Site Search is one of the most ubiquitous features on a B2B website. Since Google revised its offering last year to discontinue the non-ad supported version of Custom Search Engine, the space has seen many products trying to fill that void. This has resulted in more control and flexibility for marketers – something that was sorely missing with Google – to tune site search to work for their unique brand and audience needs. However, this has also brought its own set of challenges surrounding how and when to use this newfound control while also balancing for business goals.
How users engage with Search has undergone a transformation as well. Search-led websites seem to be on the decline, as search is now being used as an augmentation tool to the brand experience and navigation rather than a replacement for it. Users tend to use Site Search when they know exactly what they are looking for and want to get there quickly, or when they are doing preliminary research on a specific topic. In either scenario, it becomes important to get relevant content to customers promptly; users get frustrated with irrelevant content and may leave the site if they don’t find what they’re looking for in mere seconds.
With this changing landscape and the need to balance users’ needs and business goals in mind, here are three key steps to take to improve your Site Search experience.
Step 1: Choose the Right Tool/Product
The number of products in the space has grown exponentially in the last few years. You have a variety of options that range from open source to enterprise-level search. It is important to choose the right tool for you. Some key criteria to consider when you are choosing a tool are as follows:
Relevancy is key to Site Search. Users are impatient and want to see the results that are most relevant in the first few listings. Support for natural language processing, detecting common spelling errors, hinting and boosting are some key features you should look for in a search engine. Some cutting-edge search engines also enhance relevancy using AI, which can be used to track user behavior and adjust results accordingly. For example, if enough users click on a particular result when searching for a keyword, that result may be bumped up in relevancy.
However relevant search results may be, they may not always fit your business need. Relevancy is based on a variety of factors and may seem like a black box at times. So, flexibility is important in a search engine. Look for a search engine that gives you the power to perform relevancy tuning, control the exact order of results for a keyword, and/or feature results for a search term. Relevancy tuning should include the ability to weight the different factors that go into determining the relevancy of a page. For example, you may want to weight the recency of a thought leadership article over other factors so that an article that was published this week appears before an article that was published a year ago on the same topic. This granular control will help you with accomplishing business goals while still bringing relevant content to the user. Moreover, the flexibility should be easy for a marketer to use without much technical knowledge.
Measuring how Search is performing is an important aspect of making it successful. Search tools can provide some key insights into how your users are engaging with Search. The analytics within the tool should not only measure what people are searching for but should also track which results your users are clicking on. If your Search uses facets for filtering, this should be tracked as well. If your Search tool doesn’t come with its own analytics, don’t worry. You can still create custom events on other analytics platforms, like Google Analytics, but this requires additional time, resources and investment.
An example of a report that comes out of Search analytics is the content gap report. Search analytics can track searches that either do not produce results or produce results that your users do not engage with. This helps uncover an area of desired content that is currently missing on the website and can help you concentrate your future content creation efforts.
Step 2: Keep Tuning Your Search
You have picked a Search Engine that has good relevancy, is flexible and has great analytics. Now what? With changing user needs and business goals, Search is no longer an implement and forget feature on the website. Therefore, introducing complex rules right from the start is not recommended. Our recommendation is to implement Site Search with a few must-have business rules and use analytics to consistently tune your Site Search and other parts of the site based on user behavior.
With content being constantly added and removed from your site, it is important to periodically make sure the right results are being surfaced for your users. It is time to use the analytics and flexibility your Search Engine provides to tune the results you deliver. Note that these analytics may affect more than Search. It may also provide you with insights that affect how you structure your navigation, for example. For instance, if you find that your users are often searching for your office address using Site Search, a good solution may be to surface it on some of your important pages.
Some of your analytics could also lead you to tweak your relevancy rules. A common issue that we see while tuning Search is that it is tuned too much towards a specific use case (for example, tuning your Search to weight a certain kind of page over other pages). These may be driven by specific business rules that affect very specific keywords. The Relevancy engine, even with some flexibility, is a black-box algorithm that affects all searches, so tuning it too specifically to fit one use case has the potential to break another. It is important to look at Search as a whole and ensure that any changes still fit a whole range of search terms. Making and maintaining this list of search terms that encompass your website content is an important step to take to avoid this issue.
Step 3: Pay Attention to SEO Best Practices
Most Search Engines take your SEO content into account when determining relevancy; it is important to continue following these best practices. It is easy to forget about these guidelines given the amount of control some of these Search Engines may provide. However, SEO best practices like including alt tags on images, title tags, meta descriptions, etc. are important for your Search tool relevancy, as well as for external Search Engines like Google & Bing. Make sure to build in SEO fields and customizations within your CMS, so they can be used during content entry (if you are using a modern CMS like Sitecore, you should be able to add these fields).
Search is an important tool that helps keep your users engaged with your website, brand and content. The latest tools in the market give you, the marketer, more control than ever on how search results are surfaced. As the saying goes, “With great power, comes great responsibility.” To ensure Search helps drive user engagement, pay attention to how your users interact with it, how successful they are in finding what they are looking for, and adopt a Search tool that will allow you to respond accordingly. Keeping your results relevant, constantly tuned and SEO-friendly will also keep your users coming back for more.