Don't focus on the wrong search box.
Posted Apr 1, 2006
Pundits have called it the Google effect. Your customers and prospects are seeking information about products and services you offer-and they expect that the answer is a search box away. In response, your crack marketing team creates a master plan to ensure that the right information appears to the right customers in response to the right search query. Only one problem: Your team is focused on the wrong search box.
Marketers have mastered the use of Web search engines to get prospects "in the door," but have only recently made strategic investments in effective site search. Consider this: On average, 35 percent of users leverage search when available as their primary system for site navigation. Another 33 percent use search when traditional navigation elements fail them. If these customers can't find what they're looking for they'll either fall back on high-cost channels, like call centers and email or go elsewhere.
Like the original search engine marketing, the ROI associated with such efforts can be both immediate and extreme. Take, for example, specialty chemical company Cabot Corporation. After overhauling site search, downloads of technical data sheets increased by 48 percent, creating higher quality leads; calls to the call center dropped by 21 percent, dramatically reducing sales support costs. Likewise, multibillion-dollar global electronics supplier Premier Farnell saw online sales jump by 32 percent within a year of deploying of a new site search engine.
Build the Business Case
There are dozens of search technology options on the market, ranging from low-end, plug-and-play search appliances to high-end, cutting-edge search and information access platforms. Securing the right budget requires goal setting and baseline measurement exercises.
If you offer eCommerce and feature deep catalog content, site search optimization will dramatically increase conversion rates, reduce dependence on high-cost channels and improve overall sales. Start by calculating four things:
your overall conversion rates
your conversion rates for sessions related to searches
the average online order size
the percentage of overall sales conducted through the online channel
If your site is content focused and nontransactional, site search optimization can reduce site abandonment, increase document downloads and user registrations, shorten sales cycles, and dramatically reduce costs associated with call center and email inquiries. Determine baseline metrics for search failure and abandonment, number of document downloads, user registrations if applicable, and call center and email inquiry activity (number of inquiries and time per response).
Use publicly available case studies-available at most search vendor and industry analyst firm Web sites-to create like comparisons and set expectations. AMR Research, Forrester, Gartner, IDC, Jupiter Research, and Patricia Seybold Group are among the many independent analyst firms with established search and information access practices.
Think Beyond the Search Box
Search vendors have introduced myriad new approaches, revolutionizing both how you treat your Web content and the online customer experience you can provide.
Advancements like faceted navigation (also called guided navigation, guided search, or faceted classification) complement and improve upon the traditional search box and results list. Often compared to discovery experience on iTunes, where a user can find songs not just by title or artist, but also by genre, year, theme and more, faceted navigation presents ways that users can further describe searches or hone long lists of search results.
New features like dynamic merchandising or content spotlighting can promote or cross sell products or highlight relevant upcoming events, buying guides, brochures, and more.
Take Stock of Your Information Investments
Today's site search solutions can unite disparate information sources and take advantage of your information investments. High-end search solutions can actually index and expose high-value content and data on the Web and behind your firewall. For example, savvy B2B suppliers are now using site search to unite product catalogs with customer and inventory information stored in their ERP systems. Others are incorporating product data from product information management systems or master data management systems with highly valuable data like technical documentation or support information.
Some final tips. Once you've determined the right site search strategy for your business, take your time investigating all the options. Take advantage of the search experts at the leading analyst firms to help identify the best technology options for your unique use case. Most search technologies demo well, but sometimes require complicated implementation and deployment cycles--make sure that vendor candidates build out a functional proof of concept using your data and meeting your requirements--and limit the time to do so to a week or less. Last make sure that your vendor agrees to a project success dashboard and target results. Not only will this ensure they are fully involved, but it will also give you immediate and longer-term data to showcase the return on your investment.
About the Author
John Andrews is global lead, manufacturing and distribution, for Endeca. Please visit www.endeca.com
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