Growing reliance on search engines to find everything from discounted merchandise and movie times to the latest scoop on the hottest restaurants is changing more than Google’s stock price. Users accustomed to using search to quickly meet their information needs are increasing their reliance on site search as a means of navigation and browsing. This has significant implications on everything from site design to metrics tracking.
Historically, reliance on site search was often an indicator that primary navigation was lacking in relevancy, or content was buried too deep on the site. If you couldn’t easily browse to what you are looking for, site search was the backup. Add some meta tags and you were done. But those results were poorly formatted, hard to quickly scan, and often lacking in relevancy. Rarely were the results tied to other onsite behavior or profile.
Optimizing search results, from visual presentation to the underlying content structure, provides new opportunities to engage users in a more relevant, personal manner. From delivering a more dynamic UI based on search term to categorizing results by theme, search can be a transformative experience. And while growth in on-site search may never be your end performance goal, this does present an opportunity to better engage users that are searching on your site.
Three Keys to Enhancing Results Presentation and Relevancy
Integrate images and video into results:
- For almost all organizations, significant amounts of time and effort are investing in creating a rich user experience for standard pages and templates. However, search results often seem to get the short end of the design treatment. Why should search results be presented in a long, complex list that is exceedingly difficult to scan and digest? Using images and videos can quickly make the page more engaging, providing additional context and guidance to visitors. Images can help differentiate products in a way that standard navigation cannot do. Video goes a step further, providing immediate context and messaging. Transition your results into a unique, dynamic page that is more aligned with the rest of your site.
- Using attribute drilldowns or “check-offs” provides users a functional way to narrow down their search results in a manner that makes the most sense to them. Whether they are trying to find the best price, highest performing item, or most popular item, attribute-based searching allows users to navigate in a way that makes the most sense to them, regardless of how the site is organized. For large organizations with deep product catalogs, this is a critical component of increasing search relevance. For service or B2B organizations with less volume of results, consider distinguishing characteristics such as asset type (document, PDF, page, video), content type (case study, technical document), and industry. The most common selections can be used to rank results and better structure navigation across the site.
- Consider creating a tabbed system of results presentation to provide richer context to your information. Often, this can mirror your primary navigation, or the subcategories in each. For product companies, separating products, support, documentation, and reviews helps the user more easily find the specific asset they seek while also providing you additional insight into whether the visitor is a customer or prospect, and what they are trying to accomplish. This information can then be used to further build out your profile of the site visitor.
Whether you like it or not, site search is here to stay. And its importance is generally increasing. Take advantage of this trend by integrating search into your navigation, contextualizing the results and targeting the results. You may be pleasantly surprised at the amount of new options available for optimizing this channel.