Internal search for online shops: an essential asset

Internal search is a valuable asset for any informational website containing over 20 pages. That value is probably double or more when it comes to internal search for online shops. The easier a visitor gets to the desired product, the more likely he or she will buy it. Following my post on internal search for informational websites , I’d like to elaborate a bit more on internal search for eCommerce shops in this post.

Internal search for online shops

There is a reason the larger online shops add so much focus on their internal search: you will buy their stuff if you can easily find the product you are looking for. It’s as simple as that.

The number of products in an online shop varies from dozens to thousands. As soon as your online shop has more than 20 items, you need to start thinking about alternative ways to get to these products. They can’t all be in a submenu, right?

There’s a ton of things you can do to make the route to the desired product as short as possible for your visitor.

Location of your search bar

There is no default best spot for the search bar on your website. We think the location of a search bar largely depends on the type of page (or homepage) you have and the importance of that search bar for your audience. Rule of thumb is that you can’t ignore the search option when you are sitting down with your designer. It has to have a prominent spot on pretty much every page.

Most common spots are in or below the header, where a visitor will expect that search bar to be. A nice example is Cabela’s search option:

You can see it doesn’t have to be a large, obtrusive search option. The position of that search bar makes it so that any visitor will be able to find it in a heartbeat.

There are a number of other positions that you can choose, but these two are the most common ones. Other options include in the hero image, like on Etsy.com , or as a part of the menu, like on Staples.com .

The main thing to keep in mind is that (in most cases) your search option should be one of the most prominent elements of your homepage. And probably of a number of other pages as well. That doesn’t go for product pages, as that would be the end result for a query. But please add it in a less prominent way to these pages, so people can continue shopping at all times. It wouldn’t hurt to test variations of that search bar location and see what works best for your audience.

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Internal search result pages for online shops

There are two kinds of internal search result pages in online shops:

Actual internal search result pages, found by adding a search query to the search option on a website, and

your product category pages, that can be found by clicking a link to that category.

Both basically look the same, right? The main difference is that the category pages are presented after clicking a link, most probably in the menu, and the search result pages are presented after an actual search query. Think about an online fashion shop that gives you the choice between the main categories Men and Women . The search query is predefined.

These search result pages should have the following characteristics:

Highlighted search keywords

Add excerpts of your product description containing the keyword

Rank results by relevance

Make sure internal search results are not indexed by Google

There is one extra characteristic I’d like to add here. No matter what the product is you are selling, make sure a product image is shown in your internal search results. This makes searching a lot easier. For instance, with books  (and even eBooks), I’d rather pick the one with a nice cover than the boring alternative. Make sure there is an image available. We’d be happy to check this and much more for you in our site reviews .

One more addition to this. And this is just me thinking out loud. If a visitor clicks a search result in your webshop, and lands on your product page, prevent the need to click back to the internal search results. That can be easily done by adding a related products section to the product page.

Filter options after an internal search

I already mentioned the importance of providing filter options for your internal search for online shops. The main reason is that on most larger eCommerce shops, the visitor is still left in the dark when doing that initial internal search. The number of results is overwhelming. The easier it is to narrow this down, the happier you will make your potential customer.

In this section, I’d like to go over a number of best practices. First, I’d like to mention the filter options in the mother of all online shops: Amazon.com . Here’s a screenshot:

This is all in one large sidebar on the left-hand side of your Amazon page (not per se in this order by the way). What I think is especially nice in these filter options, is the option to filter on Average Customer Review. It emphasizes the Amazon community and in the very general search I did, this is a welcome filter option.

Zalando.de is one of the larger European online clothing shops. Always on the lookout for new, cheap t-shirts, I found these filter options:

Note that the global filter on the left has already disabled the filter options that don’t apply to this search, which is nice, and that it gives me the opportunity to filter for sale items only (I’m a cheapskate when it comes to t-shirts).

The most important filter options are right above the search results: Brand, Color, Price, Size, etcetera with a select option in the dropdown:

One could argue whether that brand list should instead be a long list right below the global search options. Zalando has most probably tested this a lot, and so should you. Test , or ask, what your visitors prefer.

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The third and last case that I’d like to mention in this post is LEGO.com :

Ow, what a teaser. “Coming Soon: 5”. And why can I filter retired products? So I can go on eBay and buy these for a lot more than the initial price :

So that “hard to find” statement might not be entirely accurate, but I can see this pushing experience and price 🙂 LEGO does a very nice job on these filter options, by the way. Especially the Age and Pieces options come in handy for most visitors, I imagine. Note that where Amazon starts with the Rating filter, LEGO concludes the list of filters with that option. Perhaps Amazon users are looking for a type of book rather than a specific book, where LEGO.com users are looking for that one box to complete their collections. But that’s just me guessing.

You can see how filter options help you get to the desired product a lot faster than just entering more search terms in an internal search field in an online shop.

Read more: ‘Internal search: why and how’ »

Conclusion

Where a search option on an informational site is very much like your basic Google search, the internal search for eCommerce shops is a bit more complicated. You really want to add a second step to that: filter options. Together these make for a very good user experience, as long as your filter options are logical and are tailored to your target audience.

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