Site search: improving the digital customer experience

site searchAs the godfathers of usability and user experience always emphasized you need to offer “visitors” (a.k.a. people with an intent and task at hand) choice in the ways they can effectively access your content and navigate their way through your website. Site search is a crucial component of it.

Everyone has a different way of searching/browsing/detecting and if you keep the options open – without confusing by offering too many options at once – you facilitate better experiences. Even better: you will increase conversions and at least leave a positive impression if people find what they seek fast (with each touch having an impact on the end-to-end customer experience). So, away with the disturbing Flash branding overkill and more focus on the essence, finding the way and what  Gerry McGovern means when he says ‘content is not the strategy, the task is‘.

A while back, Forrester’s Anjali Yakkundi posted some key findings from Forrester’s recent site search market overview. As Anjali writes, site search plays a vital role in the digital customer experience strategy (note the word strategy), increasingly the task of all marketers and even the CMO.

Striking a balance between choice and keeping the visitor focussed while facilitating him to fulfill his tasks the way he sees fit isn’t always easy. While blogs as this one can afford basic search (and still…), your corporate website can’t. This doesn’t mean search has to be difficult, on the contrary: remember the KISS-principle. However, your site search and the experience of the people using it has to be accurate, to-the-point and just grand.

Site search requires a strategy of relevance

Anjali Yakkundi – serving Application Development and Delivery Professionals at Forrester
Anjali Yakkundi 

Specialized site search vendors – not to be confused with enterprise search although sometimes the vendors overlap – aim to enable your business to offer just that to visitors.

Forrester looked at the market and in her blog post, Anjali Yakkundi sums up some conclusions:

  1. Search is more than processing queries, Anjali writes. Indeed: site search is focusing on more than these tasks and vendors increasingly support content presentation, product recommendation, navigation, etc. Or in other words: just like in other information management and content management areas, the shift towards the user experience is clear.
  2. The market is consolidating. The Forrester report looks at 14 site search solutions (full list in the blog) and the landscape is maturing (also see the previous point) and (thus) consolidating. One example: the acquisition of Fredhopper by SDL. Some vendors also shifted focus Anjali notes with the example of IBM which focuses more on big data with Vivisimo. And of course there are still some ‘independents’ (such as Google’s custom Search which we’re installing here).
  3. Open source. The rise of open source site search vendors (e.g. Lucene/Solr) as standalone search solutions, Anjali writes, is posing a threat to proprietary vendors.

In the context of this blog post I saved the most important part – from a business/customer perspective – for last: it’s not just about technology, no matter how essential that piece is. Content strategy is of the utmost importance in this regard as well. In other words: you need a strategic vision and this clear strategy has to be focused on RELEVANCE.

Sounds familiar? Sure, it’s also what content marketing in general is struggling with: strategy (or the lack of it). And it’s also what we like to keep emphasizing in a search engine optimization context and a content marketing/strategy perspective: RELEVANCE matters. And so does the customer experience.

Or to refer to Gerry McGovern again: if people stay on your website a long time it doesn’t (necessarily) mean they like the site (let alone the search) so much. It’s probably because they don’t find what they’re looking for fast.

The result? poor customer experiences and lost business. Site search matters. A lot.

More about the Forrester report.