Search Optimization 101 – Reducing business risk by optimizing search
Over the past few weeks, our friend Charlie Hull from OpenSource Connections – the experts when it comes to Search Optimization – has answered some of the key questions when it comes to Search Optimization:
- How do I know that my search is broken?
- What does it mean if my search is broken?
- How do you fix a broken search?
Today, we are finishing off our Search Optimization Series by looking at the importance of search optimization in order to reduce business risk.
I’m Charlie Hull of OpenSource Connections and I’ve been helping companies build better search engines for twenty years. I’m going to help you find out if your search engine is broken – and perhaps help you fix it!
In my previous blog I wrote about some ways to optimize and fix a broken site search. You will have noticed that some of these ideas will involve significant work – even finding the problems, categorizing and prioritizing them will take some time. Fixing today’s problems is only the start: as data, user behavior and the wider world changes over time you’ll need to put in place a constant process of tuning and optimization, backed by testing.
But why bother?
Surely once you’ve fixed some of those larger problems, the smaller ones won’t matter as much?
If users can’t find what they need, they’ll just try again, surely?
Alternatively, perhaps they could browse your site and find the items they want that way, rather than searching?
We could hope that the above is true, but ignoring a broken search introduces several different kinds of risk to your business.
1. Losing to the competition.
You’ve probably spent a significant amount of time and money on SEO to drive users to your site from the major search engines. Unfortunately, so have your competitors!
If you can’t provide the information a user is looking for, quickly and accurately, then they’ll simply leave and go somewhere else. In today’s connected world there’s always another option – from your direct competitors to the global giants such as Amazon.
Once your users are on your site, you need to work hard to retain them and great search is one way to do this.
2. Damaging your reputation.
A broken search reflects badly on your business overall – if you can’t provide a good search user experience, why should your users trust you to provide timely delivery, good after-sales service or user relations?
Bad search can be hugely frustrating for users: it gives the impression that you don’t understand them and don’t care enough about their needs. Consider a physical store: if the automatic doors didn’t work, or the floor was dirty, would you want to buy food there?
Your search engine may be one of the first things your users interact with when they encounter your business and its quality (or lack thereof) will leave a lasting impression.
3. Not trusting the results.
Accuracy is highly important to build trust – it shows that understanding of a user’s needs and your ability to save them time.
In e-commerce you may want to present high-value products at the top of the list (make sure they match what the user searched for though, an expensive but incorrect result isn’t helpful) – simply put, good search can drive sales and bad search can lose you money.
4. Not maximizing the opportunity.
If you know what a user is searching for and you can record this behavior along with what they purchase, you can learn what other products or services they might like and present them as recommendations.
This allows you to cross-sell products, give them special offers and help maximize how much they spend with you. If your search isn’t being measured correctly you don’t really understand your customers.
5. Not keeping up.
Remember that your users, data and the wider world will all change over time – and if you don’t keep up with search optimisation you will fall behind the curve.
An effective search tuning strategy allows you to constantly adapt as behavior changes, add new items to your website and make sure they are findable and to be very sure of the impacts of any enhancements or new features you add.
An optimized search engine helps you maximize the value of many other investments you make – from SEO, to website design, to product catalog management, to producing high-quality products to sell. It’s true to say that if you can’t find something online, it’s almost like it doesn’t exist.
I hope you’ve found this series of blog posts useful and it helps you build great search for your site!
Here are some key points to take away:
- There are lots of ways your search can be broken – make sure you understand where your site does well and where it needs to improve.
- If you aren’t measuring search, you don’t know what’s wrong with it – and you can’t make it better.
- Prioritize any improvements by the value they’ll deliver – you can’t fix everything straight away.
- Work as a team and communicate – fixing search is a shared problem.
- Make sure you have the freedom to make changes and experiment – but test your changes for impact.
- Not fixing search can introduce many different kinds of risk to your business.