Users engage with the internal site search to find products, content etc. and failing to provide a good search experience can result in lost conversions, sales, and ultimately non-returning customers.
Major websites prefer optimization for external search engines like Google, Yahoo, Baidu etc. We know very well that search engine optimization or SEO as it is fondly known is vital for bringing visitors to your website. But, what about the quality of the built-in search? Most of the time it has been the case that website owners overlook it.
In order to avoid such a situation, there exists few standard practices which can be put to use in order to strengthen your internal site search. Before opting for the practices, it is vital to understand two key information-retrieval terms which are used for evaluating the performance of a search engine. They help in better understanding the implications and tradeoffs of the techniques we will discuss further.
Let’s establish two metrics for internal site search performance
Precision is the percentage of retrieved search results that are relevant.
Recall is the percentage of all relevant results that the search system actually retrieves.
Techniques for Improving Internal Site Search
1. Improve the results manually
There are a number of commercial search engines available for integration with websites and intranets who offer features for manually improving common search queries. For you as a website owner to make better use of these features, routinely review the search logs and evaluate the results returned by your site search to frequent user queries.
At the time when your relevance algorithm fails to return items which you had considered highly relevant, manually indicate those items and surface them to the top of the search-results list for certain queries. You should be careful though about separating the manually promoted items into a “promoted” or “best bets” list when presenting the results.
Most of the time users ignore these just like they ignore pay-per-click ads on web search engines. You should integrate the manual hits with the search-engine–generated hits and present a single list to the users for best results.
2. Focus on curated search suggestions
Predictive search is a fantastic way to improve internal search experience for your users. It refers to displaying suggested queries right below the search box while users are still typing. Note that an unedited list of common queries from the search logs will not be helpful to the users.
You should take care of the fact that user queries may be misleading, inappropriate, and sometimes contain terms that have no results. You should suggest curated query terms that retrieve useful results. They can be based on your search logs or on your content’s descriptive metadata. You should also highlight those suggested-query terms that match the input query, so users can easily identify the similarity.
At the time of development, when you have an eCommerce expert or a PHP developer for hire, the predictive box should also show product results with photos to help users evaluate products rapidly.
3. Keep your focus on synonyms and alternative terms
It is given that users don’t formulate perfect queries in the search boxes. Sometimes it is the case that they don’t know the appropriate phrases or industry jargon. Sometimes they don’t know exactly what they’re looking for. This results in vague search terms put by the users.
Make sure that your website accommodates realistic user synonyms and alternative terminology. This should be taken care especially in the case of a website that is jargon heavy, industry specific, or technical. Make sure to review your search logs and look for synonyms that are not currently present in your content.
After that you can make synonym tables in your search engine where user search terms map to existing terminology which returns appropriate results.
4. Include variant word forms
Relevancy is the queen, if content is the king. Don’t just stuff random content for providing best search results. Make sure your words are relevant.
If someone searches for the term “marketing automation” on a website and the writers on the website had only used terms like “automated marketing solutions”, the search will not reap any results, even though lots of relevant articles on the site did match the information need, but it failed to match the exact query. A user might leave your website thinking that it did not have what they were looking for.
You can easily avoid this issue by considering a process called stemming. This process refers to removing endings or suffixes from words, and reducing them to their morphological ‘stem. This process is called suffix stripping. And it follows a set of given rules. Some examples of the rules include:
- if the word ends in ‘ed’, remove the ‘ed’
- if the word ends in ‘ing’, remove the ‘ing’
- if the word ends in ‘ly’, remove the ‘ly’
As an example, the words ‘reduction’, ‘reduce’, and ‘reducing’ would all be stemmed to reduc. So, in this case assume that Google uses stemming and a search for the word ‘reduction’ will also return results containing the word ‘reducing’.
You will find the stemming feature easily available in many commercial search products.
Do not forget that even though stemming helps in boosting recall, it also lowers precision by returning results which are not relevant, but happen to include the stem of a query word. For instance, if a user enters the search term“university”, it may also return “universal” because the two words share the same stem.
Deciding whether stemming is right for your website or not is an important factor.
5. Take care of misspellings
Having typos and misspellings is as common as sun. Notice why all big search engines offer a form of ‘Did you mean’ spelling corrections. Those suggestions for spellings are critical, but many site-search systems don’t support them.There are times when a user will forge ahead with a misspelled query, and you’ll need to meticulously handle the problem on your search-results page by offering a Did you mean link.
Improving search results and search features on your website will drastically improve your user experience. Your customers using the search feature on your website have had impeccable experience with search engines like Google. You definitely need to match these expectations if you want to win big over users.