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How to check your on-site search is up to scratch

How to check your on-site search is up to scratch

By Mathias Duda, head of UK Operations for FACT-Finder.

Ecommerce is booming and shows no signs of slowing any time soon. Almost every sizeable bricks-and-mortar retailer is now online, competing against ever-increasing internet-only brands etailers understand the importance of their website to drive sales, and the importance of driving customers to that website – from -SEO-friendly copy to links and listings.

But do brands really understand the power of navigation within the site and how the store’s search and navigation system can impact on sales? Here, FACT-finder’s Head of UK business, Mathias Duda outlines the top seven steps to assisting the consumer in finding what they want and ultimately purchasing that product.

With the e-commerce sector expected to more than double in size in the next 10 years, competition for brands and retailers to not just get consumers onto their sites, but also to get them to part with their cash is going to become more and more intense. It’s no longer enough simply to put your products online in an alluring and engaging way, etailers need to ensure that consumers can find the products they want quickly and easily.

Because of this, search and navigation is becoming increasingly important. While brands like Amazon and Tesco are already exploiting the potential of this area, the majority of ecommerce sites still have a long way to go. Here are seven key areas brands and retailers need to look at to ensure that their search and navigation is going to deliver the best possible results.

Search technology

Today’s search technology needs to be able to handle a range of different problems to help users find the products they want. After all, the last thing you want is to be generating “no results” pages. The first hurdle to get over is spelling.

Try searching using a phonetic spelling, or using K instead of C, or characters that are close together on the keyboard and see if they produce a search result.

While many retailers will have a manual system in place where they have to update some form of dictionary to ensure the relevant results are delivered, this can be very labour intensive. However, search utilities are now coming online that use a type of “fuzzy logic” to produce these same results automatically.


Research by eResult has shown that where the search box is placed on a web page has a direct impact on how users negotiate it. The ideal positioning for a search box is high up on the page, so the user doesn’t need to scroll down.

Also, current best practice agrees that it is best placed on the right hand side of the page – the left side is normally reserved for navigation and categories. The search box should also be big enough so that the user has enough space to write long search requests or combined search requests, such as “black leather jacket”.


Search response time can be a key factor in converting visitors to customers. Generally a good search function will generate results in less than 500ms. For those requiring more graphically heavy details, optimising this is about striking a balance between the site’s search technology and the need to cut back on any imagery.

Another critical element of search performance is how often product information is updated within the search database. By producing an index of everything on the retailer’s site, search times are reduced as the search is performed within the index. Ideally this index needs to be able to be updated in real time, so whenever a new product is added to the list.

User Experience

Do a search on Google or on Amazon and you will notice that as you type, a drop down menu appears suggesting options. This is fast becoming must-have functionality for product searching.

However, to be most effective for retailers this needs to be error tolerant as well, so that even if you misspell the product name you can get the drop down menu suggesting the most popular searches. Beyond that, how search information is presented can also have a powerful effect on sales.
Depending on the type and size of product being sold, the option to view in a list or grid format, with or without pictures and having the ability to vary the numbers of results shown on a page are all essential.


With so many options now available in retailers – from colour to size to price – this needs to be reflected in on-site search functions. Equally, these filters must be dynamic and change depending on the availability of products. There is no point in having categories with nothing in them.

They should also allow you to select multiple attributes, for example “brown” and “black” shoes. Another function that is becoming increasingly popular is a price slider, which enables users to quickly and easily refine their searches.


Any search has to deliver relevant results. Sometimes users have to wade through dozens of products before they find the one they actually want purely because of the amount of information generated and the lack of order.

The criteria for presenting search results – such as by popularity, by age of product or by frequency of purchase – can not only help deliver relevant results but also take the consumer in a certain direction. The search function should also be able to learn from consumer searching behaviour and reflect this in real time if products are becoming more popular.


Search offers plenty of opportunity to up sell: for example, through providing recommendations. Not just the “if you like that, then take a look at this” approach, but also in terms of offering consumers accessories to go with the products they are purchasing.

On top of this, much more creative use can be made of searches generating “no results found” pages. This space can be used for promotions, for best sellers, tag clouds or listing most popular search queries.


While most brands and retailers nowadays have a good understanding of web analytics for their site traffic, they don’t tend to adopt the same principles when it comes to searches.

They may have details about the number of searches that have been performed but rarely will it go any deeper than that. However, they can get insights into purchasing and searching trends as well as what products they should be stocking and when by looking further into their search analytics. The most common spelling errors could even form part of a PPC campaign.

Even without the big budgets of the retail giants like Amazon and Tesco, following these simple rules can help brands and retailers optimise their sites to ensure their search and navigation is driving users to the correct results.

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