For many fashion retailers, site visitors using the search function tend to be more highly engaged, and far more likely to convert than non-search visitors. Across e-commerce industries, search visitors convert at a rate about 350 percent higher than non-search visitors, and the average search visitor also generates more than four times as much revenue per visit.
It’s important, then, to optimize the search interface to ensure search visitors are having the best possible experience, in order to keep them searching and maximize their conversions and revenue potential. Optimizing the search interface can also help you convert more non-search visitors into search users. Even among top fashion and apparel retailers, there are a few changes that can be made to improve the search interface.
Analyze visitor patterns
Before you get started making changes to the search experience, you’ll want to take a look at how your visitors behave. This will help you decide which changes to focus on, if any. If you have Google Site Search tracking enabled, you can check to see how these visitors are behaving in Google Analytics under Behavior, Site Search and Usage.
This table will show you how many visitors are using site search, their bounce rate, revenue and conversion rate. In most cases, the site search visitors will put up numbers that are significantly better than those who do not interact with search. If this is the case, convincing more of your site visitors to use the search bar can significantly increase conversion rates in a very short period of time.
Develop an implementation strategy
Now that you’ve analyzed your visitors, how should you go about running tests? Changes should be planned and analyzed carefully to ensure that actual improvements are made to the user experience.
1) Test one change at a time
In order to be clear on which changes are helping, and which are hurting, test only one change at a time.
2) Provide a sample
Although we all want to see optimizations turn into dollars and cents as quickly as possible, it’s not wise to push a change to all of your visitors without testing it on a sample first. That said, the sample needs to be sizeable in order to be representative. It’s generally recommended to use a sample size of at least one thousand site visitors, in order to glean reliable data.
3) Segment your tests
Different audiences will react to your changes differently, so it’s best to segment them so that you can make appropriate decisions. For example, shoppers who return to your store frequently to buy seasonally appropriate shoes might be thrown off by changes. On the other hand, someone who has never visited your store wouldn’t be affected at all. Depending on the ratio of new to returning visitors, this might be an important consideration when it comes to determining what changes to make, and how to pace them.
Now that you have a testing plan in place, what changes should you consider making?
1) Use an open, white text entry field
The color and shape of the text entry field is extremely important to increasing usage. With regard to the shape, open text-entry fields (or “search boxes”) get about three times the usage as icons. While icons may be more appropriate for mobile-specific layouts, the open search box always saw higher engagement in our tests and is generally deemed more effective, especially for desktop sites. With regard to the color, a white background outperformed every other color by an astounding 204 percent. A blank or white text field is considered to be open to receiving text, whereas other colors may be subconsciously perceived by site visitors as blocked.
2) Include sample text.
In our tests, including sample text has also proven to be useful in prompting users to search. Simple “start typing” text is useful to draw the eye to the area, but including additional information can be useful too. For example, if your search box supports queries for product numbers or SKUs, you can use text such as “Enter product name, number or SKU.” This can be particularly useful for B2B sites that often see repeat orders of specific products (such as plain white t-shirts). Be sure that sample text is automatically deleted when the user begins typing in this box, however.
3) Place your search bar in the center.
Increasingly, fashion and apparel retailers are moving away from traditional header navigational menus. Using these menus typically requires three or more refinements (additional clicks) from the user to find the set of products they want.
For example, if a shopper is looking for a red dress, they may have to select “women”, “dresses”, and then filter by the color red. If the search engine is smart enough, this same set of products can be loaded with a single search query from the visitor. Placing the search bar in the center prioritizes the website’s search feature and shows the user that they can be confident that the search results will be relevant.
Many additional changes can be tested and prove beneficial if you have the resources to devote to design. Although these three changes discussed above may seem small or insignificant, they are an easy way to make search more engaging and encourage further use among existing search visitors, as well as increase the number of search users. Ultimately, this can have a very positive impact on the bottom line.
Lane Fries is strategy manager for SearchSpring, an e-commerce solutions provider.