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How to Properly Manage Your Synonyms & Redirects

7 Minute Read

Most of us running online businesses have a problem. We prefer to look at the “Big Picture” or the “30,000 foot view”. We read articles all day about the “changing landscape” of ecommerce. Every week there’s supposedly a “paradigm shift in the marketplace”.

What does this even mean? How often do these kinds of articles, even if they’re correct, actually help us in our day-to-day business?

While big picture stuff is important to be aware of, there’s a lot of value in finding small opportunities to improve your store.

Over and over, we see clients miss out on sales because simple opportunities are missed. One of the most common missteps we see is when stores don’t regularly check for synonym opportunities.

Mismanaging Synonyms is Costing You

Just last week, I was doing research in our management console and noticed that one of our fashion retailers had dozens of daily searches for the term “bathing suit”. At first, I shrugged it off, thinking that they probably didn’t sell swimwear. But when I checked their site, I found out that they had an entire swimwear category.

The word “bathing suit” simply wasn’t in the product data for any of their swimwear items. There’s no doubt that this was causing them to lose sales, or at the very least, create frustration for their shoppers.

That very same store was getting bombarded with hundreds of searches for variations of the term “prom dress”. Again, the word “prom” wasn’t in their product data, so the search engine believed that this type of dress didn’t exist on their store.

Make a Schedule

Missing out on these opportunities is likely costing online retailers millions of dollars every year, but it doesn’t have to be this way. Shopper behaviors, buying trends, and language change rapidly, so it’s important to look into those behaviors on a regular basis.

At the very least, you should be looking into the search terms of your shoppers on a seasonal basis. This especially makes sense if you’re a fashion retailer. The “prom” season, for example, is generally about three months long.

Reviewing this data doesn’t take very long, so you might consider looking into it more frequently if you can.

How to Find Synonym Opportunities

On SearchSpring, you can find searches that are resulting in “zero results” by looking at either the Zero Results Searches report (under Basic Reports), or by viewing the DYM Suggestions report (also under Basic Reports).

In either case, you’ll be shown a list of failed searches.

If you don’t have SearchSpring, you can find a similar report in Google Analytics, but it will require a couple of additional steps.

Navigate to Behavior > Search Terms, and sort by Search Exits (high to low). Search queries with a 100% exit rate probably aren’t displaying results. To be sure, copy the search term and paste it into your search bar. If there aren’t any products, you know that you need to create a synonym.

We recommend viewing results from the last 1-3 months on this report.

When to Create a Synonym

There are good times and bad times to create a synonym. You shouldn’t necessarily be creating a synonym for every single failed search query. In some cases it will be better to redirect visitors. In other cases, it would be in your best interest to fix your product data.

Use synonyms in these scenarios:

  • When many visitors misspell a keyword
  • When many products are missing a keyword or phrase that accurately describes them
  • When there are multiple words that mean the same thing and product data does not always include both (gray/grey or PJs/pajamas)

Avoid using synonyms in these scenarios:

  • Queries that have been used only a few times in a long period
  • Queries that are vague
  • Queries for brands
  • Queries for categories
  • Queries for content (i.e. Return Policy)
  • Queries for items you do NOT carry

Queries that have been used only a handful of times in the past 30-90 days can usually be ignored. Generally, one-off searches like this are longtail (include 3 or more words) and will provide little to no value. This will only waste your valuable time.

You should avoid queries that are vague since you might create a synonym that will redirect some visitors to an incorrect set of results.

Many retailers are tempted to create synonyms that redirect searches for products they don’t carry. For example, some would be tempted to create a synonym linking barstool to chairs even if they don’t carry barstools. In this situation, your visitor isn’t seeing the products they want, so this is actually more confusing and misleading than just showing a no results page.

You should also avoid creating synonyms for brands, categories and content. What should you do instead?

When to Create a Redirect

Redirects are a little bit different from synonyms. Rather than telling your shopping cart platform or search provider that “keyword A” is equal to “keyword B”, it just sends users to a specific URL on your store.

What’s on that URL can change, and can be highly customized.

Use redirects for:

  • Queries for brands (sometimes)
  • Queries for categories (sometimes)
  • Queries for content (i.e. Return Policy)

Synonyms wouldn’t at all be helpful in the first two scenarios since the user is already seeing relevant products. But redirects can do some things that are entirely different.

An option for brand searches

Retailers that sell household brands will receive a lot of search queries for those brands. A retailer like Zappos.com probably receives thousands of searches each day for the word “nike”.

By default, a search for nike will return products from a dozen or so categories, and they’ll be in a seemingly arbitrary order. How will the user find what they want?

That really depends on how your store handles search queries in general. If you are able to display relevant facet groups, which in this case might be gender, category (apparel, shoes, gear…), subcategory (running, walking, basketball, etc.),  color, and price, you may not want to do a redirect.

However, if your shoppers are just seeing a random assortment of products without the ability to sort and filter, they’re going to have a problem finding what they want.

In this case, a better solution is to create a customized landing page for that brand which will help the user find the product category they need.

This is exactly what Zappos has done. Rather than show a paginated list of hundreds of mostly irrelevant products, they show large images that direct users to their most popular nike categories. The large header is here used to advertise a popular product, but could also be used to push a promotion.

It’s important to note, however, that this works for Zappos because they get a lot of traffic, and know exactly what their shoppers are looking for. These decisions are likely based off of months worth of data, not a hunch.

For retailers that do provide useful controls to users on brand search results, this may not always be the best solution.

What to do with category searches

Something very similar can be done for broad category searches like “shoes”. Analyzing user behaviors on client sites, we’ve found that most users who search for these broad categories are expecting to be able to narrow their results using filters. So a user might search for “shoes” expecting to see filters for “women’s”, “athletic”, and “price $50-$75”.

Historically, there’s more chance that they’ll have success with a broad search than an extremely detailed one like “50-75 dollar women’s athletic shoes”.

While many users will choose to filter down their results (assuming you have appropriate facets in place), it might be better to anticipate their needs and create a relevant experience for them.

Again, Zappos does a great job. Their most popular sub-categories are prominently displayed with large images just below a banner for their new arrivals in this department.

It’s very possible that your category pages are already curated, which would make all of this even easier.

Again, this will probably only work properly if you’re very sure that you know what your shoppers want when they search for “shoes” and if they aren’t getting useful controls on search results.

Redirecting users to a page like this might not work for every store, and could be obstructive for savvy visitors.

What to do with content searches

Searches for content pages (Return Policy, Contact Us, etc.) are rare on most stores, but that doesn’t mean they’re not important.

Redirects are a perfect solution if your search engine is only configured to search for products.