The Quick Version
A site search is a facility that allows a user to find content, such as information or products that they are unable to locate easily by using the website’s navigation structure.
It is reasonable to expect that large sites or sites with a confusing navigation structure will receive a large number of site search requests.
Websites with a site search or an ecommerce site typically enjoy higher conversion rates, average order value and loyalty, as users find what they are looking for more easily.
However, that is only if the site search itself returns results that are helpful to the user and allows them to find what they are looking for.
A poorly executed site search facility can be detrimental to the user’s experience and cause them to get frustrated, often leading them to leave the site.
Site searches can vary greatly in their usefulness, accuracy and the types of results they return. The display of the site search results, how they are ordered and what information they contain are also extremely important aspects.
Why Site Searches Are A Good Idea
Site searches are especially useful for a large website that may have hundreds if not thousands of products or information pages.
Just about every online retailer will incorporate some form of site search and the facility is a key navigational aid for many users. Figures quoted by Smart Insights that 30% of visits to an online retailer will include the use of the site search.
If the user has a specific query in mind and cannot easily determine where they should go from the menu structure then they will turn to the search facility.
This allows them to find the product or information page they are looking for and continue with their task from there.
A difficult to use site search will greatly impede this journey and so prevent the user from completing their task.
Examples Of Good Site Searches
The best examples are contained in Econsultancy’s article – Site search results pages: examples and best practices
Updated on 10th April 2015 – Econsultancy reported on Pull & Bear’s very intriguing search tool.
We’ll add some further examples in here as we come across them.
Testing Site Searches
The following aspects are a good idea to test and areas that we would normally look at when testing a website with a site search.
Ease of finding the site search facility
Is the site search facility located in an easy to spot location? The convention is in the top right area although several retailers opt for a more prominent location in the centre towards the top of the page. What is the design of the search box like? Does it have a clear action button to carry out a search and, if text is displayed within the search box, does it disappear when you type in it?
Carrying out site searches
Can you carry out a range of searches for one word and multiple word phrases and have logical results returned? Can you search by product code? What if you try searching for single letters or digits, do you get results or a helpful validation message? What if you try searching for nothing, do you get a helpful validation message? For word and phrase searches, what are the results like that are returned, are they logical, are they relevant, are they helpful to the search completed? Can the site search interpret mis-typed words or spelling errors?
Site search suggestions
Does the site search have an auto suggest facility? If so, does it display relevant suggestions as you type? What happens if you click on one of the suggestions, are the results displayed relevant to the result clicked on?
Ability to carry out an advanced search
Is there an ability to carry out an advanced search? If so, what are the options or criteria available within the advanced search? Can you carry out searches with each of the criteria selected or included in the search and have relevant results returned? Are there criteria that prevent any results from being returned?
Ordering of site search results
Are the search results displayed in a relevant order? Is it possible to reorder the results through the use of sort order columns or other facilities, do these work as expected?
Display of site search results
Are the search results clear and easy to understand? Do the page titles and page descriptions (or product details) appear relevant and understandable? What other details are displayed for each result, are they relevant and necessary? Is it easy to understand where to click to view that page or product? Are there images returned in results? Are these images sized correctly? Are they clickable? Does clicking on a result take you to the correct page or product?
If lots of results are displayed
Are the most relevant results to the search presented on the first page? Is the number of results found easy to spot? Is there an opportunity to filter results or search within the results set?
If there are a lot of results then is there pagination displayed? Does the pagination allow you to move between pages of results easily? If filters are applied and the pagination is used then do the filtered results persist correctly? If the order of results is changed and the pagination is used then how does the ordering react?
If no results are displayed
What are the options presented to the user? Are those options helpful for the user to find what they are looking for or continue with the task they are trying to complete? Does the website provide any contact details or allow the user to submit feedback?
Being able to return to the site search results
Once the user has clicked on a search result, is it possible for them to easily return to the search results?
Site search performance
For different types of searches, how long does the website take to respond and deliver the search results to the screen? If there is a suggestion facility, does that respond in a realistic time as you type? Are there times when the site search facility responds more slowly than at other times?
Does the site search work correctly on mobile devices? Does it have a mobile optimised experience or use the main site templates? If there are auto suggestions are they displayed correctly on a smaller screen? Can filters, pagination, etc. be easily tapped with a finger? Is it an enjoyable or a frustrating experience to use the site search on a mobile device?
Site Search Resources
Site Search Report from Econsultancy – this is a paid for report.