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It’s a bad sign if no one uses your website search

I’ve been working with several clients recently to improve their website search, and have been noticing something new. Lack of volume. A rule of thumb is that between one and ten percent of website visitors use website search to find something within your website. Now some sites, like Amazon, probably have numbers nearer 90%, but most sites still have many more people arriving via links or Google Search who navigate where they are going once they get to your site.

It used to be that when I started working with a site whose website search wasn’t very strong, you’d see that one percent number. In recent weeks, I have come across three clients where the number is lower than one percent–one-third of one percent in one case. Now you might be forgiven for thinking, “Good! If the search engine is no good, I am glad no one uses it. Maybe we should take it off completely!” But that probably isn’t the way to go, because:

  • Searchers buy more. There are no recent studies on this, but with my clients I find that visitors who search on their website have higher conversion rates than those who don’t. My suspicion is not that using search creates this happy result, but that people more motivated to buy use search. If your most motivated customers want to search, that might be a good reason to help them find what they want to buy.
  • You’re sending them to Google. You already got them onto your site–maybe even paying Google already for that privilege. Why frustrate and then send them back into the arms of Google to try to get them to come back to a different part of your site. And most will find another site, with you losing the sale.
  • You’re hurting your brand. Most of us believe the wisdom that your customer’s experience makes or breaks your brand. So what kind of an experience is your website search? Frustration isn’t usually correlated with higher sales, so perhaps it is time to work on an obvious frustration point here.

If you’ve been holding off on tackling website search because you don’t know what to do, that’s understandable, It’s human nature to ignore problems we don’t know how to solve. But it’s hurting your business, so you might try looking up someone like me to lead you in the right direction. It’s not as difficult as you might imagine.

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Mike Moran

Mike Moran is an expert in digital marketing, search technology, social media, text analytics, web personalization, and web metrics, who, as a Certified Speaking Professional, regularly makes speaking appearances. Mike’s previous appearances include keynote speaking appearances worldwide. Mike serves as a senior strategist for Converseon, an AI powered consumer intelligence technology and consulting firm. He is also a senior strategist for SoloSegment, a marketing automation software solutions and services firm. Mike also serves as a member of the Board of Directors of SEMPO. Mike spent 30 years at IBM, rising to Distinguished Engineer, an executive-level technical position. Mike held various roles in his IBM career, including eight years at IBM’s customer-facing website, ibm.com, most recently as the Manager of ibm.com Web Experience, where he led 65 information architects, web designers, webmasters, programmers, and technical architects around the world. Mike's newest book is Outside-In Marketing with world-renowned author James Mathewson. He is co-author of the best-selling Search Engine Marketing, Inc. (with fellow search marketing expert Bill Hunt), now in its Third Edition. Mike is also the author of the acclaimed internet marketing book, Do It Wrong Quickly: How the Web Changes the Old Marketing Rules, named one of best business books of 2007 by the Miami Herald. Mike founded and writes for Biznology® and writes regularly for other blogs. In addition to Mike’s broad technical background, he holds an Advanced Certificate in Market Management Practice from the Royal UK Charter Institute of Marketing and is a Visiting Lecturer at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business. He also teaches at Rutgers Business School. He is a Senior Fellow at the Society for New Communications Research. Mike worked at ibm.com from 1998 through 2006, pioneering IBM’s successful search marketing program. IBM’s website of over two million pages was a classic “big company” website that has traditionally been difficult to optimize for search marketing. Mike, working with Bill Hunt, developed a strategy for search engine marketing that works for any business, large or small. Moran and Hunt spearheaded IBM’s content improvement that has resulted in dramatic gains in traffic from Google and other internet portals.

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