"User experience" has become a trending topic, and for a good reason: the experience people have with your business will directly affect your reputation and repeat traffic. Marketers (and DIY business owners) have various avenues to draw in clicks from new customers these days, but the businesses that manage to maintain that traffic have mastered how to deliver what their target audience is expecting.
Online search — and site search in particular — is essential to the shopping experience because consumers have evolved over the years. We've all grown to be a little impatient when we know what we want, and thanks to smartphones, we spend a lot more time researching products when we don't know exactly what we want.
In fact, for the items that take a little more consideration, shoppers spend an average of 13 days doing the research before they commit.
Something as simple as a hairdryer can be stretched over weeks of contemplating. Since other purchases don't take as much thought, we spend our time confirming that our favorite store has it and the fastest route to get there. We might even throw in a quick price comparison between competitors on the way. Either way, the majority of purchases begin with a search.
Buyers have so many options and the ability to cross-reference everything, so we've become a bit impatient in some ways and demanding in others. It's kind of complicated.
Understanding the Buyer's Journey
Buyers today have a depth of options, and we feel empowered by that engagement. The tables have turned on sellers who have completely transformed the simplified buyer's journey you might have heard of before. Now that consumers have experienced this power shift, they've jumped in the driver's seat, and there's no going back.
This evolution has made it difficult to hold a buyer's attention and a bit harder to please — but not impossible. In order to understand your buyers, you'll need to be aware of the various stages that occur throughout the buying process. They're "moments" really, as we often ping pong back and forth from one stage to another.
The simplified buyer's journey consists of 3 basic stages: awareness, consideration, and decision. This is pretty easy to understand as buyers realize they have a problem, consider their options, and decide on a provider. However, the digital world has made things a little more complex than that.
Technology has expanded, and so has our site search tracking. The following list highlights a variety of "moments" a buyer can experience throughout their journey. The process is not linear, and the order can vary.
Pre-Awareness: The buyer is unaware they have a problem or opportunity
Awareness: The buyer has become aware there is a problem to solve
Education: The buyer is actively searching for a solution
Consideration: The buyer compares different options as a solution
Rationalization: The buyer has partially committed but critically evaluates every detail
Decision: the buyer has selected their option to provide a solution
The question to ask yourself is: how can your company add value to the buyer in these various stages of their journey? Will you be prepared to assist them to the next stage?
Predict What Consumers Want
When you invest in site search algorithms, you're able to connect with users in a different way. Not too long ago, we relied on demographics to link a certain age range and gender to our potential customers.
That was and always will be successful for its intended purposes, but we can take it a step further when we analyze search analytics to understand our target audience behavior.
Internal search engines give you a clear picture of how users found your site, what product, service, or content type they came looking for, the route they took to find it if there was a detour along the way, and whether the outcome was successful. Whew — that's a lot of analyzing, and that doesn't even cover everything we can learn.
The two most important are customer intent and site navigation. In order to provide a seamless experience, you have to consider what they came for and if they were able to find it. A customer who is looking to educate themselves on the value of different tires will have a successful visit if they can easily compare options with you, even if they don't buy them at that moment.
If you successfully assist consumers where they are at that moment, they'll be more likely to visit you again in the future. In today's world, sellers have to change their thinking from selling to helping, which may alter the definition of success.
Site Search Analytics
No doubt about it — the best way to create a frictionless user experience is to research your internal search analytics. When consumers use the search box on your website, they're directly telling you what search terms they're looking for. You can't get the same helpful site search reports from clickthrough rates.
Your site search must be up-to-date so that it understands full sentences, not just keywords. Modern search is capable of natural language processing (NLP) and accounts for misspellings, slang, or ambiguities.
Thanks to AI assistants like Siri and Alexa, consumers have come to expect this sophisticated search function. If your business is not ready to deliver a search box and relevant results, they're likely to bounce right out of there.
Incorporate Search Queries Into Your Content
Evaluate your most common search queries and keywords to create content that you know users will find valuable. You could write a blog that touches on those topics, add relevant products to a prime spot near the header, or create targeted campaigns based on consumer feedback. Useful content is what builds trust, and ultimately — brand loyalty.
Evaluate Site Navigation
If you see a trend with the majority of searches originating from the same page, that content may be too difficult to find. Take a critical look at where those searches stemmed from and consider adding an inline link or a visual cue to prompt visitors where to go.
Just because your eye naturally goes to a certain spot doesn't mean everyone's eye does. Navigation is too easy of a fix to lose valuable searchers that landed on your site with intent.
Use Search Analytics to Better Your Business
Before you plan a meeting to discuss major business decisions, make sure site search is on the agenda. When utilized to its fullest, search analytics will tell you what your shortcomings are so you can better your brand. Take a look at the ineffective searches to learn what people want that you don't have.
In the interim, not having relevant content results doesn't have to be a dead-end. This is a good opportunity to suggest similar products the user might be interested in. Suggestive selling is always preferred over "no results found."
Update Your Wording
Words are everything when it comes to search. Thankfully semantic search has made it possible for platforms to understand the contextual meanings and synonyms. You may notice that your searchers prefer a more laid-back term than the formal one you've been using.
Embrace it — Instead of standing firm, incorporate the words your visitors are using into your attributes, parameters, advertising, and content to make yourself more relatable and appealing. This will likely be an ongoing task as trends are always evolving.
A modern and sophisticated search experience is directly correlated to a positive user experience with your brand. We've all grown to lean on search before almost any purchase. Perfecting your branded search is imperative if you want to show up and be seen when consumers are walking through the buyer's journey.
Site search helps current users navigate your site and helps attract organic traffic to your business by helping with SEO. They work hand-in-hand to offer a more personalized digital experience across the board.
Keep the site search functionality in a consistent spot across all pages of your site so it can easily be located. A clear call-to-action will prompt users to interact, and you can inspire new product selections with predictive text. Be sure your site feature can account for user errors like misspellings and provide relevant results quickly, so you don't lose their attention.
Remember, consumers are used to using Google Search, and they're a little more impatient these days. When they are clear in what they want, they want to see options immediately. So search platform load times should be low if you're going to keep them engaged.
Utilize search analytics and the proper metrics to understand your visitors better and offer a seamless experience with your brand. The insight gained from the research will put you at your digital best, keep the traffic flowing, and produce greater brand loyalty.
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