Pants" category. This will make your navigation simpler and less cluttered.
Use breadcrumbs on both web and mobile search
Breadcrumbs are an important navigation element for both web and mobile search. They provide users with a way to backtrack their steps and understand where they are in relation to the overall site structure. Breadcrumbs also help search engines index pages more effectively, improving your site's SEO.
By showing visitors where they are on your site and providing links back to previous pages, breadcrumbs help reduce the number of clicks needed to reach the desired destination. They also improve the usability of your site by making it easier for users to backtrack if they get lost. This can be instrumental for mobile users.
Optimize the drop-down menu for subcategories and hover delay
If your ecommerce site sells products in multiple categories, you may be tempted to display all of the sub-categories in your drop-down menu. However, this can actually lead to a less user-friendly experience. displaying too many options in the drop-down menu can make it difficult for users to find the right category. It can also make the navigation feel cluttered and overwhelming. Instead of displaying all of the sub-categories, consider only displaying the top-level categories. If you have a lot of products in each category, you can still include links to the sub-categories on the category pages. This will give users easy access to all of your products without overwhelming them with options.
Further, implementing a hover delay in your drop-down menu can allow users enough time to take in the product information. A common scenario is when a user quickly mouses over the parent menu item and then out again without meaning to open the drop-down. You can introduce a delay so that the menu only opens if the user deliberately hovers for a longer period of time.
This prevents unnecessary opening and closing of the menu (and associated flickering). It also helps reduce accidental clicks on submenu items (especially if those items are links).
Conclusion - A combination of intelligent search and navigation is key to boosting conversions
Building an unforgettable shopping experience for your customers means focusing on both optimal search and navigation. To pack a punch, many ecommerce businesses are leveraging intelligent search engines combined with navigation best practices. With platforms like Zevi, this is possible with our NLP and ML-powered search and ranking engine. Zevi also enables users to address queries in foreign and mixed languages, while offering advanced filtering, personalization, and typo-tolerant search.