• Six Tips to Optimize Your Website’s Internal Search Function

    optimize your website’s internal search function

    Some of you might think that great navigation is all you need to convert prospects into customers and keep them satisfied with your website’s usability.

    Some of you are wrong.

    You need internal search. Yes, need.

    That’s not it, though. Internal searches have to be modified to reflect your business, its website’s content and your customers’ own needs, desires and habits.

    Try these stats on for size:

    • At least 50% of shoppers prefer to use an online business’s internal search function to find products
    • Prospects convert at least 4x more than those who don’t use search functions
    • The average value of orders increases as more searches are performed

    Given this, it’s practically unconscionable for business owners to overlook optimizing an internal site search on their website.


    Like any other optimization measure, improving your search function’s performance can result in higher conversions. After all, fine-tuning an internal site search requires that better results show so that more prospects find and buy what they need.

    Before that happens though, you have to understand prospect behavior.

    Prospects are likely to use an internal search function because:

    • They’re used to searching for what they want on search engines and getting it
    • They don’t want to waste time manually searching if they don’t have to

    You can imagine their surprise when they’re confronted with an internal site search that doesn’t act as expected. Google has spoiled them and us. We’re used to getting what we need fast and on the first try. If we don’t get it then, we use suggestions that will.

    But, all too often, internal site searches don’t perform. And they cost business owners money because of it.

    To optimize, you’ll have to make changes. Here are six tips that’ll help you along your way.

    1. Study habits

    Finding out what your prospects are looking for is the obvious first step.

    Investigate your logs and consult Google Analytics’ Site Search. Are there common misspellings or grammatical errors that keep prospects from finding and buying your products? Consult dictionaries or thesauri developed for your industry. Fix your search engine to yield relevant results based on their (correct or incorrect) queries and watch your conversion rates rise.

    Look at what your prospects typed into a search engine to arrive at your website. They will likely enter the same terms into your site’s search function, so prepare for that.

    Try “dynamic merchandising.” Find out what keywords are entered most and feed links to corresponding products to search engines so that they’ll be indexed gates to sales.

    2. Offer help

    Prospects may be familiar with Googling, but that doesn’t mean that they’re familiar with your internal search. Make its use easier for them by offering auto-complete, radio buttons, an option to narrow results and pull-down menus. Showing last query results or suggestions for future searches can also help push prospects along the conversion path.

    Linda Bustos suggests investing in spell checkers, phonetic tools, stemming tools, controlled vocabularies and natural language processing to prepare for anything a prospect may throw at your internal search.

    3. Refine your catalog

    You don’t have to add or subtract anything from your actual stock. Instead, as Corey Leibow says, you should “extract, normalize and categorize.” Pick each item’s attributes out, decide upon standard descriptors across all products and use them to organically group.

    Have your search handle numbers and phrases as well as keywords. SEO involves more than just single words and product numbers are often utilized to find corresponding units.

    4.  Include more than just inventory

    Prospects search for more than just products. New customers may be interested in shipping, privacy, return policies or other consumer-related information. If they can’t find it, they might decide against buying from you. Including other types of “miscellaneous” but useful files as results won’t hurt if you’re maximizing your marketing effort and using them as advertising tools.

    5. Show descriptive results

    How you serve up your results can actually be just as important as the results themselves, since they can determine how your prospects access them.

    You’ll have to decide on presentation. Like…

    Result numbers

    How many results are there per page? Limitless pages packed with dozens of results on each tend to turn prospects off. Prospects can end up looking at the endless results and question why they even used the search function…if the entire site was going to be returned to them as classified as “relevant.”


    Do you have a ranking system to help consumers identify which results are most accurate? Do search results reflect search frequency and conversion rates? Consider restructuring your result rankings as customer behavior informs them.

    Are there filters in place to help customers find what they’re looking for? Relevancy, price, alphabetical position and popularity sorting options are commonly used by businesses. Consider your specific business and anticipate your customers’ searching habits to determine suitable filters. For example, if you sell clothes, you might want to add size, color and price. Auto parts sellers may filter results by make, model and year.

    Visual presentation

    FigPii Heatmaps

    Text-only results aren’t very imaginative. Nor are they attention-keeping. Think about making your results enticing by including thumbnail product images alongside descriptions. Your customers will also appreciate the time-saving aspect of seeing a price near the product and may even reward you by pressing the “Buy Now” button.

    6. Bank on “no results”…literally

    No matter how well you’ve optimized your search to handle misspellings and alternate phrases for products, you always have to keep in mind that your prospects seeing “No Results” is a very real possibility. That doesn’t mean that they have to log off empty-handed. Keep making money by dressing your “No Results” page with suggested categories, best sellers and other offers.

    Investing in a better site search function can do more than just increase your sales. It may even contribute to your SEO campaign and improve your search engine ranking, making your presence something that can’t be ignored. That’s just another reason to make optimizing your internal search function your next top priority. You’ll no doubt start seeing the conversions pile up.

Ayat Shukairy

My name is Ayat Shukairy, and I’m a co-founder and CCO at Invesp. Here’s a little more about me: At the very beginning of my career, I worked on countless high-profile e-commerce projects, helping diverse organizations optimize website copy. I realized, that although the copy was great and was generating more foot traffic, many of the sites performed poorly because of usability and design issues.

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Ayat Shukairy

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