Search bar optimizations & best practices
Get more shoppers to use your searchbar, here’s how.
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” input field
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.
We recommend removing or moving any input field that isn’t the search bar out of view.
Use a button
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.
(Buttons that substituted text for a magnifying glass icon convinced 13.44% of visitors to search.)
White background and contrasting border
Make your search input field white with a high contrasting border color.
Doing so can take user engagement rates from a pitiful 8.78% to a whopping 18.82%
Include contextually relevant and helpful placeholder text
Including placeholder text inside the search input field will boost your engagement rates by 2% compared to leaving the search bar empty.
A 2% boost doesn’t sound like much, but it does add up, especially for such a simple fix. It’s a no brainer.
Pro tip: Make the placeholder text instructional and contextually helpful. For example, if you sell media, your placeholder text could say “search by title, publisher, artist, etc…”
Don’t cram it, add whitespace
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.
Center the search bar
The common industry convention is to place the search bar on the right side of header navigation. Surprisingly, this isn’t always the best option.
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 7.72% rate.
Keep the search bar in the same location
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.
Adding an autocomplete that’s actually helpful
Autocomplete should provide two types of suggestions, related searches and product suggestions.
Vary styling for different types of suggestions
“Related searches” help the user complete their query more rapidly, and will take them to a search results page.
“Product suggestions” will take the user to a specific product page.
This distinction is important since it sets an expectation for the shopper. If they believe they’re completing a search, they will expect to see a list of products that they can sort and filter on the next page.
If the suggestions look identical, it will create confusion since many users will land on pages that they don’t expect.
We recommend that related searches be text, with a visual emphasis added to the characters the shopper has already typed.
Product suggestions should be placed below the related searches.
Add a border or a colored background to these suggestions for better separation. Also, include product images to convey that clicking will take the user to a product page.
Provide typeahead autocomplete suggestions and related search queries for your shoppers.
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.
So much so, by providing product suggestions you can double engagement and conversion rates from autocomplete.
Limit suggestions so it’s manageable for the user (avoid long list)
Limit your suggestions to your top few and most relevant, anymore than that will burden the shopper and diminish their experience. If you’re suggesting dozens to hundreds of options then you’re not helping anyone.
Display pricing with product suggestions
Displaying the price with other product data helps shoppers understand what they are seeing is a specific product which will take them directly to that product page.
Keep the focus inside the search bar and not the first suggestion
Ensure that your search bar does not select or highlight the first autocomplete suggestion by default. By default, hitting the enter key should simply search for the query that the shopper has typed into the search field.
Remove redundant suggestions
You should do your best to avoid showing over granularization in your suggestions, especially if the suggestions deliver to the same results page.
Different spellings of the same word, plural vs. singular, or case sensitivity, bloated suggestions can start to populate for nearly any reason.
Get rid of them. Don’t confuse your shopper into thinking they’ll see different product results when they won’t, and don’t waste the digital real-estate on duplicates.
Support persistent queries
Persistent queries follow the user and retain the query in the search box after the shopper hits “search”.
This is important because the average search visitor enters more than 2 iterations of their search. Let them modify their search without needing to re-enter their entire search.
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
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, 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.