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Website search and filtering for content marketing

Helping website users find what they’re looking for is a big part of making our websites usable for our target audience and productive marketing tools for our companies. Search methods can vary and, depending on your site content and the makeup of your audience, the underlying technology can be a challenge to pull off well.

Beyond the technology, there are considerations about how search functionality serves your marketing goals. At first glance, free-form search would seem to be the obvious answer for most of us. Let people type whatever they want into the search box and, voila, up pop the perfect results.

There are two potential problems with this approach.

Terminology
Your site’s visitors aren’t always going to know the correct terminology to use when searching. More to the point, you’re not always going to know what terminology your audience favors. Without that knowledge, you can tag content appropriately, and your search function won’t provide consistent results. (As a side note, Google Analytics includes the ability to track search queries on your site. Implement it. It will help you learn more about your audience’s search habits.)

Barren Results
Few of us are running or working for Amazon-size businesses. Yet, Amazon and other major corporations influence our audience’s expectations. So providing free form search allows people get granular beyond the point of usefulness on a small data set. In other words, the more specific they get with their search, the more likely you are to look bad when the dreaded, “No results found” message is returned.

Which is why for many content marketers, a filtering feature is a better option than straightforward search. Filtering is, essentially, a directed search, or a predefined search. So, on a clothing site for example, instead of asking a user to know enough to enter “size 8” into the search box – or should that be “size eight?” – you offer a Filter by Size button that includes a pulldown listing all possible sizes.

Your web developer will thank you, because this much more clearly defines the search parameters she needs to code for.

Your webmaster will thank you because, done right, this simplifies the entry of new content to the site.

Your site visitors will thank you because they will get consistent, useful results.

Best of all, your CEO will thank you, because your website stands a much greater chance of providing a positive return on investment.

For all but the simplest of sites, search and filtering are central to your marketing effectiveness. (Great content’s only great if your audience can find it.) So it’s worthwhile to invest time to implement search functionality thoughtfully. A/B tests and analytics interpretation will lead you to the solution – or solutions – that works best for your clients, your content, and your bottom line.

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Andrew Schulkind

Since 1996, Andrew Schulkind has asked clients one simple question: what does digital marketing success look like, and how can marketing progress be measured? A veteran content marketer, web developer, and digital strategist, Andrew founded Andigo New Media to help firms find a more strategic and productive mix of tools that genuinely support online brand goals over time. With a passion for true collaboration and meaningful consensus, his work touches social media, search-engine optimization, and email marketing, among other components. He views is primary goal as encouraging engagement. Getting an audience involved in your story requires solid information architecture, a great user experience, and compelling content. A dash of common sense doesn’t hurt, either. Andrew has presented at Social Media Week NY and WordCampNYC, among other events, on content marketing and web-development topics. His technology writing appears on the Andigo blog, in a monthly column on Biznology.com, and for print and online publications like The New York Enterprise Report, Social Media Today, and GSG Worldwide’s publications LinkedIn & Business, Facebook & Business, and Tweeting & Business. Andrew graduated with a B.A. in Philosophy from Bucknell University. He engages in a range of community volunteer work and is an avid fly fisherman and cyclist. He also loves collecting meaningless trivia. (Did you know the Lone Ranger made his mask from the cloth of his brother's vest after his brother was killed by "the bad guys?")

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