How on-site search can drive holiday revenue & help e-commerce sites compete against major retailers

This holiday season is set to break a new record, with online sales reaching beyond $100 billion, according to Adobe’s recent predictions. Following Black Friday and Cyber Monday outcomes, most of that revenue will be divided among Amazon and a handful of large-scale e-commerce sites, including Walmart, Target and Best Buy.

With so many dollars at stake, there is still a sizeable amount of market share available for smaller online retailers. But what can e-commerce sites do to compete with the likes of Amazon or Walmart?

An optimized on-site search platform could very well be the answer to capturing more conversions and driving more sales during the holidays. Unfortunately, many e-commerce sites may be missing the boat by not paying enough attention to their on-site search efforts.

How on-site search impacts revenue

According to SLI Systems, which offers an AI-powered e-commerce solution, visitors who use on-site search make purchases at a 2.7x greater rate than website visitors who only browse products. If searchers have indicated exactly what they want — specifying a color, size or material within their query — SLI Systems says it’s the e-commerce site’s job to quickly deliver the product that best matches their search.

“Don’t make these folks navigate their way to what they want. No extra clicks. You’ll likely lose them even if you have a great price and an amazing free shipping offer,” says Bob Angus, an e-commerce consultant, in a post on SLI System’s company blog.

Eli Finkelshteyn, founder and CEO of on-site search platform Construtor.io, says most of the of the on-site search market is still predominantly made up of companies that have built platforms in-house.

“I think there’s an erroneous belief among a lot of companies that search is really core to what they do,” says Finkelshteyn.

“At the end of the day, I think, for e-commerce websites, they’ve got things they need to build themselves, that no one can help them with — things like merchandising, making sure you have the lowest prices, quick delivery, that you have the product that customers want — but search is adjacent to that.”

Finkelshteyn says companies need to make sure their on-site search is optimized so that consumers find the products they want.

“I think that’s notoriously difficult to do,” says Finkelshteyn.

With an on-site search function, you may only be serving up a limited number of results. If a consumer is searching your site for a specific product, Finkelshteyn says it is imperative your on-site search knows how to deliver the most relevant products.

The technology driving an optimized on-site search experience

Constructor.io’s platform incorporates a number of technologies, including the integration of machine learning to improve personalized auto-suggestion results.

“Typo-tolerance is automatic with us. We do that using phonetic and typo-graphic dissonances,” says Finkelshteyn, “What that means, essentially, is that we’re mapping how a word is pronounced to the canonical word in your data set.”

For example, if someone is searching for a Kohler faucet but enters a search for Koler — they will receive the correct product match.

Finkelshteyn says another fairly common on-site search challenge is typographical misspellings — when someone simply enters a typo. An effective on-site search platform should be able to recognize common misspellings and still surface relevant products.

On-site search from a brand’s point of view

Dennis Goedegebuure serves as the VP of growth and SEO for sporting apparel company Fanatics. The company operates more than 300 online and offline partner stores. A portion of those stores handle the e-commerce business for all major professional and sports leagues.

“I work very closely with the on-site search teams to make sure the sites differentiate themselves with the offers we give our users,” says Goedegebuure.

The VP of growth says on-site search plays a crucial role in Fanatics’ e-commerce business.

“When you capture a visit, you would like to offer your customer the best selection. So making sure they get the best selection at the best price for the best value to make the sale is obviously top priority,” says Goedegebuure.

According to Goedegebuure, it’s not only about product competition, but the competition among online retailers for share of wallet.

“The customer only has a certain amount of money to spend, you would like to make sure they spend it with you.”

Goedegebuure’s teams are constantly running tests to fine-tune their sites’ on-site search functions.

“We’re running a bunch of experiments all the time, from sizing of the pictures to the little icons that we add to the search, to sort-order, to the number of items in the search result page,” says Goedegebuure. “We’re running constant experiments to find an optimal configuration of our search and to improve the conversions we get out of the traffic.”

According to Goedegebuure, the on-site search tests his teams are running have helped identify a definite sweet-spot for the number of items displayed in search results, as well as determining how the sizing of a picture can impact conversion rates.

On-site search for the holidays

In terms of holiday preparation, Goedegebuure says Fanatics on-site search algorithms may be tweaked to align with holiday promotions.

“If we have a brand on sale — like our own Fanatics brand — these might be pushed up to the top because there are better pricing points,” says Goedegebuure, “If an item goes off sale, you need to adjust for that.”

Finkelshteyn says one of the major on-site search mistakes he sees companies making this time of year is failing to refresh their index rankings.

“If you have a search index with rankings you’ve built over the last year, you still might be optimizing for searches that are not really seasonal right now,” says Finkelshteyn, “For example, if somebody searches for the word ‘blanket’ during the summer, you probably want to give them a beach blanket. If somebody searches for the word ‘blanket’ during the winter, you probably want to give them a warm blanket.”

Whether your company has built its on-site search platform in-house or is using a vendor platform, making sure it is optimized for the holiday e-commerce surge should be a top priority. As we enter the final days of the shopping season, there is still much revenue up for grabs.

Adobe’s latest reports found that holiday e-commerce had reached $50 billion by the end of November, leaving more than $50 billion of its predicted $100 billion in revenue to be claimed by the year’s end.

For many e-commerce companies, fine-tuning their on-site search algorithms may be the most profitable move they could make this holiday season — and beyond.

[This article first appeared on Marketing Land.]

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