Yesterday, in “Follow the Signal

for Better Search Results,” Joey Muller offered a unique perspective on the scope of search results optimization. To borrow from the post, search has three dimensions:

  • Organic Search—to acquire customers by ranking high on the search results page for targeted, high-value phrases for as long as possible.
  • Paid Search—to acquire customers by testing a wide range of phrases in controlled locations on the results page for as long as budgets permit.
  • Internal Site Search—to acquire customers by letting your visitors tell you what they want to see so you can serve up the most important, valuable, and relevant result.

Search queries vary in both clarity and intent. So in optimizing toward the goal of putting the right results in front of the right visitor at the right time, one of the principal challenges facing search managers is to determine what the visitor actually wants.

For example, web searches typically take one of three structures:

  • Specific—when the user knows exactly what he’s looking for (“Graco My Ride 65 Car Seat”)
  • Generic—when the user partially knows what he’s looking for (“LCD Televisions”)
  • Navigational—when search replaces the user’s browser bar (“Amazon”)

If your search traffic resembles that of most websites, the majority is navigational, and we simply don’t know much about these visitors.

But is the search marketer’s job done? Hardly.

Internal Site Search in Context

The search marketer’s job is not to “dump” traffic at the site’s doorstep—real optimization doesn’t end on the landing page. Historically, though, companies have devoted little effort and attention to site search optimization.

The results have not been kind:

  • On some websites, up to 40% of searches return no results
  • Search results could potentially point to out-of-stock items
  • Search results couldn’t be targeted based on various customer attributes

Internal Site Search Reimagined

However, with new capabilities (and the ease with which they can be brought to bear), internal site search is quickly becoming the easiest of the three search channels to optimize—as well as the most impactful.

For example, more companies are enhancing internal site search through:

  • Predictive, type-ahead results that include image thumbnails and product names/descriptions (as shown in the example at right)
  • Targeting results to key customer segments (e.g., a search for “coats” might promote waterproof coats for visitors where it’s raining)
  • Results promotion (e.g., new, hot, etc.)
  • Results demotion (e.g., low ratings, product out-of-stock)
  • Eliminating “No Results” pages
  • Testing different locations of the search box

And it’s these capabilities that are helping more visitors find more of the products that they’re looking for, which will take us to the next part of our series on optimizing the merchandising experience.

Once you’ve gotten the visitor to the right page, how do you know you’re providing the information the visitor needs to make a purchase decision? Stay tuned …