The 5 Search Practices Used by the Most Successful eCommerce Shops

When a visitor comes to your website as a prospective buyer, they probably have a general idea in mind as to what they want to purchase.  Most users start with a keyword search.  This search will typically return an overwhelming number of results that forces the end user to discern and refine results.  The ease of this catalog exploration experience is perhaps the most critical aspect of usability on your site that will build brand loyalty.  It is imperative that this user experience (UX) be as smooth and frictionless as possible.  Even better is when the user experience is intuitive enough for your users to explore your catalog in ways that are even more intuitive than their natural instincts.

Investing in search optimization raises the percentage of customers that will purchase not only the initial product they were looking for but discover other products that they didn’t even know they wanted (or that fit their needs).

The key metrics that we consider are: conversion rate and average order value.   A conversion rate is the percentage of visitors to your website that complete the desired goal, in this case, a purchase, versus the total amount of visitors to your site.  The average order value is the dollar amount of the average customer order.  A proper search and faceted navigation experience will increase these metrics and provide additional value to the business.

In this blog post we will address best practices in regard to search that will lead you to success, give you credibility online, and give your customers a better digital experience:

#1. Expose Numerous Applicable Search Facets

Customers coming to your eCommerce site have something in mind when they start interacting with your search features and your faceted navigation.  It is important to keep in mind that there is no one-size-fits-all here.  One customer might be a price shopper: It has to be under $50 or I’m not interested. Another customer might have something very specific in mind: he wants the most eco-friendly sourced materials possible, the price is not a concern.  A third customer, on the other hand, loves the color red and is drawn to colorful gifts.

The faster customers can get to what matters to them respectively, the better your chance of a conversion.  The average digital shopper in 2019 has a major attention deficit disorder.  We are impatient and want to find what we’re looking for on a website within a matter of seconds.  With even the slightest bit of frustration or hesitation, we will hit <ctrl + t> to open a new tab, type the letter ‘a’ in Google, and there’s our old friend – which let’s face it, is easy to do business with.

The more customer-relevant product attributes you have in your dataset, the better.  You must cater to many different customer segments and each of them will use the website in nuanced ways.  Our recommendation is to expose all this great catalog-richness through search and faceted navigation.  Allowing access to proper facets and filters will allow the customer to define exactly what they are looking for without navigating through the catalog manually.  From price to color, collection to style, allowing the customer more ways to refine and drill down, the better for your business success.  Over time you will understand what a “typical” customer looks for and with that understanding, you should test the order of your facets. A/B testing and UI Testing will allow you to further optimize search conversion rates.

#2. Shopper Education: Content and Commerce 101

Searching for ‘birthstone’ on gives us this great birthstone guide

A smart shopper is a paying customer.  If I have the slightest doubt about color, fit, size, or specification I’m going to abandon the buying process.  As a company, you may be doing well with marketing.  You have intelligent copywriters creating blog posts, sizing guides, spec sheets, and infographics.  The trick is to get these assets in front of your shoppers at exactly the right time.  If I’m looking for a pair of jeans and you have ‘skinny,’ ‘slim,’ natural,’ and ‘comfort’ fits, you can rest assured that as a shopper I’m going to be confused on the differences of the cut, and ultimately what is best for me.  Make sure you define each of the fits in a clear concise way or use tools like TrueFit to assist in the buying process.

While you may already have a blurb and the infographic explaining what all these fits mean, you must continue to provide that context throughout my shopping experience.  For example, after I search ‘jeans,’ I’m going to stumble and falter if I don’t have that handy reminder of fits.  Make sure your fit “definitions” dynamically appears when a customer uses a keyword search.  Some eCommerce brands assume that it is annoying or “off-brand” to repeat content or “muddy the UI” but rest assured, sharing applicable information is always appreciated by the customer.  A general truth: If it helps the customer, it will help your bottom line.

Example: Any top-level category searches should take the user to an intuitive landing page where you can advertise, educate, and provide the user with simple ways to drill down to see what they want.  As a retailer, you have all the tools at your finger to assist customers.  Think ahead and answer your customers’ questions/concerns before they even raise them.

#3. Going Backwards – Don’t Make your Users Use the Back Button

The shopping experience and finding what we want to buy is not a linear process.  We go forward, we go back, we refine, turn a corner, and sometimes stumble on what we want.  The more you guide customers through a logical informed path in this process, the better.  When we hit a dead end, we get confused, and confusion leads to frustration.  The goal of UX is to clearly set expectations with the user, that by doing “x” you will expect to see “y”.  The worst possible action is the dreaded ‘back’ button in the browser.  Will it break the flow?  Will it remove my faceted selections?  Will it take us back to the home page?

To combat these fears we recommend the following.  After a search, click through to the product detail page, make it easy to get back to exactly where we were in the search and navigation flow.  Direct links to collections, promotional banners to areas on the site, related products, saved searches, etc. all allow the customer to naturally flow through the site.

In addition, we recommend dynamic breadcrumbs.  This means if we started with a search, we can add to our filtered search, but can also clear it at any time.  In our Tom’s Shoes example, you can see that I have a very specific product in mind.  However, if I don’t find what I want in my price expectation, I can remove a single facet to see a wider product mix and make a buying decision based on size and color only.  This promotes exploration of the catalog in new ways and lets the user see relevant products that perhaps they didn’t think about initially.

#4. First Impressions Matter: AKA Search Type-Ahead

It’s hard to think that in 2019 so many eCommerce shops still get this wrong.  As soon as your users start typing keystrokes in the search box, your opportunity to make an impression begins.  Make it a good one.  Make it relevant, add some color and content, show your facets and show your products.

In the example above, Justice leverages a rich type-ahead feature.  This dynamic experience is what makes customers \ feel like “Wow, this shop really gets me!”.  Typically, search customers will have a general idea of what they are looking for and a streamlined flow can make a conversion very easy.  A few keystrokes, visibly see the product, hit the quick-add to cart button, choose my size and checkout. Bing, bang, boom and I didn’t even need to hit ‘enter’; the definition of a frictionless experience.

If you are a retailer or site owner and you have a budget for only one optimization in 2019, maximize your spend and leverage a highly thought out type-ahead search panel. It will simplify the customer experience and convert like nothing else.  After all, you’ll never get a second chance to make a first impression.

#5. Enhance with Category Landing Pages

The most common navigation your users will start with, by far, are your top-level category pages, especially as more and more customers start their digital experiences with Google or Bing searches (instead of direct traffic to your URL).  They would rarely land on the homepage with searches like “women’s activewear”.  This is true across almost all industry verticals. While the top-level categories aren’t necessarily search result pages, I’m stretching this to include a Google search followed by a page review by a customer.

With this understanding, you need to optimize your digital experiences.  This is your chance to show your best products, collections, and brand differentiators.  Bring in the digital marketing team and build some highly stylized, beautiful pages and assets.   Make sure to review your website analytics (tagging is easy to set up in Google Analytics) and find what people look at and purchase in this category, then use the data to promote those products up front and center.  Use your best educational content to teach the customer about what they should buy.   Most importantly, don’t abandon the faceted navigation flow with static links in the left-hand navigation.  Expose critical facets here and let the users drill down in the way that is important to them, especially if you have a wide product mix with many different sub-categories e.g. Men’s Clothing > Activewear > Moisture Wicking

And there you have it, the 5 search practices of the most successful eCommerce sites.  Our clients recognize there is “money on the floor” with search.  We typically see a nice bump in conversion rate and average order value within a few months.  While we focused on B2C commerce primarily in this post I believe most of the same tactics can be leveraged for B2B, marketplaces, or static content websites as well.  Again, the goal is to anticipate the customer’s expectations and solve for them to create a solid search experience.

To learn more about our capabilities, visit