From the internet's earliest days, websites have had site search, the ability to access information and data internal to a website from a search function accessible on the website. Over time, this functionality grew, but it didn't progress much beyond a direct data-base lookup function. This meant that often times, if your query did not exactly match the phrase the system was using to catalogue all the website's information, you effectively got no results.
A big step forward occurred when systems became able to give similar results, mirroring the direction the search engines themselves had grown in. At least in this world, you hadsome results returned — even if they were not often an exact match, or did not directly answer your question. In these circumstances, the searcher had to click on the links, read the content, and hope the answer to their question was to be found in the content shown. Indeed, in some cases, this was easy and straightforward.
For many years, site search existed in this "add-on" world, where the functionality was either baked into the content management system (CMS) you happened to be using, or was available as a stand-alone plugin for the system. Site search's ranking in the martech stack was understandably pretty low.
Everyone wanted theirs to be better, but the technology and resources conspired to hinder it becoming a high priority.
Providing Value to Users in an Answers-Ready World
But under which circumstances would you decide to make your site search feature a high priority? Maybe if it was capable of some amazing feats of digital strength, such as extending site visit times (engagement) from seconds to minutes, or if it had the ability to directly answer questions with THE one correct answer every time. What if it could generate a measurable impact on revenue? Any one of those would likely attract the attention of a savvy digital marketer. What if you could do all three?
If you look at leading companies today, you'll see a shift is underway. It's being led by the search engines, which openly share that their focus is on "searcher intent." If you can understand the searcher intent, you can map to the "best answer" for any given question.
Today's searchers ask a question, and whenever possible, the search engine gives them a direct answer. Not a link that needs to be clicked, then a website that must be read. Now it's just straight to the answer — delighting the searcher.
Yet your site search experience probably still doesn't mirror this. It probably still makes people hunt around for the actual answers.
Companies like Home Depot and Zillow, however, have this down to a science. Their navigation is intent-based, showcasing only the categories, products, services, or items they know people are looking for at any given time (adjusted for seasons, as well). The main website page is clean, with an aspirational image front and center — designed to not only mirror the visitor's interest, but also to encourage them to ask their question, because the website will have the answer.
In the middle of this webpage sits a search box. It's prominent, and one of the few things you can engage with on the page. It's the start of everything, designed to help the visitor on their journey to fulfill their intent, and it also informs the business of what, exactly, that visitor's intent actually is. The amount of data a prominent search box, with a well-executed site search function, can uncover is eye opening. Entire funnels can be built around this data, helping inform content planning, paid ad campaigns, and which sections of the website should be targeted first for technical work or upgrades.
Site Search 2.0
This only works, however, when the site search architecture is robust and capable. It has to be able to return accurate results that directly answer questions. It must understand intent, or the results will be lacking.
When you apply some fresh thinking and technology to the problem though, new solutions appear. Using AI-powered systems to manage your search, content cataloguing (the core of your website's own knowledge graph) and data retrieval processes (the core of site search), your solution creates results that much more closely resemble what today's searching consumer is expecting. Consumers have been trained to just expect the right answer, and now your system is capable of delivering that.
The data generated from such a system can then be used to inform content creation, site design and user experience development, navigational layouts, and much more. The customer is providing you, through their searches and clicks, an actual map of their intent. By watching the data, you'll know which content and pathways lead to higher conversions, and which lead to dead ends. You'd have the data to build targetedintent pages, that form the basis for the "best answer" Google seeks. This ultimately creates a better user experience, increasing engagement, and potentially impacting revenue.
Your Search, Your Results
You can even tailor the results pages to your liking. If you feel the best answer includes a map to help with directions, include that. Clickable phone number? Easily added. Images or video a better fit? Put them in — you are in complete control of the results experience. And building the page to serve both the visitor's needs and your own business needs is completely possible.
You will also likely see less bounce happening. That scenario, where a person clicks on you in Google's search results, hits your page, then immediately goes back to Google's results to look elsewhere. That pattern, repeated against your website (naturally, not artificially) can harm future rankings. If your intent page captures everything the searcher thinks they need to answer their question, they don't bounce. They stay and engage, increasing metrics like time-on-site, decreasing that bounce rate mentioned above, and possibly driving a direct increase in revenue through sales.
So where should site search sit in your martech stack? If you have one capable of hitting the trifecta of engagement, answers, and revenue generation, shouldn't it be a top priority?
Learn more about mistakes to avoid in building your martech stack in this blog post.