A Practical Guide to Using Site Search
Earlier this year, I offered suggestions to eM+C readers about how to leverage the site search function to help customers find the product -- or information -- they're looking for. In the article, "Five Tips To Help Customers Search Your Site Successfully", I discussed how delivering relevant search results -- in the right format -- will not only improve your customers' experience online, but keep them coming back.
I've followed that original piece with some additional tips for how site search can be used in other promotional areas to steer more people to your site and quickly convert them from browsing visitors to buying customers. Here are the tips:
1. Steer more traffic with search engine optimization. Optimizing your site's search results pages for keywords that people use on Google and other search portals not only increases your chances of showing up in the search results, but it also increases the likelihood that once people come to your site they'll make a purchase.
This can save you significant amounts of money you would otherwise spend on pay-per-click campaigns. For example, by using an automated SEO product, home furnishings retailer Carolina Rustica is seeing an average 10 percent click-through rate from organic searches, which is two-to-three times greater than the clickthrough rate of PPC listings. For example, if a user does a search on Google for "mug rack," Carolinarustica.com appears in the top 10 results, and the link takes the user to the search results page for that term on Carolina Rustica's site. Rather than take the customer to a generic landing page, the user can see all the mug racks that Carolinarustica.com carries, increasing the likelihood of a sale.
2. Leverage search data for more targeted e-mail campaigns. By leveraging site search data and integrating it with targeted e-mail marketing software, marketers can create segmented, or even one-to-one, e-mails for customers with highly targeted messaging to promote products of interest -- all based on their search activity and a few additional personal details.
One large cosmetics retailer recently embarked on such a campaign that incorporates data provided by customers on its e-commerce site. Using a hosted site search tool integrated with e-mail software, the cosmetics retailer separated its e-mail list into very specific marketing segments, tagged by a keyword or set of keywords. The e-mail system then feeds the keywords into the search solution, which in turn acts as an automated merchandising system that provides the e-mail system with the most popular products for each keyword, based on users' search activity on the retailer's site. These product links are inserted into e-mails personalized for each customer, providing a much higher degree of relevancy, resulting in higher clickthrough rates and conversions.
3. Add credibility with ratings and reviews. Most online shoppers believe ratings and reviews from other customers are more credible than a standard product description or other marketing messages. Offering ratings and reviews as part of your site's search solution gives your customers added confidence to make an online purchase.
Ratings and reviews also can be an important navigation tool as this information allows customers to search for products by their rating or category. For example, a customer at Cableorganizer.com can opt to view only the products with four- or five-star ratings when conducting a search. This gives him or her one more way to quickly find products of interest.
In addition, customers who write reviews also can tag the products for different categories, giving subsequent visitors yet another way to search.
4. Incorporate a gift finder. A gift finder is a useful tool that gives customers an additional way to find the perfect gift for various holidays. By being allowed to define a set of criteria (such as price, occasion, recipient, gift type, etc.), users get search results that will more closely match what they are looking for.
Our research at SLI has shown that most people know how much they would like to spend on a gift, so the ability to see the products (in order of popularity) that are within their budget is a valuable service.
The gift finder easily can be promoted on the homepage or throughout the whole site -- and then removed immediately after the particular holiday.
Getting traffic to your site isn't easy, nor is persuading people to purchase a product once they get there. But by leveraging your search data for more promotional activities, you can increase the chance that you're giving customers exactly what they are looking for -- and increase the probability that your browsing visitor will turn into a paying and (you hope) repeat customer.
Shaun Ryan is CEO of SLI Systems, a Cupertino, Calif.-based provider of search technology for corporate Internet sites, e-commerce destinations and consumer Internet portals. Reach him at Shaun.Ryan@sli-systems.com.