On-Site Search: The Other White Meat


pork_smallADOTAS – A lot of times when we talk about being found where consumers are searching, we’re talking about being found where consumers are searching on search engines — search engine marketing in the form of organic listings or paid search results.

But we’re forgetting one critical way consumers are trying to find products/services/information they need: on-site search.

Many dismiss this as a secondary priority, but on-site search is a lot more important than most give it credit for. Marketing Sherpa research shows that 43% of visitors that click through to a website go immediately to the search function.

As an advertiser, you fall into one of two categories:

  • You have a search box on your website: Great, but are you implementing findings from your consumers’ queries? If the search functionality is poor, 80 percent of users will leave the site and go to a competitor’s site (Marketing Sherpa, 2007).
  • You don’t have a search box on your website: Do you also hate making money? Not having a search function is one of the fastest ways to lose sales.

Whether or not you have an on-site search box, here are some ways to keep money in your pockets and, possibly, increase this cash flow as well.

Getting Started

For a business looking to implement a search function on its site, the easiest place to start is with Google. There are a plethora of other options, but Google offers three choices that allow businesses to decide which on-site search offering is best for their needs.

Google Custom Search: Free search service for your website or blog. Because it’s free, there will be ads served up with these search results.

Google Site Search: This on-site search ranges from $250 to $2,000 a year, depending on the number of web pages indexed by the search and the search query limit. This option is ad-free, and advertisers can make refinements to help categorize search results or target top search results from specific parts of the website. For an SMB this is the biggest bang for your buck, because advertisers can continually optimize their websites and the search functions to get a better ROI.

Google Commerce Search 2.0: For SMBs, this is probably overkill. For large retailers with a vast array of products to display on-site, this may be worth the extra investment to drive consumers to make a purchase.

Consider what would happen if you had to go to WalMart.com to search for black workout shorts — and there was no search box. Would this item be located under Apparel or Sports & Fitness? The point is, some items are easy to find. But when you need something that’s not as popular, a search box is the easiest way for consumers to find what they need.

Knowledge Is Power

Including search functionality within a website is the first step to keeping sales from going down the drain. The next step is how you use the information acquired from those searches. Again, we look to Google for more insight with Google Analytics.

This is a free service that can help advertisers see what exactly consumers are doing on their sites, as well as what they’re searching for. With this information, advertisers can better structure the navigation, content and layout within their websites to improve usability and increase inquiries and/or purchases.

Through Google Analytics, advertisers can gain the following insights just from looking at their Google Analytics reports:

  • Percentage of consumers making refinements to their initial searches
  • The average time spent on the site after searching
  • Percentage of searchers who left the site after seeing the search results
  • The volume of each search made
  • All of the above broken down for each individual keyword

With this information, an advertiser can find simple but telling ways to improve the content within the website as well as the site structure.

Sears provides just one example of how a brand can learn from their on-site search findings. Sears.com is set up similarly to Walmart in that consumers can navigate through all of the products or perform a search to find what they need.

However, the one trend that consistently showed up in the search data was that people with product questions were typing the item and/or model number into the search box, in hopes that the corresponding product would be shown (but at that time, those searches would render the dreaded “no results match your search” page). Now when consumers input any product item or model number into the search box, they are automatically brought to the exact product page they are looking for.

The lesson here is that instead of trying to teach consumers how to find what they need on their website, Sears reorganized and anticipated their consumers’ intents, which led to a more user-friendly website.

So far we’ve only gone through e-commerce sites as examples (mostly because they are examples of brands using on-site search correctly). But make no mistake; having an on-site search box is invaluable for any advertiser or business — B2B or B2C.

Whether your website is meant to direct consumers to products or you’re trying to educate consumers on a service, helping them get where they want to go is a sure-fire way of increasing business both on-and offline.


  1. For those publishers who don’t “hate making money,” as Michael put it, and also hate working only with one advertiser, there are options outside of Google. adMarketplace offers alternatives to the Google tool bar at pubMarketplace.com. If you want to diversify your business or can’t work with Google, it’s a great place to start looking for alternatives.

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