The Online Concierge – Intelligent Site Search

By Mark Brixton | 07 Nov 2011

Consumer expectations of the online experience have matured and so too have the technologies. Mark Brixton explains how to give your customers what they want, when they want it, maximising the opportunities for conversion.

Not only is site search crucial to your online offering, with research indicating approximately 50 percent of people prefer to use site search compared to navigating a website, but intelligent site search offers a premium service, much like a hotel concierge.

Intelligent site search means you can give your customers exactly what they want, when they want it with added extras that make their visit all the more pleasurable – reducing the likelihood of them bouncing from your site and increasing the opportunity for conversion.

As consumer expectations of the online experience mature, so too have the technologies allowing businesses to provide a comprehensive and fulfilling online offering. Site search has evolved to go beyond the haphazard listing of results and the various tools and technologies available now allow site search to provide a rich, contextual, targeted experience, that can be beneficial to both the consumer and business alike.

One of the most basic expectations from consumers is a speedy return of results. AJAX technologies have obliterated the need to wait and allow the processing and delivery of information almost instantaneously. Prior to Web 2.0, searches usually required communication between a website and server, resulting in a lag in the delivery of results. However AJAX technology works within the web browser and deals with the requests asynchronously, independent of any interaction with the server. This means that site search enhanced with AJAX technology doesn’t require a page refresh each time a customer searches, selects a refinement, or goes to the next page. Only the data that is needed is requested, meaning that less data is sent to the browser and results appear faster, resulting in a better user experience.

Another basic site search expectation is the return of relevant results. Our research indicates that 73 percent of customers will leave a site within two minutes if they can’t find what they are searching for, indicating the window of opportunity to capture and keep a consumer on your website is limited.  As its name suggests, learning search technology (patented by SLI Systems) enables your site search to continually ‘learn’ from previous visitor searches. The technology tracks visitors’ aggregated search queries and click-throughs, and uses this data to deliver search results based on popularity.

Continuing on the path of popularity, the social aspect of the online experience, such as social sharing, ratings and reviews are becoming increasingly important online factors to consumers. With search-giant Google also moving to include social media results in its own search results, this is an indicator of the importance given to this content by both consumers and search engines alike.

Intelligent site search should integrate consumer-generated media content from social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter. This is not only likely to positively influence the likelihood of conversions, but encourage further interaction and the organic marketing of your brand through these channels by your visitors. Taking it one step further, some site search functions will also allow social ‘likes’ to influence the actual ranking of search results.

Merchandising takes intelligent site search to the next level – this concept relies on the afore-mentioned learning search and allows businesses to structure site search results according to strategic pre-determined rules. Site search merchandising may involve:

  • Highlighting and adjusting product position within the search results based on defined options and rules.
  • The ability to control search result ordering to match your site objectives.
  • Define custom landing pages for specific high use search queries.
  • Control the placement of banners on search results pages to highlight specific promotional activities.
  • Up-sell and cross-sell products with dynamic banners, related products, and related searches.

These tactics mean that you can incorporate your own merchandising strategy, making site search work for you to achieve wider business strategies.

Finally, perhaps the channel through which intelligent site search will become most crucial is in the exploding mobile space. Nielsen and PayPal’s Customer Monitor 2011 report recently reported that 42 percent of Australians own a smartphone, with 96% using the internet to research prior to purchase.

Given the limited screen real estate and typing functionality of mobile devices, and varying data speeds from mobile providers, site search presents the ideal interface to navigate through a mobile site. Intelligent site search for mobile devices, depending on your type of business, should incorporate easy to use buttons and navigation options, thumbnail product images optimised for fast delivery of results, easily viewable product ratings and reviews and integration with your shopping cart.

These are just a few of the high-level elements that can contribute to developing your site search into a concierge for your online business.

There are many other elements of site search that contribute to its effectiveness and add to the user experience, such as the inclusion of refinement options, images, videos and rich auto-complete tools. Your main consideration should be to continually identify the trends that are relevant to your consumer base and customise your site search offering based on these preferences.

Additionally a reputable site search SaaS provider will be able to assist you with the implementation of these tools, as well as help you build, manage and maintain your site search, ensuring that it remains a cutting-edge technology and fulfils the role of being your website’s concierge.

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