Site Search: 4 User Experience Mistakes to Avoid, So You Can Convert More Customers

Site Search: 4 User Experience Mistakes to Avoid, So You Can Convert More Customers
“Excuse me sir, I’m looking for some cute red pumps, size seven, to go with the little black dress I just bought.”

What if 3 out of 10 people were to ask for the same red shoes, and they were 40% more likely to buy right away? But instead of bringing them what they requested, the sales agent brought them red handbags, red wallets and every other red item in the store or every shoe in the store, regardless of the color or size requested?

It probably wouldn’t surprise you if 73% of customers immediately left when facing a similar scenario using the search function on an ecommerce website.

Google calls these “I want to buy” moments and when you neglect to focus on this part of the customer experience, you’re essentially saying “No” to people who are trying to give you their money.

Let’s walk through some common site search mistakes to avoid, so you don’t have to drive away customers and continue to lose sales.

1. Making Customers Search for a Search Bar and Text

Having a site search bar sounds like an obvious feature to include on an ecommerce website. Sadly, what isn’t always obvious is where that search bar lives.

Here are some important considerations to make when designing your site search merchandising user experience:

i. Make Your Search Bar Prominent and Consistent
Large, obvious search bar

Image via

If your site search box isn’t easy to spot, you could be losing out on a lot of sales. That’s because “visitors who use the search bar are 5X more likely to purchase than visitors who don’t.” So, ensure that it’s in an easy to spot location and is in the same place on every page for consistency.

While the example above shows a large text box (a good UX feature), it could stand out more if the design included more contrast between the background colour of the site and the search box.

Internet retailer Black Forest Decor had a hunch that by optimizing its site search box, its conversions and revenue would go up. “Based on the conversion rates we were seeing in the old design, we easily concluded that getting more search queries would mean more sales,” says Jason Dupus, President, Black Forest Decor.

To test this theory, the company optimized the size and placement of the new search box. Plus, they tweaked the text on the search box from “go” to “find” and added color to the box and surrounding text to stand out from the rest of the page. Below is an image of the final design.

Site search optimization

Image via Conversion XL

The results were astounding. According to MarketingSherpa, the company saw:

  • 20% lift in conversions from on site search
  • 84% increase in average revenue per customer using search
  • 34% increase in web conversion rates  

Just imagine what similar tweaks on your site could do for your business.

ii. Ensure It’s Wide Enough for Long Strings of Text

The wider your site search box, the more room a customer has to fit their queries and make edits to the text if they made a mistake.

“For example, searches for things like electrical products which have long product codes can be harder [to edit or refine] when the text starts to disappear,” says Graham Charlton in this Econsultancy post.

2. Irrelevancy: I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For

If your search results aren’t relevant to what customers are seeking, or they have to type in multiple queries to find the right result, then you’ve got some work to do. has found roughly “56% of sites fail to handle synonyms and related search terms to popular product keywords. In these cases, they show their default popular products” which often aren’t related to the actual item the customer is seeking.

You can save your customers valuable time and keep them shopping on your site by using the following tactics:

Refining Keywords and Website Content

This ConversionXL post does a great job explaining how to mine your web analytics data to identify and refine keywords (e.g. creating synonyms and adding more related terms to the product) that have a high bounce or exit rate.

According to the same post, the shoe retailer was able to “improve its site search conversion rate by 82%, by enacting a weekly monitoring campaign of underperforming search terms, and adjusting the results accordingly.”

Refining keyword optimization

Image via ConversionXL

You’ll also want to consider updating your web content to include misspellings in your product descriptions – in case a customer makes a mistake when typing in their search query.

To determine what search queries are popular among your customers and whether there are too many irrelevant results, you should enable site search tracking in Google Analytics. Here’s a helpful article that explains how to install it on your site and which reports (like “refined keywords”) will help you make optimizations to assist your customers to immediately find what they’re seeking.

Fixing Dead Results Pages

“When it comes to e-commerce search, most websites focus on SKU's (stock keeping units) to manage their catalogs because product data is a logical approach to navigation,” explains Jordi Torras in this post on

“The problem with that is users don't normally query for SKU's. Instead, they search for products and services by describing attributes, features and characteristics; such as price, size, color, voltage, dates, location, etc. This oversight can lead to incoherent search results, or worse -- zero results -- when in fact the item is available.”

For example, Torras was recently shopping for a Lego Death Star on a popular kids’ toys website. Unfortunately, his search for "lego death star under $100" came up empty – even though he knew the company carried the product.

Dead search result page

Image via Ecommerce Times

To avoid this issue, here are some fixes you can apply to your search functionality:

i. Use a Natural Language Processing (NLP) Enabled Search Engine vs. a basic keyword engine. Torras explains that this will enable customers to “search the way they speak by computing the overall meaning of the search query instead of individual keywords.”

ii. Enable Customers to Refine and Filter Searches. “Only 40% percent of websites today use faceted search” – a feature that allows customers “to refine or navigate through products by checking off attributes, or facets, such as 'Women's Clothing' and 'Dresses' which are then further narrowed by choosing the size, color, or price options [and even product reviews],” says Torras. See the example below.

Faceted search exampleImage via Hudson’s Bay faceted search page

iii. Use Auto-Complete for Site Search Merchandising

The auto-complete search feature helps your customers identify the product they want (via a drop-down list), helping to solve issues like misspellings, and enabling ecommerce sites to merchandise similar products in their inventory (also referred to as “searchandising”).

The screenshot below from Econsultancy shows a site search (which has auto-complete enabled) for a wine gift basket. As you can see, the site “starts to recommend products, complete with price, image and a snippet of text” as the user begins typing in the query.

Searchandising example

Image via

As users select additional results from the auto-complete search results, you can identify the products that appeal most to users and refine search keywords and site content even further. Plus, you can focus on selling the most popular merchandise, and eliminate products that aren’t being selected.

3. Neglecting Mobile and Showroom Shoppers

Google Mobile Search TrendsImage via Think With Google

According to Think With Google, “42% of in-store shoppers search for information online while in-store.” Plus, “almost half of those shoppers head to the retailer's site or app.” So, if your mobile site doesn’t offer a reliable site search experience, you could be losing out on a lot of in-store sales.

MarketLive indicates there are three key factors to consider when optimizing on-site search for your mobile and showroom shopping customers:

i. Be Considerate That They Are Typing on Small Screens

It’s important to “fine tune your search settings to be more forgiving and more precise.” As was mentioned earlier, offering features like auto-complete and accounting for misspellings (because keys are closer together on a mobile keyboard) will go a long way to satisfy your mobile showroom shoppers.

ii. Optimize Faceted Search for Smaller Interfaces

In addition to allowing customers to filter by product availability for pick-up in-store, consider “giving shoppers the option of selecting multiple facets before sending the filter command, so that the mobile site doesn’t grind to a halt processing multiple requests at once to narrow the search results set.”

iii. Think Locally

Since customers are shopping at your store, it’s important to combine your product results with the user’s geographic data (based on the location of the device). However, it’s necessary to first “seek permission to access geographic location data and to explain how the brand intends to use the information to improve relevance so that the on-site search results don’t raise flags when it comes to privacy.”

4. Not Using Helpful and Affordable Apps

Some of the site search features I’ve outlined above may sound costly. However, if you are a Shopify Plus customer, many of them can be added to your store interface via cost-effective apps through the Shopify app store.

Below is a list of popular apps (in no order of preference) to use for your various site search needs.

Provide natural language processing

Here are two apps that you can choose from:

i. Instant Search + offers fast “as-you-type” product suggestions (including product names, images and prices) which are auto-generated to help your customers refine their search results. This contextual site search app continuously learns and improves as more queries are added, offers “did you mean suggestions” when nothing is found, and also corrects for misspellings and synonyms.

ii. You can also check out Search Reactor which provides relevant search results, quickly and accurately, by “offering your customer its best guess based on the query and the products in your database.” And the more keywords a customer types into the query box, the better.

Enable faceted search

i. SwiftType helps customers take control of their site search by enabling you to rearrange search results quickly without the need for engineering support. Also, SwiftType makes it easy to add a product, change a price, and see them updated instantly in your search results (even in a faceted interface).

Offer auto-complete for site search merchandising

You can use either the InstantSearch+ or SwiftType apps that I suggested earlier for this functionality. Or you can check out and choose from one of the following apps to easily install on your site:

i. Live Search offers instant “search-as-you-type” recommendations via a drop-down bar which allows customers to click on the search recommendation without having to visit a search results page.

ii. SearchSpring provides many of the tools described in the site search apps I’ve already mentioned above. Plus, it offers a product called IntelliSuggest® whichmonitors each and every visitor to your site, analyzes their behavior against all your past site visitors and search trends, giving them the most relevant experience.” 

In the end, fixing your site search experience will help you sell more merchandise, and make your customers more loyal to your site. For more ideas on how to improve your search merchandising user experience, check out this post on the Shopify blog.


About The Author

Andrea Wahbe is a freelance B2B marketing strategist and corporate storyteller who writes about Canadian SMEs, marketing, and digital media trends. Follow her on Twitter.