We have all done it – you visit a website and start looking for information, but quickly get frustrated because what you want is not on the home page. Next you try site search, which takes you to a landing page filled with blue, indecipherable links. Out of frustration you click on the back button a couple times, go to Google, and run a longer search.
There are a lot of surprising facts when it comes to site search. For starters, a third of all website visitors will search at least once. And the activity I described above is very common. 80% of users who search will immediately leave the website afterwards (technically called a “bounce” in Internet jargon)*. Put this together, and site search is costing the average marketer approximately 24% of all their site traffic.
This is why site search may be the biggest issue when it comes to online marketing and customer acquisition. There is no other part of the conversion funnel that costs marketers as much of their traffic, or as much of their money, as poor site search. The irony is that Google is the major beneficiary because most bounces go to Google.com for another search, and meanwhile Google is the world’s largest vendor of site search products. A cynical person might think that Google does this intentionally.
The good news is that there is a solution to site search, which is a new technology called “Curated Search”. Marketers are starting to get wind of this technology, and it has been adopted by brands like Apple, Blackberry, Xerox, and about a dozen others. The leading vendor in this space is a company in Chicago called Elicit that we seed funded about two years ago, although there are others out there as well.
Curated search takes advantage of the fact that search activity on a marketer’s website is highly concentrated. For a typical marketer, roughly 95% of searches will fall into one of 500 keywords. In statistics this is called a power curve. It is almost the exact opposite of the search activity on Google.com, where there is a flat distribution of searches across hundreds of millions of terms.
The good news about a power curve is that a human being can look at this data and make informed decisions. This is where curated search comes in.
A typical marketer using curated search will group terms into a few essential themes like support, product information, location information, investor relations, etc. They will create corresponding landing pages for these terms that are easily accessible from the search box. This way, users never see a page filled with blue links. Marketers can also inject advertising or promotions in the search experience, which creates a new opportunity to market items based on real-time intent.
Curated search may sound like an obvious best practice, but keep in mind that most marketers are still in the dark ages when it comes to site search. If you ask a CMO on the street, my guess is that he (or she) doesn’t even know what terms are searched for on his website, or worse, he assumes it is one thing when in actuality it is something completely different. This is because most CMOs outsource site search to the IT Department when it should be a marketing function. Until that is resolved site search will likely remain as one of the top 10 CMO mistakes.
*This data is based on a representative sample from 15 marketers, who were using a wide variety of tools including Google Search Appliance, Baynote, and Endeca.