Imagine you have just spent four months working on a new website for your business. You have done more on-page optimization than ever before. You have been building links, generating traffic, and you are making progress in the SERPs.

You know people are finding your website because you are getting sign-ups from your pop-up in exchange for the best free guide you have ever created. There is only one problem: despite your sign-ups, your bounce rate is really high. People sign up for your guide, but they rarely make it past your home page.

This situation isn’t uncommon, although the details slightly vary. This situation appears to be a matter of getting people to stay on your site and click more links – perhaps by optimizing your design. However, the more likely possibility is that your site search needs help.

It can be argued that your search function is probably more important than your navigation menu. Today’s website visitors are mobile and don’t browse websites; they head straight for the search bar.

A User’s Journey from Search Engine to Website Should Be Seamless

A user’s search for information should be a continuous dance that moves them smoothly from the search engine through your website. The seamless experience is important. A user won’t come out of “search mode” until they know they are in the right place, and they find what they are looking for.

Several unspoken expectations visitors have when landing on your site is that you will have a site search tool, it will be easy to use, and it will produce relevant results.

Their decision to bounce isn’t predicated on whether you actually have relevant information. You probably do. Their decision is determined by how easily they can access it. Even the best resources are only useful when they are accessible. You could have a million dollars buried on a remote island, but if you can’t access it, it’s not useful.

Your Site Needs the Power of Intelligent Search

Search engines today don’t focus on keywords as they have in the past. Using the power of AI, search engines attempt to understand your search and provide you with relevant results. This is achieved through a complex algorithm driven by machine learning. Over time, the program running the show “learns” which results are more relevant for a specific search, and those results are pushed to the top.

Here is the challenge. When a user finds your site through a search engine, they are going to expect your site to be just as easy to search through. The experience of moving from search engine to your website needs to be a seamless experience; you can’t let them down.

Intelligent Search Provides That Seamless Experience

Squashing the outdated beliefs that prevent businesses from investing in intelligent search is an article titled 8 Myths Business Leaders Believe about Site Search. Among the busted myths are the ideas that poor search technology can be overcome by good design, and that poor search doesn’t affect conversion rates.

Considering that most people use the search function rather than menu navigation, poor search can be the biggest contributor to low conversion rates. According to the article, people who performed several successful searches on a site actually converted better. What makes a search successful is the relevance of the results. Relevant results are a form of personalized content, but not in the way you might think.

Redefining “Personalized Content”

Personalized content is no longer about targeting people’s demographics and interests. It is about relevance. For example, if a user searches a camping site for “hiking clothes,” and the site knows the user’s gender, then gender-specific products will be shown. The products might be long sleeve shirts, cargo shorts, and long-brimmed hats, either from the men’s or women’s section.

What if that user only goes hiking in the snow in the middle of winter? You might think the user should just keep searching for different keywords until they get a match. Or browse the categories and sections for winter. However, that is exactly why standard search doesn’t work. The user has to keep typing in different phrases, in hopes of matching keywords in the system.

How to Use Intelligent Search to Optimize Your Internal Site Search

1. Understand Visitor Intent

As this guide to internal search explains, measuring site search performance begins with understanding customer intent. Forget about where your visitors came from. You need to know what your visitors are typing into your search box, and where they go after their search. This information will tell you if your website has what users are looking for, and if so, how easy it is found.

2. Use an Intelligent Search Integration

Intelligent search solutions like integrations from Coveo can tell you exactly what your visitors are searching for, and automatically fine-tune future results. These site search integrations accept feedback from users to “learn” which results are relevant to what they searched for.

3. Dive Deeply Into Your Data

Another way to measure the quality of, and improve your site search, is to identify how many visitors bounce after searching for certain keywords.

For instance, if 75% of visitors bounce after searching for a specific keyword, but you know the content exists, your search results lack relevance.

This is something machine-learning integrations can tackle for you automatically.

You’ll also want to take note of how deeply into the search results users need to dig in order to find what they’re searching for. If a majority of users dig three pages in and then bounce, employing intelligent search solutions will push the relevant results to the first page where users expect to find what they’re looking for.

You’ll know your site search is effective when you can look at your site search data and see popular searches leading easily to a sale (or another action you want your visitors to take).

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Larry AltonLarry Alton is an independent business consultant specializing in social media trends, business and entrepreneurship. Follow him on Twitter and LinkedIn.
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