Help Me Help You: A Guide to Optimizing On-Site Search

Having a well-optimized site search tool does two important things for your site. For your customers, it allows them to quickly and easily find what they are after. For you, it gives valuable insight into what your customers are looking for when visiting. With this information, you as a business can make sure you are meeting their expected needs, and if you find that you are not, you can adjust your products and services to serve them better.

In fact, customers who do an on-site search generate more revenue than those who do not. For example, an average of 30% of visitors will perform an on-site search, and for e-commerce websites, customer conversion rates nearly doubled from people who used on-site search and found what they were after.

You probably think that you understand why a great on-site search tool is important, but figuring out how to make it great is easier said than done. Here are some simple ways to improve your on-site search tool to make sure that it is useful and intuitive for your site visitors.



Start by making sure that your search box is a static fixture on all your pages. It should appear in the same spot with the same design regardless of the page your customer is on. It is also recommended that you make it a visible search “box” and not just text or an icon. A Nielsen Norman Group study showed that there was a 91% increase in search usage when displaying a box versus text alone. This is a great reason to be sure to use a traditional search box format. does an excellent job of keeping their search bar in the same front and centre location across their entire site. Regardless of where the customer is in their shopping journey, they can quickly and easily perform a search for additional products.


To further enhance your search box place some text inside of it so that it is evident to users what the purpose of the box is. Something as simple as the word “search” or “search for” works perfectly, or as has, “Search and start saving…”

You also want to allow your user to start the search by simply hitting the return key. You don’t want to force your user to mouse and click the search button/icon.


It’s important to make sure that your on-site search will auto-complete as your customers are typing in their requests. This enables them to find exactly what they are after on your site painlessly. Zappos’ search bar is an excellent example of this: entering only the first four letters of Adidas returns ten possible queries from the various collections they carry.


Setting up autocomplete is a relatively simple process, and most site design templates like WordPress offer free plug-ins.


Try helping your customers by tackling the most reasonable terms and providing customised results based on the query. So the goal would be to have a different results pages based on different search terms, even if the terms are very similar. FTD does a great job of this with their wedding flowers, providing custom graphics that correspond with that term, versus their standard layout for a more general query such as white flowers.


The reason is that if a client searches a second time with a similar search term, it is likely they did not find what they wanted the first time. You want to make sure you are returning different results pages and images each time to increase the chances of them landing on exactly what they are after.

To that end, you also want to be very sure that you do not return a zero results page. Have a plan in place to return a page of value even when no results are found. You could return a page with your most favourite items, sale items, or even better, when possible you can return items in a similar category as the item they entered in their search. Best Buy does a good job of this when searching for the fictional item milk steak, wherein they return items that pertain to a similar term they carry.



If you offer items in varied colours, sizes, etc… try returning images that best match the searched terms. For example, if you sell outdoor equipment and someone types in “black grill” you want your results page to show images of the black options of all the different grills you sell, just as Home Depot has done.


Likewise, if the user types in “patio chairs” you want the results to show images of your selection of patio chairs. You may not always have images to match every option you offer, but do your best to match the returned images as closely as possible to the original search terms.

Understanding the added value a robust on-site search tool will give to your clients makes the effort it takes to optimize your search tool well worth it. Taking the time to make sure your search engine is working hard to make your user experience smooth and productive will dramatically help convert visitors into customers.

nicole-stelmarNicole Stelmar is a digital marketing specialist for Inseev Interactive, a digital marketing agency based in San Diego. Nicole specializes in helping businesses of all sizes use digital marketing and SEO to grow their digital presence.