Over 39+ Best Practices For Ecommerce Site Search
21 Minute Read
We’ve taken our combined years of experience working with thousands of clients and we’ve put together this list. It’s every best practice and optimization trick we know that generates results time after time for our clients.
Even the big guys, the top 50 grossing US ecommerce shops, are missing some of these simple optimizations. It’s a huge opportunity to take advantage of while your competition is asleep at the optimization wheel.
So, nothing but good news for you. With a few small tweaks, you can dramatically improve your ecommerce store engagement and conversion rates.
Let’s jump into it!
- Actually Have A Search Bar
- Only have ONE “Search” field
- Use A Button
- Don’t Get Too “Creative”
- Make It Obvious What To Do
- Let It Breathe
- Front and center
- Be Consistent
- Make Your Autocomplete Helpful
- Make It Accessible
- Make It Fast With 9 Easy Steps
- Customize What’s Searchable
- Plan For Misspellings
- Allow Product and SKU Code Searches
- Build Your Synonym List
- Account For Singular & Plural Keywords
- Account For Special Characters
- Embrace The Professional & The Laymen
- Avoid Dead Ends
- Monitor Your Zero Results
- Offer Multiple Viewing Options
- Display Only Relevant Faceting Options
- Display Only Relevant Filtering Options
- Include “What’s New” Filter
- Include A “Buy Now” Button
- Display Number Of Matching Results
- Use Breadcrumb Navigation
- Use Pagination & Avoid Infinite Scroll
- Include Per Page Option
- Use Images As Facets
- Show Which Facets Are Active
- Make Your Facets Toggleable
- Display Low Stock Count
- Include Social Proof
- Include Review Data
- Show The Sale & MSRP Price
- Display Your Product Variance Options
- Use Dynamic Images
- Merchandize Your Popular Searches
- Pro Tip: Live & Die By Your Data
Search Bar UI Optimizations
The easiest of our optimization tips are the user interface optimizations. Making a few small visual tweaks to your search bar will have a considerable positive effect on your site search engagement rates.
Actually Have A Search Field
Sounds silly, but topping our list of tips is to actually include a search field, and not hide it. Hiding the search field is a big no-no. Stores that only show the search icon or who hide their search bar in a flyout menu are lucky to see a 4.44% shopper engagement rate with search.
Simply adding the search field can triple your site search usage.
Only have ONE Search field
I know that newsletter is super important, but selling should trump all other goals. Get rid of any input field that is even remotely close in proximity to your search field. There’s nothing more frustrating for a shopper than to enter a search and get the “this is not a valid email address” error feedback.
Yes. This happens… a LOT!
We recommend removing or moving any input field that isn’t the search bar out of view. Don’t even let the search bar and another input field appear in the browser window at the same time.
Save the newsletter signup for your footer or popup window.
Use A Button
I know, I’m with you, a button at the top of the page next to the search field is such a waste of space, but shoppers still need it.
Preserving your design and only using an icon with your search field could leave you with a lowly 6.01% engagement rate. Adding a button can boost that to 14.49%. Even better, adding the obvious “search” text inside the button can give you a 16.17% engagement rate.
With two simple UI changes, you will engage nearly 1/5th more shoppers through search. Or said another way, without these two changes, you’re failing, and potentially losing, 20% of your traffic.
Don’t Get Too “Creative”
Design is a powerful tool, but sometimes a “pretty looking layout” can kill your engagement rates. If your search field doesn’t pop, if it’s subdued, faint or it just blends in a little too well, shoppers are going to ignore it.
Making your search field white with a high contrasting border color can take user engagement rates from a pitiful 8.78% to a whopping 18.82%.
Avoid any input background color that isn’t white. Make the border and button a contrasting color. No, it doesn’t have to be bright neon pink, you can make it work the your brand, just make it noticeable. Don’t hide or try to minimize its visual impact!
Make It Obvious What To Do
It’s obvious to you, it’s obvious to me, but our stores are best served when we don’t make assumptions for our shoppers. Don’t assume they’ll know exactly what to do and how to search. Including placeholder text inside the search input field will boost your engagement rates.
Our research shows a solid 2% boost when placeholder text is used compared to leaving the search bar empty. A 2% boost doesn’t sound like much, but it does add up.
In case you didn’t know, shoppers who use search convert 5-6x higher on average and their average order value is about 2.5x’s higher than those who don’t.
Spread that 2% and higher conversion rate out over the year and you’re sacrificing a considerable amount of revenue if you leave the search field empty.
It’s such an easy fix, it really doesn’t make sense to throw those conversions away.
<input type=”search” placeholder=”search” … />
Seriously, for a minimum 2% more engagement, that’s all you have to do.
For an added boost, make your placeholder text relevant to your store’s search functionality. For example, if you sell media, your placeholder text could say “search by title, publisher, artist, etc…”
Let It Breathe
Shoppers hate clutter. Clutter makes it difficult to process information. If your search bar is crammed into a tight space, your shoppers are going to avoid it. Stores that give the search bar an appropriate amount of whitespace see engagement around 18.46% while stores who “try to save space” suffer with a 10.35% engagement rate at best.
A good rule of thumb, give the search bar enough room so that a finger could easily select the search input field, on desktop and mobile, without accidentally clicking on something else.
Front & Center
It’s not the sexiest location for a search box, but front and center is where the action is at. Yes, it takes up space. Yes, you could use that digital real estate for “better” content. However, your store has one overarching purpose – helping shoppers find the products they want as quick and easy as possible.
Putting the search bar front, top, and center can boost engagement rates to around 15.86% compared to the top right’s average rate of 13.43% or the top left’s sad 7.72% rate.
Stop making that search bar jump around. Keep it in the same location, on every page. We don’t have any fancy stats on this one, just some pure common sense.
Don’t make users hunt for the search bar when they engage with your store.
Search Bar UX Optimizations
Great! You’ve successfully optimized how your search bar looks. Now, let’s address how it functions, the experience – how it interacts with the shopper.
Make Your Autocomplete Helpful
Shoppers expect autocomplete. If you’re not providing some sort of assistance to your shoppers within the search bar, you’re woefully behind the times. Google and most major retailers have been doing it for years. Shoppers simply expect this to be part of search on any website or storefront they visit.
Is it spelled “bodycon” or is it “bodicon”? Shoppers aren’t great spellers. They also aren’t quite sure if they should use their lingo or yours. Providing related and suggested searches while the user types will help eliminate misspellings, errant searches, and most of any confusion your shopper might have.
When you provide product suggestions directly in the autocomplete, you will see a considerable amount of your traffic navigating directly to those product pages and converting. Again, search is all about getting your motivated shoppers to the products they want as easy and as fast as possible. There’s no faster way than to show them their products as they’re typing.
Limit suggestions so it’s manageable for the user (avoid long list)
Providing suggestions is super helpful, until it’s not. If you’re suggesting dozens to hundreds of options then you’re not helping anyone. Limit your suggestions to your top few and most relevant, anymore than that will burden the shopper and diminish their experience.
Make sure it’s fast. If your autocomplete isn’t updating and changing as the user types, then it’s nowhere near good enough.
Make sure it doesn’t go offscreen
It’s easy to forget, but just because your website is responsive, that doesn’t mean your autocomplete will magically follow your CSS rules. Make sure your autocomplete dropdown doesn’t fly off or get partially hidden at any screen or window size.
Make It Accessible
It falls off most people’s radar, but accessibility is an issue you should consider when it comes to your search bar.
Over 15% of the world’s population and approximately 19% of the US population live with a disability. Regardless of how few people with disabilities you think might visit your store, can any ecommerce store honestly afford to ignore any shopper and risk losing conversions?
Yes, it’s a small bump, but many small bumps can make one large bump. 🙂
Ensuring your site search, autocomplete, and navigation is accessible with both the mouse and keyboard will only bring you positive results – not too mention a lot of good will from anyone who benefits from the added functionality.
Make It Fast
A slow search is a broken search. We all know the gist of it, for every 0.XX amount of seconds you lose XX amount of revenue. You get it, you know it. But… how do you make your site search faster?
Reduce the overall size of your page and make the content your search is delivering as efficient as possible.
- Use a CDN for your images
- Enable caching
- Compress your data with gzip or other compression methods
- Specify your image dimensions. Optimize your images sizes. Strip out unnecessary image metadata.
- Optimize your shopping cart platform’s configuration.
- Minify and concatify your script files to reduce http request.
- Avoid redirects when possible.
- Use a fast hosting service.
- And of course… use an optimized search solution to handle the heavy lifting for you.
Search Bar UX Optimizations (Behind The Scenes)
The name of the game is delivering relevant search results. You can make every UI improvement above and use every tip below, but if your results aren’t relevant, there’s no saving that. So, let’s make your product results as relevant as possible with these tips below.
Customize What’s Searchable
Define what data fields your search bar is actually allowed to search.
Can or should user’s be able to search by price? If so, which price field, your msrp or your sale’s price?
What about your sku code? Do you have an internal product code that is different from your sku field? Should both be searchable or only one?
What about your custom fields? Odds are, you have lots of valuable data living in fields that your search bar is ignoring.
Audit your data fields and ensure the content your shoppers are trying to access is being exposed to your search bar – and your less desirable data is being hidden.
We recommend that most everyone have these fields set to be searchable:
- Name / Product title
- Sku / Product Code
- Brand / Manufacturer
- Category / Product type
- Any attributes relevant to your catalog: gender, size, color, make/model, author, artist, etc…
We generally try to avoid and make these following fields not searchable:
- Numeric fields with the exception of measurements
- Price – We of course leave this field filterable, but not searchable
- Description – This one tends to bring a lot of questions, but the description field is very problematic if it’s searchable. It injects a lot of noise that dilutes the relevancy of the product results. For example: A description field could have this line in it’s copy “This shirt is great for the beach, be sure to pair it with these pants” Now, this shirt has a high probability of showing with any “pant” related search. Of course there are exceptions, but 9x’s out of 10, we prefer to leave this field unsearchable.
Plan For Misspellings
I use Google to double check my spelling all the time, and I’m far from a bad speller. Sometimes, words just look funny. Other times, I simply forget. And of course, I’m always making typos. If it weren’t for spell checkers I’d miss almost every single one of them.
Search bars don’t have spell checkers, but that shouldn’t mean the difference of seeing a hundred products vs. zero products.
The ugly truth is, the majority of shoppers will assume your store doesn’t have what they’re looking for before they assume they made a typo. It’s unfortunate, but it’s true.
They think it’s your fault for having a bad search, or that you don’t carry the product they’re looking for. You’ll get the blame before they even consider it was user error.
If your search bar isn’t optimized to handle simple misspellings, then you are losing a considerable amount of business from your engaged users.
Allow Product and SKU Code Searches
It’s a guarantee, you will have shoppers that try to search products by their sku or product code. If you’re not returning relevant results from sku searches, you will miss the sale and lose the shopper – odds are for good.
Bonus points if your search detects and serves relevant results for partial sku matches.
Build Your Synonyms
Is “t shirt”, “t-shirt”, “tshirt” returning the same results or does your search bar get hung up with minor differences? What about a bigger query difference? What would your search bar deliver between “chesterfield” and “couch”?
There are queries your shoppers are using that are returning subpar to no results for products you absolutely do stock. It’s a problem when your search bar treats different queries as different queries and it doesn’t recognize what should be treated as the same.
Building and nurturing your synonym list will enhance your shopper’s experience, regardless if they use the “correct” keyword or not.
Account For Singular & Plural keywords
Should “book” and “books” or “dress” and “dresses” be handled the same or should they display a different set of product results?
This one is highly relative to your product catalog and your shoppers’ expectations. Regardless, how you handle singular or plural should be evaluated and addressed. We see good reason to treat singular vs plural as the same until there is a specific use case or reason to do otherwise.
Again, it’s relative to your needs. The point is, investigate what would be better for your shoppers.
What would narrow the expectation gap between search and returned results for your shoppers? Make your search bar do that.
Account For Special Characters ( like measurements )
Will your search return the same results for “3 foot cable”, “3’ cable”, and “three foot cable” ? Setting up synonyms and redirects for every special character variation across all numerical values is virtually impossible.
Ensure your search is smart enough to recognize and account for all these variations. Monitoring your search traffic could show you just how much of an issue this is for your store.
Embrace The Professional & The Laymen
There are two ways your shopper’s will search. They’ll either be highly engrossed in the culture and technical aspect of your product solution and use industry and market lingo, or they’ll dumb down their search and try to guess what will return the best results. Either way, your shoppers will exhibit a language pattern, and often times, you’ll see both on your store.
Make sure that you’re accounting for the laymen and the shoppers “in the know.”
For example, do you carry “hoodies” or “hooded pullovers”? What about “chucks” or do you only carry “flat soled tennis shoes”?
Avoid Dead Ends
Let’s say you’ve dialed in every step above and somehow a shopper still arrives at a zero results page. Don’t let this be the end of their journey.
Sometimes shopper’s just search for the wrong things because they don’t know better. Suggest a different route the shopper can take.
- Provide “Did you mean” suggestions for semi relevant and related searches.
- Highlight your popular categories and navigation for browsing.
- If the shoppers are searching for common discontinued products or items that you do not carry, create a custom landing page with a relevant alternative.
- Provide an easy method of contact for shoppers to ask questions directly – including a live chat feature is extremely helpful in these scenarios.
You might have to get a little creative depending on your use case, but delivering a shopper to a dead end shouldn’t be an option.
Remember, you spent a lot of time and money getting this engaged shopper to your store. You won. They’re here. They’re shopping.
Don’t lose them because of a failed search and a dead end.
Monitor Zero Results
This is a must. You will have shoppers that sneak past all your defenses and they will create zero result searches. It’s okay. It’s not the end of the world, but you should never let it persist.
You can minimize zero results by:
- Ensure your site search is smart enough to deliver “Did you mean” suggestions for common misspellings or partial searches.
- When “Did you mean” fails, you can use synonyms. For example, “Did you mean” might not pick up that a “chesterfield” is actually a search for a “couch.” Watch your zero results reports, you’ll find queries that you can easily fix with a synonym.
- Sometimes, adding a synonym won’t be good enough. Even if the results are relevant, without including the shopper’s keyword query within the results, there can be a disconnect. Your goal is to shrink the gap between what a shopper is searching for and the products being displayed. When it makes sense, it can be beneficial to add the zero results query language into your current product labeling.
- The odds are good you already have the shopper’s language within your product data. The problem is, it’s not being utilized because those field values are not searchable. Modifying searchable fields can help minimize the zero results being displayed.
- You will have times when the shopper’s query is nowhere in your data, but it should be. Creating and using the custom fields that your platform makes available is a good way to enhance the product data to capture these types of shopper queries.
- Okay, you’ve successfully eliminated the zero results, but what’s being displayed isn’t quite right. When a shopper’s query has a specific expectation, creating a custom landing page with optimized product results could be the key to turning your shopper into a customer. After all, you’re doing the work to eliminate zero results. Go the extra step. Optimize what products are being returned for the queries that make sense to do so.
- Finally, there will be queries that you can’t do much about. They’re obviously searches for products you don’t carry, but maybe you should. If you have a high volume of searches for a product that isn’t in your catalog, but would make sense to offer, you know you already have the market to begin selling it. Zero results could reveal the low hanging fruit opportunities that shoppers are already looking at you to fulfill.
The list of things you can do when monitoring your zero result searches is hundreds of items long. You can do whatever you like, but the point is, do something. Don’t let the same zero results continue to happen.
Search Bar Results Optimizations
You’ve spent a considerable amount of resources to get people to your store. Hopefully, now you’ve also made the effort to optimize your search bar’s appearance and behavior.
Your job isn’t done though. Site search doesn’t exist in a vacuum. It’s a team sport. It needs help to really shine. What good is it to put in all that work, only to have the product results page fall flat.
Here are some optimizations you can make to improve the shopping experience for your user and nudge your conversion rates even higher.
Offer Multiple Viewing Options
Simple as the title says. Let your shoppers decide how they view your products, either in a grid or in a list.
Some shoppers will prefer the grid option as it makes the experience quicker to browse at a high level. Other shopper’s will prefer the list view which ought to include additional details and information for each product, allowing the shopper to discover more about the products being offered without having to navigate to a product page.
Both views save time depending on the shopper’s intent. You should cater to both.
Bonus tip: offering a non-intrusive quickview can be incredibly helpful for your shoppers. By non-intrusive, I mean, display the quickview on click. Don’t fire the view off with a hover event. It’s annoying. It gets in the way. It ruins the entire shopping experience. Shoppers hate that.
Display Online Relevant Faceting options
There is a huge problem for shoppers, and it’s called choice overload or option paralysis. There’s no need to list 100 different faceting options when 95% of your users only click on the same five.
Review your shopper’s behavior reports and make sure your most engaged facets are near the top, your less popular ones are near the bottom, and the rest are removed.
If you have a large number of facet options, consider keeping your least popular ones collapsed and only expanding your two most popular facet options by default.
It’s also good to limit how many facets display within each facet category. If it’s more than a dozen, then hide the rest and provide a “show more” button.
Another huge optimization you could deploy would be to make your facets dynamic. Don’t show all 20 color options when those colors don’t exist for the product results being displayed.
For example, if a shopper searched for a black evening dress, you shouldn’t provide white, pink, yellow, and green as color options.
It’s about the economy of space and relevant choice options. Make sure the only options that the shopper has available are relevant to what is being displayed.
Display Only Relevant Filtering Options
Same as the faceting options, make sure you’re only showing filtering options when they’re relevant to the products being displayed.
Make sure your filters are dynamic enough to understand what is actually relevant to the shopper. Eliminate the noise.
We recommend these sort options as your standard implementation:
- Name: A>>Z
- Price: Low >> High / High >> Low
- Best Selling
- Recently Added
- Top Rated
Include “What’s New” Filter
Not always relevant for every industry, but if you crave returning shoppers and your product catalog flips between seasons and years, you should have a “what’s new” or “recently added” filter option.
Providing this filter option will help keep your returning shoppers happy. Don’t force them to sift through all the same old products they’ve seen a dozen times. Give them the option to see your newest products first.
Include A “Buy Now” Button
Again… Shoppers who search are your motivated buyers. On average, shoppers who search convert 5-6x’s more than those who don’t. Add a “buy now” or “add to cart” button directly to each product in the product results display.
Simple. Done. Moving on.
Display Number Of Matching Results
Fantastic, your search bar didn’t deliver zero results, but how many results did it actually deliver?
Shoppers who search are motivated, but that motivation can be a double edged sword if you leave them in the dark.
Did their search query generate hundreds of results, or only a handful? Displaying the number of results helps the shopper know if their search query was too broad, too narrow, or just right.
Don’t leave your shopper’s in the dark. Let them know if their search phrase was actually good or not.
Use Breadcrumb Navigation
I searched, I clicked a facet, I clicked another facet, I scrolled, I paged, I clicked another facet… wait. Where am I?
Providing breadcrumb navigation makes it easy for your shoppers to know where they are at in their search in relation to your store’s hierarchy.
Again, another simple one. Don’t let your shoppers get lost, and DON’T make them start over just to start again.
Use pagination, avoid the infinite scroll
No one, I repeat, NO ONE wants to scroll through hundreds and thousands of products, click on a product, click the back button and have to start all the way over. No one wants to scroll 20k pixels deep, leave the page, then have to do it all over again.
Use pagination. Make it easy for your shoppers. They need the ability to quickly find and re-find the same product.
Include Per Page Option
Let shoppers chose how many products per page they see. Some like just a few products per page with deep pagination. Others like to take a quick scroll to see if your store has what they want – before sitting through a several full-page reloads.
Cater to both.
And, word to the wise, make sure your product per page amounts are equally divisible by how many products per row are displayed. Having a widow product on row 6 gives the shopper the impression they’re at the end of the product results – they miss the fact there’s 3 more pages.
Use Images As Facets
Another boost you can give your product results page would be including image as facets. This could be as simple as adding color swatches next to your color labels, icon logos next to brand names, or more robust options like providing an outlined icon image.
For example, if a shopper searched for “lightbulb” they may not know the difference between “fluorescent” vs. “incandescent” vs. “antique”. Providing an image for each option next to the label will help eliminate any confusion your shoppers may have with your more complex or obscure facet options.
Show Which Facets Are Active
I clicked on blue, price, and brand. Wait… is the price filter still active? I clicked on red, is the blue option still active?
Avoid the confusion. Add an active indicator that shows your shoppers which facets are active.
Make Your Facets Toggleable
In conjunction with showing which facets are active, make it easy for your shoppers to know how to turn off or disable those facets.
Display a refinements panel that shows your active facets with a visually clear que on how to turn them off (a checkbox, an “x”, a switch, etc…)
Display Low Stock Count
You should take advantage of any social trigger and psychological trick that you can. Including your stock count, when you can ensure its accuracy, is a gold mine of an opportunity.
Shoppers are susceptible to this tactic. It’s called FOMO – the fear of missing out.
I didn’t write the rules, I don’t pretend to even fully understand them, but it’s a demonstrated fact, when you engage with the psychological principle of urgency and exclusivity, you’re on the right track.
Include low-volume stock counts to boost your conversions. It’s a no-brainer.
Include Social Proof
Another psychological trigger that you can and should be using is social proof. Include data points such as reviews, ratings, number of purchases, comments, and social shares.
Of course, using all of them at once might be overkill, but every ecommerce site could take advantage of at least one social trigger. Find the one that works best for your shopping audience and get that proof baked into your search results.
Include Review Data
We already shared the tip to include social proof, but including review data is such a powerful tool to boost your conversion rate, it deserves to be called out on its own.
Shoppers LOVE reviews. It gives them an unfiltered view into the product before purchasing. 69% of online shoppers want more reviews from ecommerce sites. Give them what they’re asking for.
Accept, include and display your product reviews – that is of course unless you have something to hide.
Show The Sale & MSRP Price
If you have products on sale, or other fancy pricing logic with your store, be sure to leverage this data and display it for the user.
If a product is on sale, show the sale price and the msrp price. Show the shopper the savings they’re getting right up front. Seeing a shirt on sale for $19.99 isn’t very motivating. Seeing that same shirt on sale for $19.99 when it’s originally $39.99, now that’s saying something – like, this product is 50% off!
Display Your Product Variance Options
Do your products come in different sizes, styles, colors, weights, lengths, etc… Give the shopper a visual indication that these options exist.
Use Dynamic Images
In addition to displaying that you have a product variance, allowing the shopper to see those product variances from the results page is even better.
For example, if you have a dress that comes in several colors, allow the user to click or hover over the swatches and have the image change to match.
Don’t have any product variance, then take advantage of dynamic images and show an alternate view.
For example, if your dresses only come in one color, let the shopper see the back view when the they hover over the thumbnail.
Merchandize Your Popular Searches
Merchandising is its own beast, one that should have it’s own article, but we can’t ignore it completely. It is a powerful optimization tool when applied with your on site search.
In the simplest of functions, imagine creating an optimized experience for your high value and high volume keywords.
For example, if you sold shoes and you were running a promotion for all your Chuck Taylor’s, you could include a banner promoting your special offer at the top of the product results for any “chuck” related searches.
You could go even further and hand select your best performing, newest additions, or highest margin Chuck Taylor products and boost those products to the top of the results and demote your less desirable items to the bottom.
The opportunities are only limited by your imagination, but no search experience can reach its full potential without a little merchandising TLC.
Other simple merchandising tips for you to consider would be to add product Badges. Highlighting your new, on sale, free shipping, and best sellers with their own little icon badge will help shoppers identify the products they want quicker.
Bonus Pro Tips: You Live & Die By Your Data
Pro tip: Normalize your data
Irregular capitalization and misspellings on filter data can be very aggravating to shoppers.
For example, options of “blue”, “Blue”, “BLUE”, “bleu” should all be relabeled as “Blue”.
Normalize your data so that your filter options are clean and clear. Once you’ve chosen a standard practice for how you’re capitalizing your options, stick to it, applying the same naming conventions to options within all facets.
Use descriptive and informative detail in your Product Names. Incorporating Brand, Product Type, and Attribute detail into the Product Name which describes the product enables your shoppers to quickly understand what it is they’re buying. Depending on your product set, adding SKUs and Internal IDs into Product Names don’t necessarily add valuable contextual understanding for the shopper.
Pro tip: Create facet groups
Don’t overwhelm your shoppers with too much detail in your filter options. Keep your options concise.
In your Color facet, simple colors should be grouped together into more general selections. For example, group all of “Navy”, “Aqua”, “Teal”, “Light Blue” into the same filter assignment “Blue” – let your shoppers then further refine their color selection on your Product Detail Page.
And that wraps up our quick list of things you can do right now to make your ecommerce site search perform better, immediately.
Do you have any tips we missed? We’d love to hear, share, and add them to this article – and of course, we’ll share the credit 🙂