Ecommerce site search — best practices to help customers find your products

Ecommerce site search

Site search is a critical feature on ecommerce sites, but one that is easily overlooked by marketers and developers. In fact, a Google Cloud study revealed that the search function is the most common way that consumers find products on a retail site, and that bad site search functionality cost U.S. retailers about $333 billion dollars in a single year.

Your ecommerce site needs great search capabilities. This post will explain everything you need to know to improve your ecommerce site search so customers find what they need, make a purchase, and leave your site happy.

Ecommerce site search is an on-site search engine that allows visitors to easily find specific products or information on your site. It filters the items on your site using the keywords your customer’s input and provides either the product they’re looking for or a recommendation based on the search.

There are four basic query types a customer might make on an ecommerce site.

Your ecommerce store should be able to answer every one of these search query types.

Why site search matters

Unlike a brick-and-mortar store, you can’t be around to answer questions that ecommerce customers have. There are no sales representatives on the floor to ask if shoppers can find what they need.

Good site search is often the difference between a sale and a bounce, but the benefits of a streamlined search feature are felt several times over.

Higher conversion rates

Helping customers find precisely what they want, or recommending a product that helps with whatever problem they have, leads to sales. You’ve worked hard to get customers on your website, so don’t let them get frustrated and then leave. Give them what they came looking for and lead them to your checkout. According to Econsultancy, customers who use site search are “two to four times more likely to convert.”

Adobe Commerce live search reporting

Easy access to customer data

Every search query is a potential data point for your business. You can use analytical software to study trends in what customers are searching for and then optimize your site around that information.

Simple customer personalization

You can easily personalize your customer’s shopping experience once they’ve entered a query. One query is enough data to immediately personalize product recommendations and show off related items that were purchased by other users who searched the same term.

The data collected can also be stored in their customer profile for future content personalization. Those insights can help target emails, product offers, future site visits, and more.

Quality customer experience

Customers like frictionless shopping experiences, and nothing is better than finding exactly what they’re searching for. A good site search lets you create the best ecommerce customer experience possible. Customer satisfaction will be high if they can immediately find what they want through your site search.

Ecommerce site search best practices

Take the time and effort to implement the following practices and you’ll keep people coming back to your site. As you implement and improve your site search, remember to monitor how users are engaging with it so you can keep optimizing the experience.

1. Make it easy to find

Site search is a helpful tool, but not if the customer has to go searching for the search box itself. Make sure the search bar is in a clear, prominent place and that it stands out. Keep it above the fold and preferably in one of the top corners of the screen.

Petco's prominent search bar

Petco places a large search box right in the middle of the site header, between the logo and the shopping cart. There’s no missing it.

2. Design it well

An effective site search box should be designed to make its purpose and functionality clear.

Throughout the design process, focus on visual clarity. There are some key design considerations, but the search feature should not get complicated.

Ebay's site search bar

Ebay includes all three of these elements — a magnifying glass icon, helpful ”Search for anything” placeholder text, and a bright blue Search button. The search bar also includes a discreet option to search by category to the left of the bar.

3. Provide relevant and timely results

The worst search experience is when the results have nothing to do with their search. For example, a customer looking for a style of eyewear doesn’t want to land on a page full of champagne flutes and beer mugs just because their query included “glasses.”

Make sure the results you provide are relevant, even if that means you can’t push a particular product. Your best search results should show up right at the top of the page. The less you make the customer scroll the better. To ensure this:

Zappos filtered search results

Zappos has color-coded their products, knowing their customers often have color in mind when shoe shopping. The results are mostly ordered according to the number of reviews and likes.

4. Enable auto-complete and error correction

Incorporating auto-complete in your search bar guides customers toward the best query and saves them the time of having to type out the entire keyword. Customers appreciate efficiency and this also helps reduce search input errors. Don’t overwhelm the customer with potential options though. Simply offer a few to help them in the right direction.

Autocomplete is especially helpful in subtly steering people away from items you don’t carry to something you do have in stock. For example, Ruggable sells Persian, Moroccan, and Scandinavian rugs but not Turkish. If a user starts typing “Turkish” the search tool auto-suggests turquoise rugs instead.

Meanwhile, good error correction can often be a make-or-break feature for creating a great customer experience. Customers don’t always know how to spell certain words or product names, and forcing them to do so is frustrating. Your search bar should correct spelling errors while still giving the customer the results they want. Focus on handling phonetic spellings as well, especially if your product is being marketed through word of mouth.

Tripadvisor auto-complete search results

Tripadvisor knows a lot of people will misspell the names of their destinations, so it has perfected the art of autocomplete, keeping vacation planning options as open as possible.

5. Don’t allow a search to return nothing

Many sites still produce “No results found,” which creates a terrible customer experience. Don’t reward your customer’s search efforts with a dead end. Even if their search yields no direct results, populate the page with product suggestions to lead them toward alternatives.

If a customer thinks you don’t have the product they’re looking for — or at least a substitute — they’ll immediately leave. Offering other suggestions tells them that you care about their needs, which helps convince them to stay.

SeedsNOW search results for items not found

When SeedsNOW doesn’t have a product, the search tool offers other popular searches and even related content to keep the reader engaged.

6. Let customers filter and customize on the results page

The search bar is only the beginning of a great site search. Give shoppers multiple customization options so they can dial in precisely what they want. This is also a great way to personalize the customer experience.

Allow customers to filter based on size, color, product type, price range, and anything else that may be relevant to your products. Narrowing down a simple site search query with filters is a much smoother customer experience than requiring users to craft specific search terms. It also lets you demonstrate what other products and options you have available that they may not have considered.

Overstock search results filters

Many sites show a list of filters on the left side of the page. Overstock adds an extra touch at the top with illustrations to help users envision exactly what they’re looking for — for example, what type of rug they really want.

7. Use language your customers use

It’s easy to get caught up in industry slang, highly technical product names, or the new category your brand created — but don’t prioritize those in your search results. Instead, use the language that your customers are using. Most people, for example, don’t search for “remote backup” storage, but rather cloud storage. Read customer forums and reviews to see how people actually describe your products and regularly review the terms that they do query.

Next, consider synonyms. If your customer queries “diary” your collection of “journals” should still appear, and if they search for a trademarked term like “Kleenex” your options for facial tissues should be presented.

Finally, look into using Natural Language Processing (NLP) to increase the accuracy of more conversational searches. NLP allows customers to use queries as if they’re talking to another person — like with a vague keyword such as “comfortable beach clothes” — and get precisely the desired result. It helps you understand their true intent.

8. Refine site search through analytics

The longer you run your ecommerce site, the better your search results should get. Every search is a new data point that you can use to refine your existing site search capabilities.

Track the most common searches, the most common results, and the products that have the highest click-through rate (CTR). You may notice nobody’s really looking for rainbow unicorn beanbags, or maybe your shoppers want throw blankets, not just blankets. Observe also how different segments of your audience use search differently — perhaps only older women are searching for throw blankets. Your customers’ past searches are a treasure trove of data to help you refine results.

You can also optimize your product detail pages using this search data. Match product descriptions to language used in searches. If users are typing in things that don’t match your pages, update your titles and meta descriptions to match user intent. If certain queries have low CTR, check if your product descriptions could be clearer to meet that customer's need.

9. Optimize for mobile

According to Statista, smartphones are now the main device for retail traffic and purchases. And yet plenty of customers still browse ecommerce sites on mobile only to find them unusable. Adapt your site search for mobile audiences to avoid losing potential customers.

Home Depot's mobile search

The Home Depot’s mobile site does search well. For as many products as the brand carries, its mobile experience is refreshingly simple. It lists relevant results clearly, also offering prominent buttons to filter results, order quickly, or review ratings.

10. Include relevant images, graphics, and buttons on results pages

Images and graphics are a great way to grab the attention of a high-intent customer and prove that a product is just what they’re seeking. Your results page should be eye-catching.

Search results with images, graphics and buttons

T.J.Maxx uses several strategies to help people choose the right items — a heart for favorites in the upper right, an option to view similar styles, clear color choices, and a quick look on hover to see shirts from the back.

11. Provide the right details

The search results page should provide the details that customers need to make an initial decision about a product. The product details page will have more, but there should be a few key pieces of information immediately available.

Search results with product details

REI search results provide basic product information, price, and user ratings. It also offers a unique feature that lets users select a few items to compare side-by-side on a new page.

12. Invest in software

Many of the techniques presented here are easily achievable using search software. The right tech solution can provide sophisticated AI and analytics geared around ecommerce. Here’s a short list of available search software.

The quickest way to make your ecommerce customers happy is to connect them directly with the products they came to your site to find. Thankfully, with the search software available today you can easily set yourself up for success.

If you’re optimizing an existing search function, start by making sure it’s easy to find. You might even do some user testing to see how people engage with the search function on your site.

Whether you’re just getting started or are ready to scale up, Adobe Commerce is the ecommerce platform you need to create personalized commerce experiences. Live Search combines industry-leading AI with your catalog of data to deliver lightning-fast search results and personalized results on every shopper query.

Take a free product tour of Adobe Commerce to see how simple it is to keep your ecommerce site competitive and driving increased revenue year over year.