The customer types in a search query. Your system corrects for spelling and context, and produces a list of results. Does that mean your on-site search is optimised? Not even close.
Kees Olthof, Senior Consultant at ATTRAQT Fredhopper, says that effective ranking is actually the big differentiator. ‘Ranking is an aspect of search that is often overlooked,’ says Kees. ‘But it can really make a difference in how search can lead to conversion.’
Don't Forget the Data
Essential to any on-site search strategy is clear, strong data. Without the details needed to make clear differentiations in your stock, you won’t have any control over your results rankings. ‘eCommerce Managers are often the ideal people to determine what data is relevant to capture,’ Kees says. ‘They have unique insight into the business, and they understand the connections between business strategy and data points.’
The Five Flavours
Once you’ve ensured that your data is clear and strong, you can start to make it work to your advantage. ‘In on-site search, placement is everything,’ says Kees. ‘Your search results might be complete, but if your newest, hottest product don’t appear until the third page of results, something is going wrong.’
At Fredhopper, Kees and his team recommend developing a ‘Ranking Cocktail’, using the five essential flavours that put products in the right place at the right time:
- Newness/Season: Fashion is seasonal, and your search should be, too.
- Stock: The number of available items should impact how strongly you promote them in rankings.
- Margin: Of course, the margin you make on a product is an important factor.
- Popularity: Product views and purchases give you insight into what your customers like most. That should, of course, influence their position.
- Relevance: How closely does each result match up to the original term searched?
The Three Dimensions
But, according to Kees, that’s just the beginning. You can further refine your ranking strategy – and improve on-site search - using the three dimensions that are different for every retailer. ‘First, retailers should examine the importance of newness,’ Kees explains. ‘For some products, newness is everything. For others, it hardly matters at all. This will influence how much weight you give to newness in your Ranking Cocktail.’
The second dimension is all about timing. At the beginning of each season, you want your most popular seasonal products to be front-and-centre. But, towards the end of the season, you should try giving more weight to items that are still in high stock. That way, you can help deplete the stock items as the season wears down.
Third, but perhaps most importantly, is geography. ‘International retailers should be examining their eCommerce data by region,’ Kees explains. ‘Not only because sales and weather will be localised, but also because preferences and popularity are local, too.’
Avoid the Self-Fulfilling Prophecy
The Ranking Cocktail is one of the only ways to avoid strategising yourself into a corner, according to Kees. Many retailers organise their on-site search results based on strong data, like margins, stock sales, and page views. But that’s not quite enough. ‘The newest items in your catalogue won’t ever get pushed to the top of your rankings if your system is sorting on historic data such as sales and views,’ Kees says. ‘That’s why the Cocktail is so important – because factors like season, stock and popularity can tip the scales in the right direction for your newest products.’
The on-site search game is far more than a box and a button. And while many aspects can be automated and controlled, there’s nothing that beats a retailer’s own insight, knowledge and experience to turn customer data into conversion. ‘Fredhopper helps eCommerce Managers and their teams to execute the plans they already have in mind. In the end, it’s all about combining knowledge and insight with the right tools to execute.’