Content Management Systems (CMS) provide many advantages to the average website that weren’t available previously. One feature that I appreciate is the site search engine. Just to be clear, I am referring to the search field that is in a website and searches only your website content (with a few exceptions which aren’t important for this discussion), not a web search engine like Google and Bing. In the past, if you wanted a search field on your website you had 3 choices.
Free: Free site search engines almost always had their brand on your pages which is a big turn-off when you are trying to run a business. These often had limitations as well, like results pages that were in their domain and limited styling. If you were lucky to find an open source search without branding then you would be even luckier if it actually worked. You could fix it yourself, sometimes (I’ve tried), but any upgrades or security changes could break it again so fixes were usually not worth the cost. Many of the free site search engines that weren’t open source were just the entry level version to a paid product. They had no interest in making it better because they wanted you to upgrade and spend money.
Low-cost: There were a couple of low-cost options for site search engines but they only had basic functionality. I used more than one that was hacked through loopholes and permanently stopped working after security upgrades. Every site search engine I used had it’s share of bugs to work around as well. Like the free versions, many were just the entry level version to a higher-cost product. They had no interest in making it better because they wanted you to upgrade and spend money.
High-cost: There was a wide price-gap between low-cost and the next step up. The vast bulk of the site search engines that had decent functionality, reasonable reliability and the ability to customize the look and feel, also had a price tag to match. Often hundreds to thousands of dollars a month.
Site search engines that are part of a CMS like WordPress and Joomla have better features than some of the expensive site searches did in the past with basic features like search logging, ability to search or block pages, results page templates and more. On top of all that, the site searches are just better at finding and displaying information.
Unfortunately, even with all the improvements, if you don’t use them or you don’t maintain the search, then it’s not going to do much good. Here are a couple ways to help your site search engine generate sales.
Reindex your site search.
Most site search engines will automatically index new content but that doesn’t mean that they catch everything. Most have a “re-index” button and I have had to use it when new content was missed. This usually only takes a minute or two so you won’t lose anything by re-indexing now and then. If you don’t, the first time you will hear of a problem will be when a customer calls and says they couldn’t find something that you know is there. The inevitable question is then “how many customers just went somewhere else?”.
Look for keywords/phrases that identify areas for growth.
Most, if not all site search engines have a feature called “search logging”. This is when they record the key words and/phrases that were searched and how often they were typed in. This is a great feature for e-commerce sites because you can see if people are searching for a product or service that you don’t offer but would fit in nicely with what you do offer. My customers have used search logging to identify holes are in their product line and then they filled the hole with products that became best sellers.
Look for keywords/phrases that are finding the wrong pages or no pages.
Another great feature of most search logging areas is the report of what results are shown for each search. What you see is the keyword or phrase that was typed in, how many times it was used over a specific time period and the number of results shown on the results page, if any results were found. If you look through the information and find a term that fits a product you have but the search results are zero then you can probably fix the problem by simply adding some keywords to the product description, metatags or wherever the search engine looks. This is especially important when someone is looking for a product that is slightly outdated and not carried anymore. If you can show the new model you have a better chance at making the sale.
Make sure your templates work.
This seems like a no-brainer but it’s a common problem. Once the web site gets up business owners rarely check to make sure the search is working so when I get a request for help, no one knows how long it was broken. Search fields are one of the most common items to break in a security upgrade because the form field and database connections are commonly exploited. Run a search after upgrades and occasionally between upgrades just to make sure everything is working smoothly.
Why is this important?
People who browse through your pages are like people who wander through stores at the mall. They may purchase but the conversion rate is not high. People who search for a particular item are more focused and the general intent is to purchase, just as if they walked into a store and asked for the location of a product. These are your customers that spend money. Sure, they could browse through your site and find the product, after all, you spent time trying to make the navigation simple. However, not everyone browses. Many people go straight for the search field to find what they are looking for.
Also, a search could mean that the customer is getting frustrated because they couldn’t find what they were looking for through browsing. The search is the last step before leaving to look somewhere else.
Out of all the parts of a website to maintain, the site search is fairly easy but can have a big impact. Make sure you pay attention to it.