Searchandising is the practice of incorporating merchandising strategies to the site search experience. This chapter explores various strategies for ranking products and customizing search-specific landing pages.
Optimizing product ranking
As with merchandising category list pages, some ecommerce platforms and third-party site search tools can incorporate merchandising rules configured by the business user into relevance algorithms. For example, a merchandiser may apply weighted boost and bury rules based on attribute, arrival date, margin or stock availability.
Depending on the tool, this merchandising logic can be applied across all search terms or specific terms.
Some tools use machine learning to track engagement and revenue metrics like click through rates, conversion rates and revenue per visitor, and continually re-rank products based on this data.
It’s important to determine if your adaptive search solution uses global metrics (a product’s aggregate data across the site, regardless of how a customer navigates to the product) or optimizes engagement and conversion in relation to individual search queries.
Keep in mind, it takes a lot of data to make reliable predictions using machine learning. Like an A/B test, it takes a certain volume of queries for each search term to reach statistical significance. A high proportion of your site search queries are likely long tail, meaning they’re far less frequently searched than head terms. Even for high-volume searches, there will be a time period where results are not reliably optimized. It’s important to combine adaptive technology with human inputs and leverage merchandising rules.
Advanced solutions allow you to set merchandising rules at the geographic level. For example, boost the Kardashian Collection brand in Miami and LA, and bury it in New York and Chicago.
Some online retailers redirect searches to their respective category pages. For example, 1-800-Flowers sends “red roses” queries to the Red Roses category page, but “long stem red roses” to a search results list.
If you’re already optimizing your category merchandising, using category-page redirects for matching search queries allows you to leverage any merchandising logic, visual drag-and-drop merchandising (such as pinned, featured items in top positions), guided selling features or copy you’ve already applied to a given category. This cuts down on site search tuning as merchandising tactics only need to be implemented once.
Smart search merchandisers look for opportunities to create thematic categories around high-volume search terms. For example, 1-800-Flowers might create a “Vintage Wedding Bouquet” category, and redirect searches to this special landing page, optimizing it for search engines to boot.
Some search tools support promotional banners slotted above search results. These can be applied at the individual search level.
It’s tempting to slot branded banners into brand-related search pages. Before you do, ask if it makes sense to push your visitor to a brand category page when he or she has expressed intent for something specific within that brand.
For example, a customer searching for “columbia waterproof shoes” likely prefers to see a relevant set of search results, rather than navigate to a brand page and fiddle with filters and facets (for which “waterproof” may not even be an option).
Searchers are more likely to appreciate a brand or product-related offer in a search page banner.
For example, Lowe’s presents an offer for a specific brand of mulch for the search term “mulch.”
While not an offer per se, a search for “PlayStation” Very.co.uk serves a call-to-action to pre-order a featured title.
Be careful not to introduce FUD (fear, uncertainty and doubt) into the purchase decision with promo banners. Lowe’s promotes 25% off select refrigerators, which is fine when the customer hasn’t indicated a preference for brand or product specification.
In the fine print, Liebherr is amongst excluded brands, but the banner appears in the search for “liebherr fridge.” While one might argue that this may be effective guided selling away from a particular brand, it certainly complicates and slows down the customer’s decision making process. Ideally, guided selling leads a customer further down the path they believe they want to go, rather than introduce FUD.
Some site search tools support promotional badges, which allow you to specify callouts like “free gift,” “sale” or “online only” at the product level within search results. This provides greater visibility to promotional products than merely hiding them behind filtered navigation.
Search-specific landing pages can also be crafted to guide customers to a specific featured product or to select a sub-category for better results.
Very.co.uk calls out the latest iPad model with a call to action to “shop now.”
Notice the difference between search layout for “iPad” vs “tablet computers.”
Target uses a guided-selling banner for “iPad” searches, showing different types of iPad vs. a single featured model.
For “tablet computers,” Target encourages customers to filter by brand.
For the search “spider man,” Target shows off sub-categories in a “super hero” banner (pun intended).
Custom “zero results found” experiences
“Zero results found” events are occasionally an opportunity to sell!
Very.co.uk doesn’t carry maternity dresses, but recognizes it’s a hot search term. Rather than present a generic “try again” page, searchers see a custom menu of mum and baby departments.
This treatment spares the searcher from frustrating and fruitless category navigation looking for maternity dresses, and steers them to other maternity apparel categories she may be interested in, reducing site abandonment.
When products are no longer available, their searches may continue for a long time. Ensure searchers are steered towards the next-best-thing (ideally, this is data driven using collaborative filtering for what customers ultimately buy instead).
“Few results found” can also be searchandised with similar products. Drugstore.com returns results for “ultra hold hair spray” while suggesting closely related “maximum hold” and “extra hold” items in a sidebar.
Have you mastered site search tuning, search page design and searchandising? Next chapter we explore optimizing site search experience on mobile devices.
Need help with your search merchandising strategy? Drop me a line.
Ecommerce Illustrated is a project of Edgacent, an ecommerce advisory group.