Sam Rose - Head of Content

Sam Rose

19th February 2016

12 Features Of A Great Site Search Function

If you are an online retailer, one of your top priorities should be making it as easy as possible for customers to find your product and fall in love with it. Today we’re going to look at the finding part in the context of your website’s search facility.

Firstly, if you sell a lot of products on your website then without a doubt you need a search function so people can find what they are looking for. Search functions can come in many different forms and have many different features. Let’s take a look at twelve aspects of search functions and consider how we can use them to help customers find what they need and give you a better conversion rate.

What makes a great search facility?

Let’s start with the basics: a search function should help people find what they’re looking for, and all aspects of the search function should work together to present the user with products that fit their requirements. This may sound very obvious, but it’s important to consider the features of your products that are important to your users, and design your search function accordingly. It’s very much a case of putting yourself in the customer’s shoes and taking a good look at each stage of the searching process.

1. Search Box

The first part of your search function the user will see is the search box – so make sure they do see it. Placement is important and you never know when someone might want to use it, so it’s a good idea to put the search box in the header of the website so it appears on every page. Using colours that make it stand out will also make it easier to find.

Some search boxes have an auto-complete function. This is similar to when you search the web and Google attempts to guess what you’re looking for by producing a list of suggestions. For example if a user begins to type in a brand term, the search box could immediately show them a drop-down of products by that brand.

The Misco website gives you suggestions as you type in the search box, showing you a list of products it thinks you might mean, categories they appear in which you might want to browse, and matching brand names so you can see everything listed under that brand. However if I click on the Keyboards category below I would hope it would take me to the Keyboards search results page, listing every product in that category with Logitech in the name. Instead I’m taken to the generic Keyboards category page with no sign of my search query, which isn’t quite so helpful.

However if I was looking for the Logitech G602 Gaming Mouse, I could click on that product in the drop-down and be taken to the product page, bypassing the search results page completely and giving me a very efficient service.

2. Categories

Products on your website should be grouped into categories so that it is easy for users to search within a category to find relevant results, and also so that users can browse a category if they aren’t looking for something too specific.

How many categories and sub-categories you have will depend on how many products you stock and their variety. For example Amazon divide up their huge stock by top-level categories such as books, clothing and music. Users can then use filters to select sub-categories.

3. Filters

By entering a search term and selecting a category, a user can then narrow down their selection using filters, for example by choosing a genre of book. Then if there is still a wide range of products there might be yet another list of sub-categories to choose from, as in the example below. The more you can narrow down a user’s search in this way, the more likely they are to find something they like and make a purchase – they won’t have to wade through pages of irrelevant products to find what they need.

Of course, it’s not just categories users should be able to filter by – there is colour, size, price range, and brand, to name just a few. The filters you provide will depend on the products you are selling, and should be the kinds of things your customers will want to filter by. It should be possible to use multiple filters at once, and adding and removing filters from search results should be easy – the faster the changes take effect, the better, so the user isn’t kept waiting.

4. Sort Function

As well as filters, you should also have a sort function. Users might want to filter by price range £10-20, but also see the results listed with prices sorted from low to high. Other ways to sort might include alphabetically, and newest to oldest products. If some products have different postage costs, users might also want to sort by price with or without postage – eBay does this and it’s very useful for comparing the total cost of products.

5. Breadcrumb Trail

How did I get to this results page? Oh of course, I searched for “websites” in Books, then filtered down to Computing & Internet, then Web Development, then Web Design, and finally Website Design. Well, what I’m looking for isn’t here. Luckily I can use this handy breadcrumb trail to click on the Web Development category again and choose a different section. Where would I be without my breadcrumb trail? Stuck in the Website Design category wondering if I have to start my search from scratch, that’s where.

6. Product Information

How much product information should you provide in the search results? There is only a small amount of space for each product but you need to provide enough information to make the user want to click on the product.

ASOS provides a ‘quick view’ so you can see the basic details of a product without leaving the search results page – you can even view the catwalk video, select a size and add the product to your basket. And if you decide you don’t want the product, you can just close the lightbox and you’re still on the results page right where you left off.

7. Out of Stock Products

When designing your search function you will also need to decide how out of stock products will appear, if they appear at all. You don’t want them to look exactly the same as the other products on your search page, because nobody wants to click on a product they are interested in only to find it’s not available. So there should be some indication on the results page that the product is not currently for sale.

You could remove them from the search results completely, but if someone is looking specifically for the product they might then think it’s gone forever, and not realise it will be back in stock next Tuesday. Then they won’t come back and you’ll have lost a sale. Ideally the results page would show that the product is out of stock, and give details on when it will be available again.

8. Number of Products per Page

How many products are displayed on your search results pages? Users don’t want to keep clicking ‘next’ to see five products at a time. They might even want to choose how many they can see on a page. Let them.

9. Introductory Text

While you are looking at your search results page, take a look at the introductory text at the top of the page. If you don’t have any text at the top of the page, you should consider adding some – partially for SEO purposes to get in those essential keywords to help people find your products through Google, and partly to help people to use the search function and navigate through the results. If users can’t find what they are looking for below, what should they do? Look in a different category? Email you to see if you can source a product for them? Let them know in this introductory text.

10. Nothing Found

Occasionally a user will search for a term which will yield no results. What happens then? They should get a ‘nothing found’ page, but how useful is yours? Does it help people to find the product they are looking for in other ways? Does it give search tips, suggest a similar keyword they might have meant instead, provide links to popular categories, or show them your contact details if they need help? All of these things could turn a disappointing search into a purchase.

11. Good Housekeeping

For your search function to be effective, it is essential that you maintain good housekeeping. This means ensuring products have the correct attributes assigned to them and that they are all in the correct categories. Anything less is sloppy, unprofessional and very unhelpful for the customer, who doesn’t want to see running shoes when they are looking for table runners.

12. Search Logs

Finally, keep an eye on your search logs. These will tell you what your customers are searching for, so you can see what is in demand and where there may be opportunities to expand your range.

If you need some help designing your website and would much prefer our team of expert web developers to deal with all this for you, contact us!

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