Not Just Google: Why Website Proprietors Need to Do Some Soul Searching


Google can help get traffic to a website, but how can a publisher keep users on that site? How can sites strengthen the average-visit duration and the pages per visit?

When someone mentions online search, Google comes to mind. The dominant search engine has won the digital marketing department’s hearts and minds over the years and generated enormous revenues. But search-engine marketing doesn’t necessarily have to end there, and why let Google have all the fun? Inside a company’s website lies plenty of potential in the site search to yield positive results.

Site-search and search engines like Google, Bing, and Yahoo are designed to help individual users find the content they are searching for. They provide millions of search results for users to sift through, though most users only look through the first search engine results page (SERP). Website proprietors have an opportunity to improve user journeys, which can lead to higher user retention.

“On Site search” plays a different role, though, than that of a web search engine. Google can help get traffic to a website, but how can a publisher keep users on that site? How can sites strengthen the average-visit duration and the pages per visit? Answering these questions the right way can lead publishers to increased monetization, which simply means more revenue from display ad placements on the proprietor’s site. It starts with understanding on-site search and how to improve it for the benefit of the user and the business.

For e-commerce websites, site-search engines are everything. Approximately 20 percent of these kinds of websites’ search traffic comes from the website’s internal site search, but this can reach as high as 30-40 percent. Consumers using site search already know what they’re looking for, and thus are more ready to buy. Having an optimized site search that helps guide them more quickly toward the right product can help raise purchase conversions. Remember, a frustrated customer frustrated by his or her inability to find the product is more likely to bounce.

Publishers of all sorts can benefit from site search, but it depends on what sector. The numbers vary by industry. For example, “wiki” websites or a specific website like Encyclopedia Britannica certainly could, since the search is critical for the user experience. News websites tend to lack capable site search engines, because the demand is low, with around and less than one percent of traffic. On news agency websites, users tend to look for items by category or browse through the site without an aim to see the stories since they don’t necessarily have something specific to search.

Still, it’s critical to have a search ability that answers these existing search queries. We may be facing a chicken and egg problem. Search accounts for a low amount of traffic, but it might be due to faulty search tools. After all, a study by Forrester Research found that 43 percent of visitors go immediately to the search bar when they enter a new website. That search makes up such a dramatically lower proportion of the traffic more likely than not indicates there is considerable room for improvement. There is an opportunity here to drive traffic in a way that will increase revenues.

One aspect of why search is crucial is not immediately apparent. Who is it that needs the search function the most? A new user of a website. New users do not know how the website is structured. Beyond that, the odds are they have no intention of familiarizing themselves with the site enough to understand the logic of how things are cataloged. New users need a simple way of immediately finding what they are looking for. After a publisher has gone through the painstaking efforts of finally getting a new user to the site, it is wasteful to have that user leave without finding the relevant page or content item. It is often stuffed several clicks away. Furthermore, the problem of discoverability increases as the page grows and becomes more cluttered over time.

There are several changes publishers can make at the outset to the search on site to make the user experience better and streamlined. These minor changes can make a great deal of difference to a user, especially one who uses it on his or her phone. For example, placement on the web page, the call to action button for “search,” and a user-friendly design, are critical tenets of positive user experience (UX).

Websites must deliver relevant results quickly. Relevancy has to do with semantics and how the site can analyze the user’s search query to understand what he or she is truly looking for. Providing an endless list of results can be frustrating, so taking long-tail keyword searches and designing the search to understand what’s really at the heart of the query is critical. The results can also look better. Currently, sites often list results in a very dry fashion list view. Instead, they could add features like pictures, video thumbnails, title view, or many others to optimize the look and feel. One feature showing promising results is site-search suggestions. The function can give users ideas of what to search for, and some statistics suggest 25 percent of users will click on site-search suggestions.

Lastly, the amount of data extracted from on-site search has enormous value to publishers and merchants. Query data from search can give insights into what user interests. It provides clues on what kind of content to invest in, even if some things in search are harder to find. The data can help a proprietor optimize the website to make improvements throughout in ways that will enhance the user experience, increase visit duration, and average pages per session numbers. A crucial piece of data that can only be revealed by search is data from “no results” searches. If a user clicks around but can’t find the desired page or content item, he or she leaves the site. The publisher is none the wiser on what information could have made the user stay on the site. But a no-results query reveals what useful information publishers can add to the website that users want to find.

While site search might seem like a triviality, it has tremendous merit. Many may think of “search” as Google’s area. But Google can’t necessarily provide the depth on any individual website that the website can for itself. The benefits are there for the taking, and it’s time to squeeze the most out of the potential on on-site search.




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