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175. How to Optimize the Site Search on Your eCommerce Website

Hands typing on a keyboard episode 175 How to Optimize the search on your eCommerce website

I am really excited about today’s episode because this topic has been on my mind for a long time. And I have touched on it here and there throughout the podcast but never dedicated an entire episode to it. With the release of Shopify’s filter and search app, it reminded me that we really needed to chat about it! 

And yes, it is still technically an app that you have to add – but it is created by Shopify and is free. If you’re already using a 3rd party app, then continue to use that, especially if it has more features than the standard Shopify one, but if you haven’t done anything to optimize your search, the Shopify app is a great place to start. 

One thing to keep in mind. If you’re a one-product store or only have a handful of items and not a lot of educational blog content that people will be searching for – you can probably skip this episode. But if you just want to hang out and learn, that’s cool too. 

Prefer to listen to the episode? Click here.

Why You Should Optimize the eCommerce Search Experience

Before we get into the nitty-gritty details, let’s talk about WHY we’re talking about this and WHY eCommerce site search is so important. 

Here are a few statistics to paint the picture. 

  • 64% of people use site search because they are ready to buy 
  • 43% of users on retail websites go directly to the search bar vs. putzing around shopping your website
  • Consumers who use search are 2.4x more likely to buy and they spend 2.6x more than customers who don’t use search. 
  • 39% of purchasers are influenced by relevant search and 12% of users will bounce to a competitor’s site after a poor search experience. 

If you want to learn more about the power that site search has on eCommerce conversion and sales, check out this article that has a nice round-up of site search statistics for eCommerce

And I want you to think about how you shop on eCommerce sites. Sure, in some cases you’re gonna peruse and scroll to see what they have, but other times you’re going to start shopping knowing exactly what you’re looking for and want to find it as quickly as possible. And for most consumers, that’s how they shop on sites like Amazon. I mean, there’s a reason why their search bar is so big and obvious at the top of the screen – because they know that is typically how their consumer shops and how valuable those shoppers are. 

Sure, maybe sometimes people browse Amazon, but it’s likely way less often than on a typical eCommerce site. And yes, I realize you’re not Amazon – but the point is – an optimized search experience is really important and valuable for eCommerce businesses. 

Okay now that you’re convinced, let’s talk about what controls you have and the common ways you can improve the search function for your site visitors.

Now before you can optimize the search results you need to understand the Shopify search engine. 

Understanding the Shopify Site Search Engine

The engine, by default, will search products, pages, and posts. And then within those different content types, there are different fields that are looked at. 

For products, it’s titles for parent products and variants, description, product type, product vendor, product, tag, variant barcode, and variant sku. 

For pages, it’s title and body, and for articles, it’s title, body, author, and tag. 

Some themes either give you a choice of which content types you want to search or they will limit it to products only.  

Additionally, by default, the Shopify site search engine has typo tolerance, which means it will include items that differ from the search term by 1 letter or have 2 letters in a different order. This doesn’t kick in unless the first 4 letters are correct and it doesn’t work with product tags. 

If the search terms are included in one of the other fields mentioned earlier you’re fine, but if it’s only in a tag for some reason the typo tolerance won’t work and it’s also only supported when English is the theme language. 

If you want to learn more about how the front-end Shopify search works, here is their documentation

How to Optimize Your eCommerce Site Search

Now that you understand what data Shopify is already looking at, now we can work through how to optimize that. And while you can certainly revisit your product titles, descriptions, and tags for this there are also some back-end optimizations you can do that don’t change the content on the front end of your website at all. 

In a typical search optimization strategy, you have 5 main tactics that you can use. 

Some of these are not necessarily functions of the Shopify app. They might be theme specific or require a 3rd party app that does support the feature. 

I’ll let you know the details as we go through, but ultimately I say if it’s extra and not included by default, it may be a nice to have vs. a necessity so don’t feel like you have to implement it just because you heard it mentioned here.

Synonyms & Misspelled Words for Site Search

First up, synonyms and misspelled words. And yes, this is available in the Shopify Search & Filter app. This is pretty obvious. Essentially, you’re just telling the site search engine that if someone searches for one word, it also means another word. 

In my previous day job, we had A LOT of synonyms and a lot of misspelled words. We would update this weekly based on what was getting zero search results or common searches that we saw coming through. 

When it comes to adding synonyms for your site search, think about not only the product itself and how people describe them but also the way they would describe a color, the way they would write out sizes, etc. 

As I mentioned, you do have typo tolerance by default, but more intentional synonyms for misspelled words certainly don’t hurt. 

For example, pants could also be trousers or slacks. Ugh, I hate the word slacks! Or, maybe you sell products with profanity on them. My favorite kind of products! Then you may want to create a synonym for profanity, swears, and curses. 

If you sell t-shirts, maybe you spell it t hyphen shirt in your product name, but then your customer comes and searches for a tee as in t e e. 

Maybe you add your product sizes as X-Large but the customer is searching for XL. 

Or maybe you list something as burgundy, but the customer is searching for maroon. 

Speaking of colors, one quick note about that. When you’re adding filters to your store, which is not really what we’re talking about today, but when you do that. If you sell products that have specific color names from your vendors like raspberry, merlot, or jet black. You can use those names for the variant, but group those all together for your filters into classic names like Red, Black, Yellow, etc. If you have a handful of metallics, maybe not enough to separate silver from gold, you can group them together. And the same thing with prints. Maybe it’s all prints, or you group stripes, florals, animal prints, etc. 

When it comes to search synonyms there is a lot that can be done here and it might be a big project at the beginning – but then it just becomes a maintenance thing. 

You may also want to get in the habit of adding common synonyms or misspellings as you add new products as part of that initial workflow. 

If you’re not sure where to start, there are two reports inside Shopify that you can look at. One is called top online store searches and the other is top online store searches with no results. 

These reports are a great way to not only identify what synonyms and misspellings you may need to focus on but also what products might be a good addition to your store. 

Product Boosts for Site Search Results

Product boosts are another feature of the Shopify search and filter app. This lets you push specific products to the top of the search results. This is a great option if you have a lot of evergreen products and maybe your new items tend to get buried by your bestsellers. Or maybe you’ve got an item that just doesn’t seem to move and it’s possibly because it just hasn’t gotten enough attention. 

Visual Product Listings in Search Results

Next up are visual recommendations inside the search results. This is just where it shows mini-product listings inside the search results. So instead of the customer having to be redirected to a product grid or search results page, the most relevant items will appear as they’re searching. 

This is typically theme related though there are probably apps you can use to add this functionality. It’s not something that can be turned on through the Shopify app though. 

Predictive Search

Then we have predictive search. This is just like when you search Google, as you start to type, Google will give you search suggestions. This is the same for product search on your eCommerce website. This is also theme specific and you might already have this functionality in your store.

Redirects

And then lastly, are redirects. This is something we used A LOT in my previous day job, but it’s not native to the Shopify search app and if you have a good set of synonyms it’s probably not necessary, but essentially, it’s where you set a specific collection or page you want someone to go to when they search for a specific term. 

How to Optimize the Search Results Page

Now that you’re showing your customers the most relevant search results, you’ll want to make sure they can easily filter and sort the results they’ve got. We’re not going to go into all the details of that here, I’ll add that to the to-record list, but essentially you want to make sure that once they get to the page of search results they easily filter it even further if they need to. 

I already touched on how to properly create color filters above, but you’ll also want to think about adding filters for price, reviews, and product availability. 

If you need to add custom filters that aren’t available through native Shopify filters you can use meta fields to create those. For instance, if you want to want to create a filter for fabric options. Prior to Shopify 2.0, you did this with product tags, but now it’s done with meta fields. 

How to Get More People to Use the Search Field

Now that we know how much more valuable searchers are and we’ve got our results optimized, how do we actually get more people to use the search function?

Well, that really comes down to visibility. 

As I mentioned earlier, there is a reason why Amazon’s search bar is so big. And if you look at most larger websites they all have a similar size search bar, even on mobile

I haven’t personally come across a Shopify theme that has a search bar like that, it usually just has the magnifying glass option – but in most cases that will be fine. The biggest thing to look out for is that on mobile, ideally your search isn’t hidden in the menu. 

That’s going to be theme specific. I know Impulse by Archetype which is one of my go-to themes has the search icon front and center on mobile. 

Of course, this is something you can change with the help of a developer. Is it going to revolutionize your business? Probably not, so I wouldn’t worry too much about it right away. But if you do have a really big product assortment it’s something you might want to consider for the future. 

Summary

Just in case you tuned out somewhere along the way, let’s bring it back and do a quick recap. 

Consumers who use search are 2.4x more likely to buy and they spend 2.6x more than customers who don’t use search. 

As an eCommerce entrepreneur with a wide assortment of products, it’s in your best interest to spend some time optimizing the search experience on your website. 

Get started with the Shopify search and discovery app so you can implement synonyms and product boosts. Use the zero results search report and the popular searches report to figure out what might need to be optimized. 

Check your theme to see if you already have predictive search and/or product listings in your search results. You’re likely to have more functionality if you’re on a Shopify 2.0 theme. 

If you think you need more functionality like redirects and product recommendations, look into a more advanced search app. 

Don’t forget to include filters and sorting for your results to make it easier for the customer to find what they’re looking for, and then lastly try and make your search function as easy to find as possible. 

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Jessica Totillo Coster of eCommerce Badassery eating gelato on stairs in Rome Italy

Hey, I'm Jessica eCommerce & Email Marketing Strategist

I support scrappy female entrepreneurs with actionable steps & strategies to grow and scale the traffic, sales & profit in their eCommerce businesses. Learning from the top experts in the digital marketing & eCommerce industry I love working with female entrepreneurs and teaching the secrets of 7-figure eCommerce businesses.

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