Internal Search Results Relevance Blooper:

Published: December 23, 2008

Updated: August 9th, 2020

It’s Christmas time! Tons of people will search online for gifts and online deals. They will come to your website and then… Well, then you need to help them find what they are looking for.

Mainly, there are two paths visitors take to find products on your site: using navigational links or using the internal site search. The usage percentage for navigation and search is almost 50/50. So, 10 people may search for “xbox 360” and 10 people may navigate through specific categories on your site until they reach the Xbox 360 product page.

I prefer the search method and I expect to find what I am looking for on the first search attempt (thanks to Google, lots of us will expect high relevancy on the top results).

Online retailers should make sure the results are relevant to users, otherwise, they may lose potential customers. But, If you go on and search for Xbox 360 you will get this result page:

futureshop search result relevancy
Future Shop Site Search Bad Handling

The screenshot was taken at 1920×1200 resolution and the horizontal red line is the fold line at 1024×768 ( the most used screen resolution these days).

As you can see, above the fold, there is no sign of the XBOX 360 console it-self. Instead, you are given all kinds of Xbox accessories, which is not what I a looking for. If I would want to buy an external xbox hdd, I would probably have searched for xbox 360 hdd or xbox 360 hard drive.

Big online retailers can implement the so-called adaptive internal search engine, that will rank documents and list products based on user behavior (clicks). Simply put, when 100 people will search for “xbox 360” and they click on the 8th result, then the site search engine should give a relatively higher priority to that specific page in relationship with the query which generated the search result page.

The above solution can be expensive even for small and medium businesses, as such an engine will cost 100K+ and one of the disadvantages is that they are usually hosted applications.

For small website owners, there is a cheaper alternative: Google Analytics’ site search reports. The easiest way to analyze the data and fix major problems is to download the reports and use Excel to custom sort and filter data. One should mainly focus on:

1. % Search Exits – the higher the number, the worse

2. % Search Refinements – again, higher is bad

Go to your site and replicate the queries from your reports (top 10 highest percentage for both performance indicators). Check if you get no results or if the results are not relevant. Try to tweak your internal engine with the help of your programmer. Some will be easy to fix, some will be a little challenging, but your programmers will love this.

Thoughts? Reach out to me on Twitter or LinkedIn.