Why does an ecommerce site need internal search?

Written by
Camilo Álvarez
Feb 02, 2022
12 min read

You probably already know how important the internal search engine on your ecommerce site is for improving sales. It also affects your site’s SEO: the internal search engine influences your store’s user experience, which is not only important for both sales and rankings.

Just check out these stats:

If your search engine falls under this 60%, the consequences are clear: many of the users visiting your store will struggle to browse the site and find the product they want. And that, in turn, will have a negative impact on your conversions, customer loyalty, and SEO.

Let’s take a more in-depth look at internal search for ecommerce websites.

First of all, what is site search? 

Internal site search is a functionality designed for users to search for items and information they’re interested in. Let’s take a look at different examples of how site search can be implemented. 

Most ecommerce search engines will allow customers to browse by category or brand. May will include popular searches right away:

Showing trending products in a site search engine

Some will show the results in the search bar, both from the catalog and educational materials:

Showing products and articles in a site search engine

Many ecommerces offer a lot of filters to narrow down search results or even have a search within search functionality:

Search within search on an ecommerce site

Sometimes, websites will highlight some important information in the search bar, say when there are certain promo offers:

Delivery info in a search engine

Internal search can do more than that. Let’s explore the different types of ecommerce search.

Types of site search

There are several formulas that might help users find the exact item they need. We can divide them into two main categories:

1. According to the type of search query

Customers use different queries on ecommerce websites—they might search by: 

  • specific product name
  • brand
  • category
  • problem or need (for example, when they search for “clean” instead of “robotic vacuum cleaner”)
Internal search engine that understands context behind words
  • non-product queries (sometimes visitors use the internal search engine to find out about return policies, shipping times, etc.)
Return information in a site search engine

And here’s the kicker: not all internal search engines are equipped to deliver relevant results for this huge variety of terms. In particular, the last two types on the list are the ones that pose the biggest problem for basic site search features.

2. According to the way the query is made

To add to the complexity, there are alternative search formulas that do not use text, and they have become popular in recent years.

So, we have:

  • Visual search: as the name suggests, in image search, a user uploads an image to the search engine to find visually similar products (the same option that is available, for example, in Google Images).  
Visual search on an ecommerce site
  • Voice search: since the rise of the smartphone and, more recently, smart speakers, many users have grown accustomed to making voice searches. 40% of consumers use voice search each month to order products online according to a 2018 survey: now, it’s probably even a higher percentage. 
Voice search on an ecommerce site

For your search engine to be useful for visitors to your site, it must be capable of handling all of the above search methods and, above all, offer relevant results. 

Why is internal search vital for ecommerce?

We have already mentioned this before, but now let’s look at it in more detail.

1. For boosting your sales

One word: user experience. The positive perception that a person has after browsing your website is one of the key factors to improve conversions.

What you should aim for is for your search engine to be able to offer a user the exact product they are interested in and in the shortest possible time. As a result, you’ll have more satisfied customers and a higher conversion.

2. For improving SEO

If your internal search engine does not respond to the needs of the people who visit your site, user experience will suffer, and therefore your rankings.

This is because:

  • Navigability worsens: a user will find it more difficult to reach the product or page they’re interested in (particularly if you have a very wide catalogue with hundreds or thousands of products).
  • Dwell time reduces: with users unable to find what they’re looking for, they become frustrated and leave the store, thereby reducing the amount of time they spend on a website before returning to Google search. Dwell time is the only behavioral factor that should matter to you when analyzing your SEO strategies. 

On the other hand, if your search engine does offer relevant results, you’ll ensure that users stay on your online store for longer (which is a sign of a search intent being satisfied and therefore is good for SEO).

To get the most comprehensive information on all on-page SEO issues that your webpage suffers from, make sure to audit it with the help of SE Ranking’s On-Page SEO Checker tool.

Enter a URL and get your free report

3. For growing customer loyalty

Online shopping experience is what defines the level of customer loyalty. People do expect high-quality products that correspond to their needs, as well as transparent return policies and convenient deliveries but quite often, an ecommerce website design and functionality are the major drivers of completed purchases and customer retention.

As we’ve seen from the statistics, internal search engines are a standard for ecommerce that a website simply can’t do without. And the more flexible and powerful it is, the more loyal customers you’ll have.

4. For getting business insights

Advanced search engines will give you analytical data on user searches. When you learn what products or categories are the most searched for, what different terms people type in the search bar, and how searches correlate to purchases, you’re armed to make business decisions and improve your store to make it even more helpful and delightful to users.

How to get the most out of your ecommerce site’s internal search

You’ve already seen how important the internal search engine can be. Now, we’re going to describe the best practices to follow when designing one for your website.

1. It is capable of managing synonyms and typos

…and therefore reducing searches with no results.

Up to 15% of internal searches on ecommerce sites yield the dreaded “No results found” message.

And, often, this happens because a user

  • is looking for a product using a synonym
  • has made a spelling error in their search
Site search that understands typos

For example, imagine you have an online pharmacy and your catalog includes sunscreens. A user types “sun cream” in the search engine (the term not included in products’ descriptions). And the search engine, unable to understand that “sun cream” and “sunscreen” are the same thing, will tell the user that there are no related products. Or, the user may make a spelling mistake or a typo, obtaining the same result.

This is what happens with the majority of basic search engines that cannot understand synonyms or typos.

On the other hand, with a smart search engine, the volume of searches returning no results is greatly reduced (from 15% to 1.3% of total searches, according to Doofinder’s internal statistics).

Smart internal search can provide suggestions based on the context of user queries:

Suggestions in internal search

2. It’s always one step ahead (with autocomplete)

To make the process of finding the right product easier, there’s autocomplete—a search feature that predicts what users want. 

How? After a user types the first letters, the search engine will already begin showing results. Take a look at this example:

Autocomplete in a site search

3. It allows users to filter results to find the exact product 

Search filters (also known as faceted search) are another search feature that improves navigability.

Filters allow the user to filter by various attributes of a product, such as:

  • color,
  • price,
  • brand,
  • size,
  • and a range of other aspects.

This is a vital feature for an ecommerce with a wide catalog where each search could pull up dozens or even hundreds of different results. 

Search filters on an ecommerce site

4. It accepts different search methods

We’ve mentioned that voice and image search types are gaining traction. These methods are especially popular with mobile users, and the percentage of buyers who use their smartphones to shop online continues to grow exponentially.

If your internal search engine can’t manage voice or image searches, consider integrating such capabilities.

5. It lets your customers know about active offers

There’s hardly anything more powerful in the world of ecommerce as the words “sale,” “promo,” or “special offer.”

Customers love discovering that the price for certain products is reduced, and your internal search engine can help with this. More specifically, smart search engines allow you to include banners between search results to make announcements about a sale or items on offer.

By showing a promo banner among the internal search results, you’ll pull on the psychological trigger of scarcity and increase the chances of a user ending up buying what they’ve been browsing for. 

Highlighting a special offer among internal search results

6. It offers useful statistics to improve your store’s search experience

A smart search engine does much more than just help users find what they’re looking for. It can also offer you analytical data that will allow you to detect areas for improvement. 

Search analytics can give you insights into the following:

  • Searches with no results. Sometimes, when a search term offers no results, it’s because you really don’t have that product in your catalog. If a large number of users are looking for the same specific product or brand, you can add it knowing that it will be a success.
  • Product pages with greater or lower conversation rates. A smart search engine will let you know how many users buy a product after searching for it. So, if you see that a specific product page has a very low conversion rate, this could mean that the copy is not attractive enough or that the images do not properly reflect the product’s appearance. 
  • The terms your customers use in their searches. This will allow you to detect synonyms and common spelling errors. What’s more, thanks to this feature, you can uncover new long-tail keywords to use in your posts, product pages, etc. 

All this data will help you optimize your site search to offer more relevant results.

7. It offers custom search results 

Imagine if your search engine was capable of offering different search results to each customer.

For example, suppose that you have a food ecommerce business. 

One of your customers visited the store recently, browsed through the wholewheat-pasta product pages and ending up placing an order for spaghetti. On the same day, another customer looked on your pasta product pages and ended up looking at legume pastas. 

After a few days, both customers return to the store and simply type “pasta” into the search bar. And even though the search term was exactly the same, the first customer will see wholewheat-pasta products among the autocomplete results and the second customer will see legume pasta offers. 

How can that be possible? It’s actually quite simple: the search engine can remember both customers and offer them personalized results according to prior behavior (searches made, pages visited, orders placed, etc.). Amazing, right?

How to install an internal site search feature?

Now, the question you’re probably asking yourself is, how can you apply all this in your online store?

There are several ways to do so:

  • Use the one that comes by default with the CMS template. This is the most basic option which usually offers the worst results. These search engines are very limited and are not able to handle synonyms or typos, as well as voice or image searches. 
  • With custom development. This alternative consists of hiring a programmer or a team to design a customized search engine for you. Although this gives you absolute control over the functionalities to be implemented, it is also the most expensive and complex solution. In addition, in the long run, you will continue to depend on developers to add improvements or make any changes. 
  • Using an internal search engine solution. You can simply install a pre-designed search engine. This is a much cheaper option than designing an ad hoc search engine for your store but at the same time, it gives you access to advanced site search features such as those we described above.  

Doofinder is a search software compatible with the main ecommerce platforms: PrestaShop, WooCommerce, Shopify, Magento, and others. It is installed as a plugin: you download it, upload it to your website, and in 5 minutes you have it ready to go. Without complex configurations and not dealing with the source code at all.

Ready to start using an ecommerce internal search engine?

From now on, you’re sure to be looking at this element of your online store in a new light. Now it’s your turn: put all the tips we’ve given you into practice and transform your ecommerce search engine into your greatest ally.

And if you have any questions, we’ll be delighted to help in the comments.

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