Microsoft

Site Search vs. Traditional Navigation – really, both.

I am a broken record on this one topic: Don’t let site search be an afterthought. When determining or upgrading your web solution, site search should be in the mix of the business, strategy, and connectivity discussions from the beginning. Not only is it a user expectation and a way to improve customer experience, but it can (and should be) a powerful reporting tool, delivering clear data to marketers on products, customer habits and content voids.
Site search inevitably plays different roles in different web experiences. An E-Commerce site with a rich depth and breadth of products will undoubtedly see more search activity than an informational site, especially with repeat customers. B2B and B2C will likely experience different amounts of search box traffic. Research sites will live and die by the quality of site search, and so on.
Your customer also makes a difference. Are they explorers, preferring traditional navigation as a journey or are they more interested in getting right to the point, and skipping over those finely tuned UX journeys? “I need it now and don’t have time to browse.” Are they on a desktop where nav is beautifully built-out next to the search bar or on a mobile device with a hamburger menu and magnifying glass carrying equal weight? The answer is: don’t disappoint, do both. You see this duo in most web experiences, traditional nav and good site search easily live together to cover different types of users across different devices. Really the only consideration in adding a quality site search experience should be budget. When considering that budget, make sure you factor this information into your ROI formula:
Based on an E-commerce site study by econsultancy.com:
“On e-commerce sites, up to 30% of visitors will use the site search box, and each of these users is showing a possible intent to purchase by entering product names or codes.”
“Visitors that perform a search convert 5X more often than those that don’t.”
“A better user experience means that customers are more likely to spend more time on the site, and can boost the number of registrations and return visits.”
“Your business gains more loyalty as customers know they can find products more easily.”
From a non-commerce site Coveo case study this food technology company saw:
“A 900% increase in search depth (number of content page-views following a search), indicating an increase in site stickiness.”
“A 48% increase in time-on-site, reflecting better visitor engagement.”
“A 45% decrease in abandonment rate following search, signaling improved relevance and greater engagement.”
Relevance Matters
Not all site search solutions are the same. Take these solutions for Sitecore CXP: Lucene, Solr and Coveo. Out of the box, Coveo provides the most power with the least amount of development time and as a cloud solution, can provide machine-learning relevance tuning.
Learn more in this Coveo interview of Perficient’s own George Chang.The George Chang
Through this intelligent relevance, the burden of day-to-day improvement of search tuning is removed from your team’s workload and simultaneously, your customers get refined results from search-one. Imagine a large site with many products and all the data that comes with each – relevance-tuned search is not just better than traditional nav and basic search tools – it is a customer experience (CX) competitive advantage.
Traditional nav also cannot return results like search. Sure, with nav you will capture clickstream data, but with CX solutions like Sitecore, you can take the rich search data and use it to drive personalization to then serve up tuned content post-search – throughout the customer journey.
To put numbers to this, here are some sample outcomes from a “Quick Win relevance tuning of search results” from Earley Information Science – 2016:
Relevance tuning outcomes

  • 27% Increase in average time spent on page
  • 10% Decrease in bounce rate
  • 43% Lift in visitors clicking-thru to make specific product “purchase” requests
  • 17% Lift in visitors performing product refinements by researching related products
  • 45% Lift in document download rate

Traditional nav is necessary but site search delivers on the promise of relevance.

As this blog’s title suggests, this is not an either/or decision. Users are different and their personalities, devices and familiarity with your product all tie into whether they navigate to a product or piece of content, or if they search for it. Provide both and you cover your bases. Provide an elevated search experience and you will exceed user expectations and feast on rich data to further accelerate conversion.
I welcome your comments here and of course please follow me on twitter – @Sitecordial

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Rick Bauer, Senior Solutions Architect

As a 5-time Sitecore Strategy MVP and Senior Solutions Architect at Perficient, Rick provides insight, training, and a passion for a fully-realized potential of the Sitecore Customer Experience Platform and Content Hub. He utilizes his years of hands-on Sitecore know-how and certification to help deliver clear solutions and actionable results for marketers - both new to the platforms, or looking to take them to the next level of maturity.

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