When thinking about optimized search, we need to look back at when Google first introduced the search bar, it started a new wave of how people engaged with the World Wide Web. Remember Google’s, “I’m feeling lucky” button?

In a short time, Internet users learned how to speak the language of search terms - learning and testing what words, and word combinations, helped them find the information for which they were looking. Over time, we started expecting when we typed in “land down under lyrics” or “he just smiled and gave me a Vegemite sandwich” we would get to the Men at Work song “Down Under.”

Now, we expect instant answers, entertainment, and information from every search and rarely even type our searches. When you think through your own web experiences, how often do you use the search bar or voice search? I do it when I place online grocery orders, shopping Amazon for gifts, or to find something to watch on Netflix. The best experiences for internal search optimization show relevant results, with the results sequenced in a logical order. It might show the brands I buy most often or the items with the best deals or those most highly rated by other shoppers.

For B2B and B2C eCommerce sites, utilizing onsite search best practices when developing an optimized search bar is crucial to your conversion. Optimizing onsite search experiences involves crafting the right product data, developing a healthy taxonomy, and working with UX, design, and technology to deliver an exceptional search experience.

Optimized Search - forrester, salesforce, kissmetrics, search quotes

Competitive Edge for Onsite Optimized Search

Creating and maintaining a great onsite optimized search experience requires focus that many brands don’t prioritize. Onsite search is still largely under-resourced and under-optimized. A recent report found “only 15% of companies have dedicated resources for optimizing the site search experience. Some 42% include it in a wider range of optimization responsibilities; another 42% neglect it all together.” In this article, we’ll give you the starting blocks to make your onsite search more impactful.

Four Onsite Search Basics

1. Design your search bar to take center stage. Look at the 2020 top eCommerce sites and note where they place their search bar. See how they use text, size, color contrast, and placement to make it immediately visible, even if you are quickly scanning the site. These are just three great examples of brands that make search prominent.

screenshots of ecommerce sites with different optimized search bars

2. Tie your onsite search to your analytics so you can uncover insights into how your website visitors search your site. For example: what are words or phrases commonly searched? What are common misspellings, common plurals and what searches produce zero results? Track your click-through and conversion rates to quantify how search results translate into sales. Look for areas where search falls short. Where are you seeing a high percentage of search refinements of users trying multiple terms to get where they want? Where are people exiting the search? See how your search can be disconnected from your actual product catalog. On this site, a search for “stuffed animal”, results in a mix of dolls, figurines, and an occasional stuffed animal.


There are plenty of available stuffed animals on this website, but search results are unreliable. If you navigated through the site’s menu, there is actually a category called “Stuffed Animals” with these results:

screenshot of toysRUs webpage 2

3. Give your visitors more tools to help them search. 

  • Provide predictive typeahead, or an autocomplete feature to save user keystrokes and help them find information faster.
  • Build to accommodate synonyms, substitute terms, all cases, misspellings and typos, special characters.
screenshot of GAP search results page
  • Show relevant, supporting content in your search results and even make results visual where images speed users' cognition. See how Talbots shows product images here:
screenshot of Talbots search results page
Man searching a product on the website

4. Understand the different types of search relevance that you’ll want to consider and build

  • Textual relevance: the search results relate to the keyword entered. For example, when I type white t-shirt, I see white colored cotton t-shirts
  • Business relevance: the search results show the products the business is most interested in selling. For example, they are in stock, they have high margin, they are core brand items, they are seasonal, there is too much inventory. See how you can cross-sell, up-sell, and down-sell in your search merchandising. For sites with brick-and-mortar locations, tie search results with what’s in inventory, popular, or on sale at nearby stores. See how Macy’s pulls in location data to their search function:
Searching bracelet product on Macys website
  • Personal relevance: the search results reflect the individual user's research, searching, and purchasing patterns. For example, when shopping at Walmart.com, when searching for “English muffin” your preferred brand based on past purchases is shown at the top.
Searching product on Walmart website

Optimize Search By Device

Now that you’ve tied your analytics to your search, how can you continue internal site search optimization for your different device experiences. Is your search bar still prominent on mobile devices? How easy is it to type and use if you’re using a tablet? How does your app search work? How can you tie your most popular products searched and purchased by device to your search results? See how Wayfair shows its featured categories, related to the search for “pillows.”

Searching pillows product on Wayfair website

Why Onsite Search Matters

There are quantifiable benefits to improving your onsite search experience. You can track it in your search conversion rate and site conversion rate. Over the long term, you can see how it impacts your customer retention and customer lifetime value. 

According to WebInc, visitors who use site search are 216% more likely to convert into paying customers than regular visitors. This is because the behavior of someone using site search is largely different from someone just clicking around your navigation. People using site search have a specific goal in mind. They’ve already gathered all the information they need to make a decision, and they’re simply trying to find a specific product or service on your site. - Hubspot

Free Onsite Search Audit

To learn more about how to improve your onsite search conversion, we offer a free onsite search audit. To learn more, please fill out this short form.

About the Author

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Sarah Falcon

VP, Marketing Global

Sarah is a nimble and creative marketing leader with 15 years of experience in a mix of agencies, B2B, and B2C enterprises. She brings a background in building and driving impactful marketing practices and processes for growing businesses. Sarah has expertise in brand, content marketing, lead generation, and marketing operations. She’s a co-author of the 2019 book on B2B eCommerce Digital Branch Secrets: eCommerce Playbook for Distributors.

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