Any endeavor in digital marketing these days requires a demonstration of return on investment (ROI) before you can hope to get the CFO to loosen the purse strings. The business case must be made. Your internal site search capabilities are no exception.
Let’s start with some facts. MarketingSherpa data reveals that 43% of visitors who land on a website go immediately to the search function. In addition, customers who use the search box on ecommerce sites convert at nearly three times the rate of general browsers. Let’s take that data at face value and run some numbers. An expected, conversion rate from most lead-generation activities runs in the 2% to 4% range. On a site with a smoking site search capability that shows the visitors what they want to see will nearly triple that rate to 6% to 9%.
Let’s say the revenue accrued from the normal lead generation visitors was $500,000. The incremental lift in ROI from your effective site search capability would add another cool million to the bottom line. True, you would have to go back to the attribution model and figure out what percentage of that would be attributed to site search--if your company even included site search in those calculations. Most don’t.
Yeah, not very scientific in this day of data-driven marketing, but we’ll get to that in a minute. The real issue is that there is ROI to be found by paying attention to your internal site search engine, the indexing of pages on company owned Web properties, building an effective algorithm that discovers the information your visitors are seeking, and linking your site search data to your data analytics engine so you can gain insights into what your visitors want and deliver optimized and personalized data to each user of your site search engine. After all, site search is your own personal search engine over which you have total control without the fear of Panda’s and Penguin’s invading your territory.
The point is that your internal site search function can affect visitor behavior and even produce desired visitor behavior if your optimization and personalization is on target. The beauty of this is that search is often a default behavior, i.e., the first thing people do when they come to a site. In many cases, visitors don’t even explore the navigation, but go straight to the search box.
Everybody has tools to gather data and site search data is particularly valuable. The key to success is to gather the right data that can validate your performance KPI.
• Percentage of visitors using search: Do your visitors spend some time navigating around the site before they hit the search box or do they go straight to it right from the start?
• Searches per search visit: How many searches does each visitor perform? You hope it’s only one: He or she finds what is wanted, and convert on the spot. More than one search per visitor could mean bad things, like the search came up empty or found the wrong stuff.
• Percentage of exits from search return page: If the visitor exits the site from the search page returned from a keyword search, you definitely have some issues to consider. Ineffective searches are not a positive customer experience. Today’s marketing objective is all about showing the visitor a good time on his or her customer journey. The customer needs to find what they are looking for on the first try.
• Conversion of search visits to sales: This is all about learning more about your visitors so you can differentiate their behavior compared to visitors who don’t use your site search engine. If search visits convert at a higher rate, as the data cited earlier in this piece suggests, it is worth those results so you can personalize a future message to that visitor.
• Average items per order for search visits vs. non-search visits: Again, knowing the differences is key. You may see a difference in average items per order or average order value and be able to associate that insight with a particular visitor segment.
• Percentage of searches with no results: This is one of those cases where bad news can be used to an advantage. What percentage of visitors use site search and get no results? For what were they looking? What do they do when they don’t get any results on the search return page? Bounce immediately?
• Top searches: For what do people search? Understanding the most common search terms can help you determine why visitors come to your site. With this information, you can improve navigation or call-outs so people don’t need to rely as heavily on the search. Learn from your data and adjust your algorithm or data analytics process.
• Search intent--an intangible-yet-critical behavior to understand about your site visitors: We are talking about measuring what the visitor was thinking during his time on the site as it relates to the KPIs we’ve established. This is directly related to ROI because there are visitors who come to the site “just to look” and navigate at will. Others are strictly there to get a question answered and have informational intent. The chances for conversion with these visitors is slim. Thus, you want to set up a couple of custom variables in your data analytics to identify those visitors who are on a transactional or commercial conversion path to purchase versus those who are just lookers.
These metrics are just an example of what to measure so you can demonstrate your ROI from site search. The evaluation of the data has many advantages, with visitor behavioral analysis being one of them.
Once you understand these behaviors, you can tune your site search or site navigation based on what people search for or what you want them to find. Site search behavior is often only reviewed at a high level, but the information that can be gleaned from it can help greatly improve customer experience and provide an incremental lift for your marketing ROI.