These days, people are used to searching to find the information or product that they're looking for on the web, and this is just as true when they have reached your website.
They expect an effective search function to help them to complete their task as fast and as easily as possible. If your provide a poor search experience, you could cause frustration and lose a potential customer.
So how can you make sure you deliver against these expectations? Here are our top 5 suggestions to improve your website's search:
People don't necessarily use the same language as a search engine, or the same language as your content, which can lead to failed searches. You can help to minimise this risk by using search tools such as synonyms, stemming, auto-complete and suggestions. These can guide your user to the information they're looking for even if they don't use the expected terminology or spelling.
An auto-complete function that suggests search terms, based on your content, as the user is typing not only helps them to understand their options but also makes sure they get results. The last thing you want to happen is for the search to return zero results, so make sure your search engine at least supplies alternative suggestions based on the search query.
Splitting your content into categories makes it easier to digest. This is the basis of website navigation structures and it should also be incorporated into your search engine. Give people the option to specify the type of content they're looking for when they search, and give them options to filter the search results so they can narrow down on the content that interests them. If appropriate, provide sorting options too. These tools can help make a large results set much easier to manage.
You can use more than just the user's search term to inform the results your search engine delivers. You can also use information such as the user's geographical location, browser language settings, type of device, or the date and time of their search. Incorporating this kind of information into the search can increase the chances of returning the right results.
For example, if you search for 'open day' on a university website, it might be more appropriate to promote and display an 'International Open Day' event result to prospective international students instead of your 'Domestic Student Open Day' counterpart event. This change in search behaviour could be determined by the user's location - even if it wasn't part of their original search query.
This kind of functionality can also be used to promote seasonal offers and popular content - which is good for you and for your customers.
A good search engine will automatically learn from your users' behaviours and upweight the results that are most likely to be clicked. Some will also give you the ability to upload a set of search terms and their corresponding results to make sure that the right results are always returned. Search engines can also be used to inform business wide improvements. For example, a report of terms that people are searching for on your site can be used to measure the impact of marketing campaigns, whilst reports detailing the searches that returned no results can unearth potential business opportunities or areas where your content needs to be tweaked.
Your search engine needs to be good. That is, it needs to be fast and it need to be accurate. This is much harder than it sounds and the search engines on the market all differ in the way they handle data. You should also look at the search engine's features to make sure it offers all of the functionality to achieve the above - and more. The options on the market have different strengths and weaknesses, so make sure you select one that meets all of your requirements.