Published on February 6th, 2018
Site search has traditionally been ignored by marketers and relegated to IT departments.
While modern CMS solutions have made it easy for non-technical marketers to build and maintain them, the search feature still lives in the realm of IT or web development and is often ignored by everyone except one important group: your website visitors.
However, recent advances in behavioral analytics and artificial intelligence have been revolutionary for on-site search software, enabling marketers to create more compelling (and friendly) customer experiences.
To support customer engagement with relevant pieces of content, a new class of advanced site search engines is emerging.
It offers improvements like intuitive interfaces, automatic relevance adjustments, behavioral analytics, and predictive features to help site visitors find the exact information they are looking for.
Site Search is quickly becoming a new medium of digital conversation.
Why Should You Care About Site Search?
Site search is one of the most important ways to communicate with and understand the behaviors of website visitors.
On average, 1 in 3 visitors to a website will use the search function to find specific content they are looking for.
These visitors are more likely to convert versus a user who browses using standard site navigation.
This is because site search users tend to be “objective focused.” In other words, they are looking for something specific and are telling you in their own language what they want.
This is borne out by the conversion metrics available from site search.
In a recent study of eCommerce sites, visitors that used search on a site converted at 4.63% versus the websites’ average of 2.77%. That's 1.8 times more effective and consequently, these visitors went on to contribute 13.8% of the revenue to these sites.
Despite this, site search continues to be ignored by many as a marketing solution.
The result is visitors finding a varied mix of content based literally on the keyword they entered, and in some cases, nothing at all. It’s not what they want or actually need.
This usually results in frustration for the user, as well as a missed opportunity for the marketer.
Given the increased focus on content marketing across all industries and the rapid rise in spending on content creation, marketers are missing a golden opportunity to deliver highly relevant and compelling content directly to their target audiences with site search.
It’s a home-field advantage that cannot be overstated, yet is chronically underserved by “passive” search tools that lack the intelligence being need in every aspect of the digital customer journey.
The Elephant in the Room Just Walked Out
One of the main reasons more focus has not been placed on the development of better on-site search technology has been the elephant in the room -- Google.
As an industry leader that controls over 60% of the national market share, and a brand name that is almost synonymous with the act of internet search itself, it has traditionally been a daunting task to compete with Google’s site search offerings.
Google Site Search (GSS) has largely been the go-to option when looking for a site search utility. Inexpensive and easily available, to date it has been the most utilized tool in the market.
However, while GSS has the Google pedigree behind it, it has always been a relatively mediocre tool from a marketing perspective.
With no manual control over the ranking of results and the relative lack of access to actual human tech support, Google Site Search worked well enough for basic sites but stopped short of being the type of flexible and powerful solution that greatly enhanced the website user experience or empowered marketing teams.
However, Google announced the discontinuation of Google Site Search and Search Appliance, with all their strengths and shortcomings, by April 2018.
In their place, the search giant is offering the new Google Custom Search, however, Custom Search contains a host of unsatisfactory features, such as the visual disconnect of the search display from the rest of the site, and a lack of control over the customization of results.
Even worse the new Google solution is 100% ad supported. Ads from across the internet appear in your search results, some of which might even be from competitors.
The end of these Google search products has suddenly left a vast number of organizations worldwide scrambling to find an effective replacement to continue with, but from an evolutionary perspective, this is a blessing in disguise.
With most of Google’s popular on-site search products retired, the gap is being filled with intuitive new search solutions from providers that offer more features based on customer preferences, data analytics, and the ease of implementation.
The Rise of “Guided” Search
Recent advances in behavioral analytics and front-end software development have created increased interest in creating more compelling customer experiences.
To support customer engagement with specific pieces of content that are relevant to them, a nascent category of “guided” on-site search engines is emerging.
The Benefits of Guided Search:
- Provides both users and marketers with visible options for clarifying and refining queries.
- Enables users to filter their searches to get more focused results.
- Serves up results in an intelligently categorized layout that leads directly to the information they are looking for.
- Enables the marketer to pre-define aspects of the user path via behavioral analytics, and allows them to manually rank and modify the results being served on their sites.
- Allows both the marketer and the user to search using complex search terms
Guided search is especially useful in providing context and structure to large volumes of content.
It’s more of a discovery tool than a mere search tool, as it covers different dimensions of your site’s content, allowing users to understand what is available across your site and reveals content they may not have been conscious of.
It also narrows down results into different dimensions to easily review and select what is actually relevant to them.
Overall, the use of a guided search offers a solution to marketers who are constantly dealing with irrelevant search results.
For example, with guided search, marketers can learn how particular bits of content relate to others by following them down the search funnel.
This knowledge can be used to leverage lesser-known content by tying it to more popular search terms.
This way marketers can have a significant amount of influence on the user journey within their search.
Artificial Intelligence: The New Search Frontier
One of the key elements that make guided search possible is artificial intelligence (AI) technologies, such as machine learning.
This cognitive technology has given us the ability to create autonomous systems that can recognize links between search words and common queries, as well as learn and improve themselves based on the feedback of previous search results.
Site search engines essentially become smarter with every new user interaction. They learn about user-intent, queries, and concepts with greater speed, efficiency, and less human error.
The application of machine learning has been revolutionary for on-site search software; it offers a long list of improvements such as intuitive relevance adjustments, behavioral analytics, and predictive features that provide results users did not even know they needed.
Some of the effects of machine learning on-site search are:
- Improved result ranking
- Greater relevance
- Clearer query understanding, with classification of intent
- Spelling error detection and suggestions
- Identification of relevant synonyms
- Clearer page/document classification
- In-depth understanding of user behavior and journey
AI-driven search: A rich marketing resource
The rich customer data delivered by machine learning engines is a powerful resource marketers can tap into.
AI-driven search isn’t just an autonomous system providing continuous enhancements within the user journey, it can also offer deep insights into user behavior.
As mentioned earlier, while search results will experience a drastic improvement in quality and relevance, along with greater personalization, marketers can also use it to better understand their customers and manually tweak search engine settings to their advantage.
AI-powered search provides marketers with predictive knowledge that helps them make sense out of the masses of data from subsites, content, channels, and more—and apply it to identify user intent, trends in behavior, and successful content.
Relevance is updated automatically and search results are kept at optimal quality, giving them more time to spend on other tasks such as content creation and refinement.
In the long run, with all of these capabilities, AI-driven guided search can save marketing and IT teams hours trying to analyze and optimize their website content.
Marketers can take advantage of data mined from search analytics and user journeys to learn more about customer behavior and model marketing prospects against predicted customer needs.
Buying A Search Solution
Despite its technicality, modern marketing and content teams should have more claim to the tool than other departments because they are the ones who understand their target users and can best determine what pages should ideally show up at the top of the search results.
The search solution you select for your website should have the perfect mix of intelligent autonomy and customizable features so that you have control over your search engine.
When evaluating site search solution to find ones that offer you a guided experience and superior relevance, you should look for several key characteristics:
1. Ease of implementation
Contrary to popular belief, on-site search implementation and maintenance need not be a technical process executed only by developers.
With the ease and flexibility of software-as-a-service (SaaS) solutions, the implementation of on-premise search solutions with the accompanying complications and expense of hardware installation, maintenance and support staff, is rapidly becoming a less attractive option.
However, with this, all the technical work can potentially be handled by the search provider, so you won’t have to fuss around with the development team every time something needs to be examined or updated.
2. Powerful relevance engines
A good on-site search solution needs to be powerful enough to effectively rank pages according to the relevance for the user.
Many basic on-site searches, like those built into a CMS lack this functionality.
Results are often ranked based on a wide variety of undefinable criteria, with disorganized results appearing from across the site. This makes results less focused and relevant to the query -- and frankly less useful.
A good on-site search engineshould have an advanced technology base, preferably one that is machine learning-driven, that can automatically deliver results that are focused and highly relevant.
3. Design Customization
Ideally, your search solution should make it easy to customize the visual presentation and results on your website.
The search input bar and results page should not stand apart from the overall design of the website. They should be tightly integrated visually to create a seamless experience for the user.
A well-built solution should offer the option of both in-line or overlay search presentation and allow you to customize the colors, fonts, and other visual attributes of your search to match the website.
4. Easy-to-use tools
With the aforementioned rise of SaaS search solutions, simpler solutions with more user-friendly interfaces are being built on-top of advanced search technology platforms to provide a solution that is not just powerful, but accessible to all.
Rather than relying on your web development team to tweak the search engine, newer SaaS search solutions enable marketers to directly monitor and adjust their solution in real time via an intuitive non-technical interface.
Ongoing tasks like adjusting results rankings, removing old content that is no longer pertinent, adding uncommon keywords as synonyms to search terms, or creating separate engines for different areas of a website, are now easy for site managers or marketers to go in and adjust manually.
A good on-site search solution should at least provide basic tools, such as page ranking, spell check, and synonyms.
More advanced customization tools you may want include facets, search boosting, and banners that allow you to create a site search experience that guides users down a pathway of discovery and increases successful conversions.
5. Actionable Analytics
Search is more than just a customer facing tool -- it’s also an enable marketers to make data-driven decisions.
Look for powerful analytics and reporting dashboards that can save you time by guide you o the most relevant behavioral data for visitors to your sites.
A thoughtfully-constructed search analytics platform should give you the actionable insights you need to better understand your visitors, custom rank your search results, and continually refine the quality and relevance of your web content.
6. Human Support
When Google reigned over the site search industry, one of its few, unfortunate flaws was its lack of customer support.
No matter how user-friendly a solution is, it is always reassuring to have the support of the tech provider to help with any implementation, maintenance, or optimization issues.
A good relationship between the provider and the customer is reciprocal. As providers answer questions and issue resolutions, customers, in turn, can provide constructive feedback to further improve their solution.
Direct phone and email support are the gold standards in the search industry and is often a crucial factor in ongoing customer satisfaction.
Optimizing the Customer Journey with Intelligent Search
on-site search should not be considered a “nice to have,” but recognized as a vital aspect of the user experience, brimming with information and opportunity for marketing and content teams.
Only when you understand what motivates your users to make the choices they do on your site, can you provide the best experience for them.
An intelligent, guided search solution can deliver profound behavioral and psychographic insights to understand these.
The data collected can reveal much about your user’s behavior and intent, as well as the obstacles they experience on your site.
Properly utilizing search and user profile data, and experimenting with the search results, will bring a wealth of benefits to accelerate your marketing strategy.
Plus, you can combine data from on-site search with that from other areas such as social media, purchases, and more, to construct detailed user profiles.
It will enable you to personalize and contextualize the user journey, once again, providing an enriching experience that enhances brand engagement and loyalty, turning curious users into loyal followers.
About Cludo Site Search & Insights
Cludo is a powerful search & insights engine that optimizes the way organizations and their customers connect with and use information.
Our easy-to-use site search platform empowers you to easily customize and gain deep insights from your website’s search functionality.
Unlike passive search, our unique platform enables you to custom rank and prioritize search results, automatically creating an intelligently guided search experience for website visitors.
Headquartered in Copenhagen, with offices in Minneapolis and London, Cludo’s intelligent search & insights SaaS product is compatible with any website, and backed by an exceptional commitment to customer happiness. For more information visit www.cludo.com