Ecommerce Search and Navigation: Tools, Popular Solutions and Best Practices
Online merchants often underestimate the impact of eCommerce search and navigation tools on their business. They’d better not.
If you configure it right, your store conversion rates can increase by up to 80%. Can you believe it?
I’ll tell you more. Treating the search and navigation wrong on your eCommerce website is risky. It leads to a decrease in conversion rates both on desktop and mobile devices, low average order value, bad SEO (and, as a result, less traffic) and lost customers.
Finally, if buyers can’t find it, they don’t buy. It’s that simple.
Guess what people hate the most about the search experience on the eСommerce websites?
- Irrelevant search results – the largest pain point of online shoppers.
It’s LOUD garbage, always waving and calling me by name and offering me books I’ve already read or GOLD! deals on crap I’m not looking for. Every time I’ve ever followed a “special” deal “just for me,” I want to shoot myself for wasting the time.
- Asking customers to choose a category the searched product relates to – why should they know it?
Asking me to choose what category an item falls in is easy when it’s a book, but other times the answer isn’t so clear, and I end up filtering out a huge percentage of possible good matches.
- No structured facets and filtering options in categories – it’s hard to find items hidden deep inside.
I wish they’d apply more of their facets to other categories. Shoes have structured facets, like heel height or color, but lots of other items do not.
- Non-scannable product names – because of the wish to insert every single attribute into the product name for better searchability.
In my opinion it’s the fact that product attributes are very often placed within the product names. Things like colors and specific tech specs are stretching the names of the products over several lines making the page feel very cluttered and hard to compare a bunch of products in a grid.
Stop driving your customers mad =)
Let’s see what you can change to make sure they get an enjoyable search and filtering experience.
1. Search box
There is a plenty of eCommerce search navigation tools and tricks you can implement in your online store to help your buyers find what they want. But the most significant for your website is the search bar.
1.1. Why is the search box that important?
- Buyers actively use the search bar and they expect to see it in eCommerce sites. And your goal is to meet their expectations, isn’t it?
- The search box makes you more money than any other eCommerce search feature on your website because people who use it clearly understand what they want. They have a higher intent to buy than those who’ve come just to look around, randomly browsing your offerings.
As a result, the search bar generates about 50% of your overall revenue. Users of the search box buy 5-6x more often than other eCommerce sites visitors.
Sounds promising and like a really good reason to power up your search bar.
Yeah, not just to add it to your website (you may already have it), but to power it up.
Indeed, most eCommerce sites offer the search field, but it often lacks even the basic features. This fact increases your chances to outrun competitors.
Our guide includes the best practices and tips to turn your search box into a super-duper digital sales manager.
1.2. Search box location
- The search box should be right in front of your visitors’ eyes when they open your online store. The best location for the search box is at the top of the page: in the middle or at the right.
- Position the search box on every page so that your buyers could initiate the search from any page they like.
- If you have a lot of products you may duplicate the search box at the bottom of the product listing page and search results page not to make your buyers scroll back if they want to start the new search. An even better solution is keeping the search box in the fixed menu bar or special sticky navigation bar.
Tip: Track your buyers’ activity with the heat map tool to identify your website areas attracting most of your site visitors’ attention. It will help you find the best place for the search field.
1.3. Search bar look and feel
- The search bar should be large enough so that your buyers can easily locate it as soon as they are in your online store. Also, it should be long enough, to fit long search queries.
- Have the cursor already in the search box so that they just have to start typing when they open your homepage.
- Add the opportunity to start the search upon the tap on the Enter key (i.e. not only with the click on the button next to the search bar). It’s common for most users to use the Enter key for starting different processes.
BTW, not all buyers understand the button with the magnifying glass icon, so it’s better to add the ‘Search’ or ‘Find’ label to the button next to the search field.
- Have some prompt in the search field like ‘Search for products and services’ or ‘Search by product name or model’’ to make it more obvious how the search bar can help them. Of course, these prompts should disappear when a user starts typing.
- Keep the search input in the search field after the buyers get to the results page. It makes it easier for them to modify their search pattern, just by adding some adjusting words without the need to retype the whole search request again.
1.4. Speed and Relevance
One of the reasons of the site abandonment is that the search results just don’t show the items that people are actually looking for. And imagine, on top of that, that the page has been loading for ages. Frustrating? – You bet.
The modern eCommerce site search should provide fast and relevant results.
While it’s all clear for speed, the relevance may require a few comments.
The search by product names only doesn’t always result in increased conversion. If you want to connect your buyers to the products they want, you’ll need to go further to ensure user-friendly search experience and relevant results.
- allow search by SKU, model, code, number, product variants, attributes and other similar product parameters that your buyers may know about your product;
- add support for long queries based on multiple product attributes, like ‘men adidas t-shirt xs men’ – it’s easier for them than applying filters on the search results page;
- add support for searches with symbols and abbreviations of units of measurements;
- set up the most popular synonyms for your product titles and categories in your eCommerce search engine settings. Customers think differently and may use different words to describe a product. For example, iPhone, smartphone, apple, phone, etc;
- take into account keywords from parent category names to offer the most relevant products to the seekers.
1.5. Autocomplete and product suggestions dropdown
Tap… tap… oh, there you go ?
First introduced by Google and then adopted by other big companies, like Macy’s and Amazon, the predictive search has gained high popularity. The search for buyers starts just with a few taps or clicks. No matter how long the product name is or how difficult it is to spell.
So, for a seeker, the site search with autocomplete suggestions ensures fast and easy search experience.
- To make the suggestions dropdown more informative for customers, include images, categories, price, short product descriptions, promos or some text snippets.
- Implement machine learning techniques in order to:
- constantly improve your overall site search experience and conversions (machine learning considers the conversion rates of past queries, product performance over time and seasonal popularity);
- offer personalized search results to your buyers.
- If you sell globally, implement multilingual support for your search tool, too.
If done right, speed is not the only benefit of the autocomplete feature with the suggestions dropdown. It often exceeds customers’ expectations offering things that are very likely (and maybe MORE likely!) to interest the seeker.
Besides, the autocomplete feature of the modern eCommerce site search solutions can boast of the following advantages:
It teaches buyers to use the right queries
When the auto-suggestions dropdown shows up, your customers see not only their query but also other queries that are most likely to meet their request. Buyers learn to interact with your website and use the right keywords for most relevant search results.
It corrects typos and misspellings on the fly
Your customers won’t get a no-results page just because they’ve accidentally misspelled (and might have not even noticed it!) the product name they’re looking for.
It suggests the right categories
This feature is especially helpful for seekers if your online store has a rich set of categories.
It shows the right keywords
Besides specific products and categories suggestions, modern eCommerce search can also suggest keywords. So a user just needs to click on the most appropriate keyword to get the list of the relevant products. It’s a good trick when a seeker is not sure what he wants.
It gives opportunities for product merchandising
Product promotions in the suggestions dropdown can work differently. The simplest scenario is to set what products should show up at the top in the suggestions dropdown when a user types in certain search keywords. A more complicated one is using machine learning techniques to promote the most appealing products to customers.
It offers personalized search experience
As said earlier, you can implement machine learning to deliver personalized search suggestions in the dropdown, depending on the buyers’ previous activity. At least, you can just add previously used search requests into the suggestions dropdown.
Having implemented these features of the intelligent eCommerce search engine on your website you’ll not just meet but will surpass your buyers’ expectations. You’ll be surprised how your online store conversion rate goes up.
2. Search Results Page
Ok. Your buyers click on the search button and get a list of products that are most likely to interest them.
They still need a little help and maybe even guidance in order to narrow down their search results.
So, what should a perfect search results page look like?
It definitely should have readable fonts, beautiful product images, show prices (and discounts) next to the products, have ‘add to cart’ icons (or buttons) for each product, offer the opportunity to open quick view windows and more.
2.1. Sorting search results
First of all, your buyers expect a ‘Sort by’ or ‘Order by’ tool on the search results page. The sorting options may vary depending on your eCommerce business. However, there are several must-haves here, such as sorting by:
- price (‘low to high’ and ‘high to low’);
- name (A-Z and Z-A);
- newest arrivals;
- ratings and reviews;
- the nearest physical store;
- on sale;
- discount rate.
2.2. Search query on the search results page
It’s good to have the search query on the search results page. There are multiple reasons why a buyer might have forgotten what exactly was the initial request. So, it’s a kind of a reminder.
2.3. ‘Grid view’, ‘list view’ and ‘table view’ options
Customers perceive information differently. Some of them value pithiness and minimalism. Others love big beautiful images accompanied with at least basiс product data right on the listings page.
2.4. Images in search results
Product images are the very first thing seekers pay attention to when they see the search results list. A product image should be of good quality and link exactly to the product shown on the image.
To make the search results page even more appealing and convenient, implement the following tricks:
- Dynamic thumbnails If you upload multiple images for a product to demonstrate all the available product options, configure the appropriate thumbnails to show up depending on the request. For example, if a customer searches for a red T-shirt, all the images should show red T-shirts (not black or white).
- Alternative image on hover To reduce actions for your customers, enable the hover image feature. It allows showing an alternative product thumbnail on mouseover.
2.5. Infinite scrolling
Online users love scrolling more than paging. If you want your buyers to view all the found products, don’t irritate them with the need to turn the pages over and over.
2.6. Information on related searches
Related search keywords usually show up at the top or/and at the bottom of the SERP and save your customers’ time. They serve as additional suggestions and allow users to navigate to other interesting products in a click.
Tip: Attract more attention to particular products on the list to boost sales:
- Add the sense of urgency with the help of price countdowns, ‘only 2 left’ or ‘5 people are currently looking at this offer’ promos, etc. Not all at once, needless to say ?
- Label products with different stickers, like Best price, New, Last item, etc.
2.7. No Results Page
An annoying ‘0 results’ phrase can come into view because of typos, out of stock items, lack of the products in your catalog, etc.
Of course, you could decorate this dull dead-end page with some nice cats or some funny text. But you’d better turn the page into a useful one. Here are a few ways to do it.
- show alternative items and ‘you may also like’ products based on customer behavior;
- provide search tips to teach them to use the search right;
- list top sellers or the most popular categories;
- offer customer support or expert consultation;
- keep the search box on the page so that they could easily start a new search again.
Tip: If you show related searches on the ‘0 results’ page, make sure you clearly state that the initial search hasn’t returned any results and the items they see are alternatives. Otherwise, your buyers may get confused.
3. Faceted Search aka Filters
Do you sell clothes, electronics, home appliances or any other kind of products with rich set of category-specific attributes (size, volume, brand, style, color, technical specifications, etc)?
Then advanced faceted search on your eCommerce website is a must-have tool in addition to the search box feature.
It’s more than just sorting by price, manufacturer or other general characteristics. Customers can set more specific requirements for the products they need.
The faceted search with multiple thematic filters helps buyers narrow down their search results and get a list of products that suit their needs best.
As a rule, the filters show up on the left part of the product listing pages: a category page or a search results page. However, you can also see them at the top of the search results section or as a flyout filters bar.
So, how can you arrange the filtering search experience to delight shoppers in your online store?
A corresponding set of filters should show up depending on the browsed product category or subcategory. For example, if a buyer has searched for phones, the filters on the search results page should contain only the attributes that relate to mobile phones and not for laptops.
3.2. Dynamic filtering
Dynamic filters ensure that your buyers won’t select the combination of attributes resulting in a ‘No products found’ page. As soon as any filter is selected, others refine immediately and some of them just disappear to avoid offering out-of-stock or not existing products.
Ideally, a customer should be able to select multiple filtering options and the filters should refine on the fly without the whole page reloading.
3.3. Sharing filtering results
It’s good when the search tool adds filtering and sorting options to the end of the current page URL on the go. You can use this URL to share the filtering results with your customers. And your customers can share their search results with their friends, too. Also, you can use this feature in your marketing campaigns. This way or that, it’s very convenient.
- Make some filters visual. For example, colors or fabric can show up as color swatches rather than text values.
- Make filters more informative by displaying the number of available items with this attribute next to each filter.
- Allow the opportunity to uncheck the filters and get more available filters back again right away. Customers can change their mind at any time and may want to select a different combination of attributes. Let them do it without the need to initiate a new search.
4. Other Useful Navigation Tools
Some eCommerce sites don’t need the filtering functionality. Still, there are many other features that will help you boost your sales and ensure smooth shopping experience for your buyers.
4.1. Multi-level menus
Make sure you offer both global and scoped search tools. Unlike searching the site globally with the search box, the scoped search is browsing a particular section of your eCommerce website, like a category or a subcategory of products. These categories and subcategories should be available in the storefront as multi-value drop-down or flyout menus.
- Make all headings in the drop-down menu clickable to allow customers to browse the whole category without the need to browse its subcategories one by one.
- Some subcategories may fit several parent categories. If so, place them in each of the suitable categories. Your customers think differently and may be searching for the same products in different categories.
- Add New Arrivals and On Sale categories into the main menu, too. New arrivals category is especially good if you sell seasonal things.
4.2. Product tags
When grouping the products into categories and subcategories is not enough, you can tag and label them. This additional means of navigation helps to keep your categories menu compact still offering more ways for products categorization. Having clicked on a product tag, a customer gets a list of other products with this tag.
4.3. Wishlist and Save for later list
If your customers can’t buy somehing right now, they form lists of saved searches for future. It’s a positive sign for you – they are going to come back. For them, it’s an easy way to navigate quickly to the purchases they really want. Make sure, you give them the necessary tools..
4.4. Product recommendations
Generally known as upsell/cross-sell tool in marketing, for customers it’s a convenient tool to navigate to the products they may also need.
These can be the searched product alternatives (‘Customers also viewed’, ‘Bestsellers in the category’, ‘Recommended for you’’) and supplementary products (‘You may also need’ or ‘Bought together’). Offered in the right place and at the right time, they have high chances to get to the cart.
You can set the recommended products manually. Also, you can use machine-learning algorithms that will take care about the product recommendations. These algorithms take into account other users ratings or the buyers’ previous shopping experience.
BTW, recommended products make about 35% of revenue to Amazon. And a nice bonus – browsing related products, customers will spend more time on your website. Still in doubt?
Tip: Regularly check the recommended products performance (CTR, conversion rates, the revenue you earn on recommended products) and update your settings if necessary unless your eCommerce search engine does it automatically for you.
4.5. Next/Previous product, Breadcrumbs
While shopping, it’s good to have a chance to make a tiny step back without the need to jump to the parent category or start a new search. This is where hierarchical breadcrumbs come in very useful.
As for the ‘Next/Previous product’ links, it’s another handy tool of browsing products within some category or subcategory. It reminds me of thumbing over the pages of a paper product catalog. Yeah, we all shop differently.
4.6. Recently viewed products
There is so much to see in your store!
Jack started the search with blue jeans and ended up browsing cute hats that are so trendy this season. Hallie needs a new oven. But wow! You have an excellent offer. Why not check it right away?
Having spent a good deal of time reviewing or comparing offerings, customers need a quick way to navigate back to the products they’ve just viewed.
Sometimes breadcrumbs can help. However, it’s better to offer the recently viewed products as a separate box at the bottom of the page. Thus, you ensure that they are always in front of your buyers’ eyes.
Tip: Present the recently viewed products as well as recommendations and reminders on prducts in your wishlist as product carousels. They ensure easy and visually pleasant navigation and look neat on your online store pages.
4.7. Make/Model/Year auto parts eCommerce search
Spare parts in vehicles have the same names, however, they are different for different car models. With the vehicle part finder, your buyers will only need to specify the make, the model, the year and in some cases the engine of their car to find the right tool quickly. They won’t have to browse bunches of tools that don’t suit them.
4.8. GEOspatial search
If your business is present both online and offline and you have several salespoints, you definitely need a map in your online store.
Thus, customers will be able not only to browse your online catalog but to find the nearest physical store and sort the points by distance. It’s much more user-friendly than simply listing your points addresses at a separate page in your eCommerce website.
4.9. Shopping by brand
Do you know this type of consumers who don’t use home appliances of any other manufacturer rather than Bosch, for example, or Samsung? I do. Well, if you sell branded goods, you have options to satisfy such picky customers. It can be a manufacturer filter on the search results page and category pages. But if you don’t use filters, consider adding a ‘Search by brand form’.
Also, depending on your business needs, you may want to implement such navigation tools as a sitemap (yeah, some customers prefer it to understand your website better), an A-Z product map, product comparison, multi-column menu in the footer, banners, etc.
5. eCommerce Search Analytics
Constant monitoring of the search requests performance, search behaviors and other onsite-search metrics is a valuable source when it comes to enhancing your website. The insights it gives you are way more useful than sifting through tons of articles devoted to updating your store product pages and implementing UX-related improvements.
5.1. Track the most popular search requests
Monitor both the searches WITH and WITHOUT results. The former will give you insights on existing product performance, seasonality, popularity by country. The latter is a real catch when it comes to updating your existing product names, configuring synonyms and restocking.
Besides, report on the most popular search requests is an invaluable resource of keywords for improving your site SEO and PPC campaigns efficiency.
But be wide awake, the requests popularity may change over time, which will demand corresponding settings from your side.
5.2. Improve your search suggestions
The search solutions based on AI or machine-learning can improve themselves. However, in most cases, you should review the quality of your search suggestions yourself by updating synonyms and promoted products.
Search behavior on mobile and on desktop may differ, so it’s important to monitor both and implement the changes accordingly.
6. Top eCommerce Search Tools
Seems a bit challenging to implement all the site search features mentioned above, doesn’t it? But there are ready solutions that may help.
So, we’ve gathered the list of popular eCommerce search engines for you, free and paid. They undertake most of the work related to setting up a good search functionality on your website.
Many of the eCommerce search engines are cloud solutions. It ensures high capacity because the search process doesn’t impact your website server. Everything happens on a specially configured server.
All of these engines have tons of features to turn search into a powerful sales tool in your online store.
Which solution is for you?
If you’re a developer, you can benefit from such free open-source DIY solutions like Solr or ElasticSearch or commercial developer-oriented high-technology solutions like Algolia. Otherwise, you’d better take a closer look at ready eCommerce search engines like (InstantSearch+, Searchanize, Klevu).
Unfortunately, some of the ready solutions don’t have good integrations with modern eCommerce platforms. They may require a lot of additional customization to have the search work really well and offer relevant results.
At the same time, some eCommerce search engines have been developed specially for one or several platforms. The integration takes a couple of clicks and just a few basic settings in the store back-end (like CloudSearch & CloudFilters for X-Cart, Ecwid and PrestaShop).
This open source free tool is very popular and powers search on multiple eCommerce websites. eBay, Walmart and Uber are among them. The Elasticsearch enterprise-level search engine is highly scalable and is perfect for processing large amounts of data.
Very powerful, it’s a solution for developers but not end users. Elasticsearch is difficult to implement and fine-tune to have everything to work fast and correctly – definitely not an option for a merchant.
Exactly as the previous solution, Solr is the trusted search engine for developers and merchants with technical skills. Solr is stable yet very flexible and scalable. Powered by Lucene™, it comes with advanced matching capabilities including phrases, wildcards, joins, grouping and more. Yet, it’s very challenging to integrate the Solr eCommerce site search. The process is even more complicated because of the poor documentation for some versions.
It’s a commercial multilingual eCommerce search engine with data centers available on 6 continents to ensure super fast search for your users. Developers love it for the rich set of must-have search features and a variety of additional opportunities like Geo-search.
Still, Algolia is not an end user product as it’s not easy to integrate. Besides, most of the vital features for establishing an outstanding search experience on your website are available in very expensive plans.
This eCommerce search engine has ready integrations with several popular eCommerce platforms which allows implementing the search pretty fast. Nextopia can boast a rich set of merchandising and promotion tools, extensive analytics, built-in Make/Model/Year filter and location relevant product search.
Meanwhile, Nextopia lacks flexibility as you cannot customize it to meet all your business needs. The monthly subscription for some integrations is too high.
6.5. Instant Search
It has almost every feature a modern efficient search should possess, including AI-based synonyms and advanced tools for product merchandising. It allows creating landing pages for promo campaigns and user-generated organic SEO landing pages.
There are ready integrations with several eCommerce platforms but they differ in features and may require a lot of additional work. The subscription price is its disadvantage, especially in the respect that many of the necessary features come only in expensive plans.
It’s a self-learning eCommerce search engine. Merchants love it for personalized search experience, vast merchandising opportunities and detailed analytics (including info on locations). It also allows setup of the URL redirects based on specific keywords. For example, a merchant types’holiday’ in the search box and as soon as he taps ‘Enter’, a promotion landing page devoted to holidays shows up.
6.7. Amazon Cloud Search
Ever shopped on Amazon? They have a pretty good example of the eCommerce site search. Well, this is how AWS Cloud Search will work in your online store. It’s got almost everything you may need for your business as well as Geo-spatial search, Multilingual support, Highlighting. However, it lacks merchandising features and the faceted search functionality may be challenging to integrate into your eCommerce site.
6.8. X-Cart CloudSearch and CloudFilters
CloudSearch and CloudFilters is a multilingual eCommerce search engine with robust integrations for X-Cart, Ecwid and PrestaShop. This site search doesn’t use machine learning for merchandising yet but comes with very powerful autocomplete suggestions and filtering functionality.
It is easy to configure and manage and is 100% compatible with other navigation tools installed in the online store. Unlike other solutions, its cheaper plans include the full set of search features. The only limitation is the number of products. The CloudSearch & CloudFilters app works perfectly out of the box and is highly customizable.
You can check out the demo for CloudSearch & CloudFilters and see if it suits your eCommerce site.
The Findify search engine uses machine learning algorithms and constantly improves. It considers unique users buying and browsing behavior. Each customer will see the product recommendations that have been selected by the engine specially for him. All-in-all the search offers tons of features and supports multiple languages, but it’s pretty expensive. It has ready integrations with several popular eCommerce platforms.
The Celebros search possesses most of the features a modern search tool should offer. Combination of natural language (long tail search) and intelligent learning allows delivering a better search experience to your customers. Heatmapping analytics it comes with gives valuable insights for further search and navigation improvements. However, some users complain about slow filtering functionality worsened by page reloadings after selecting the filters.
This eCommerce search engine is especially good if you want the search box to offer not only product suggestions, but also other website content like articles and documents. Thanks to the language modeling intelligence your users will always find the content they’re looking for. But as in most commercial searches, its cheaper plans are very limited in features. So, implementing a good search will be rather costly.
Searchanise is great for startups and small eCommerce sites based on Magento, Shopify and CS-Cart, and first of all due to its very affordable price. It’s based on Sphinx (search engine similar to Elastic and Solr) and, among other things, you get personalized search experience (based on product views) and autocomplete suggestions including categories and other relevant pages apart from products. The disadvantage of this search is a limited customizability potential (you can tweak only look and feel of the search widget).
The Unbxd eCommerсe search engine attracts online merchants due to its personalization, targeted search experience for mobile shoppers, relevant device-optimal merchandising and smart promotion tools. But the filtering experience is not very smooth. It takes consumers too many steps just to select the necessary set of filters. Meanwhile, the page reloads after selecting each filtering option.
Searchify’s eCommerce site search is mainly a basic set of search functionality with instant product indexing. It doesn’t offer merchandising opportunities. Integrating it with your website will require programming skills.
It’s another solution with a pretty basic search toolkit. Unlike the Searchify search, the Doofinder’s installation doesn’t require programming skills and it offers promotion tools, such as banners and promotions associated with specific search terms. Interestingly, it doesn’t support spelling corrections and suggests using synonyms instead.
Reflection boasts of individualized experience, voice search, SEO-friendly individually relevant category pages and campaign landing pages, as well as vast promo and merchandising opportunities with analytics.
Choosing the search engine for your website is a very individual thing. The features vital for one business are absolutely pointless for another. So, these search engines list is more of a starting point for you. Among other eCommerce site search solutions that are gaining popularity are Hawksearch, Searchspring, Searchblox, Ibenta.
However, before you start reviewing all these engines closer one by one, just make a list of search features that you really need in your online store.
And keep your eyes open! Some of the navigation tools may already be implemented or exist as ready addons in your platform – it may save you a fortune ?
The eCommerce Websites search and navigation tools are closely intertwined with marketing features and can render a great service for you. Pay special attention to this extremely important part of your website, if you really want to see happier customers and increased sales. It’s really worth it.
It’s never bad to check out other techniques that help your customers navigate your web store but keep in mind that quality and simplicity decides whether your client is going to spend time – and money – shopping.
As for the implementation complexity, just remember: things are never as bad as they seem.
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Anna Shvetsova has over 8 years of experience in the eCommerce industry, making her way from a Customer Care Agent to a Marketing Coordinator to a QA specialist, where she is now. She has a lot of knowledge to share with the merchants and eCommerce business owners, and she enjoys doing it in blog.