Search Engine Optimization, or SEO, is the backbone for the success of online businesses in this day and age. Still, in contrast to popular belief, it's not all about technical tactics that get your content to the top positions in the search result page.
As Rand Fishkin, the co-founder of MOZ advised: “Don’t build links. Build Relationships”. An SEO strategy should vibrate with your audience to be effective.
And guess what? Your onsite search data reveals a great deal about your audience.
The problem is, according to a survey of 175 online businesses, only 10% are using site search data in any other areas, let alone SEO!
Most websites don't pay enough attention to site search data (Source: Neil Patel)
This article analyzes how information from your internal search function helps you leverage SEO and suggests some useful tools to do it. So, keep reading to grasp a few best practices for your future content plan from search search data.
Know how your visitors describe products
Using branded terms and unique labeling is a great way to stand out from your competitors. Unfortunately, eCommerce customers rarely know the actual fancy product names that you give to your stock. Some don't care about it at all.
That causes the problem of vocabulary mismatch.
Online shoppers search terms in many different ways. Most of them use a different word from what is described in the product catalog. For example, “womens maternity gown” can be used to mean “ladies pregnancy dress”.
H&M returns results for “ladies pregnancy dress” but not “women maternity gown” although two phrases refer to the same thing (Source: H&M)
In such cases, your rank on external search engines is at a disadvantage. Your site will have poor performance due to the low overlap between search terms and product specifications.
Onsite search data helps you solve this problem.
Customers tend to type long-tail queries since they are only aware of their needs. Search logs grant you a chance to dig deep into their mind. Analyzing how your audience describes your products is a wonderful way to understand them and optimize your site content accordingly.
An A/B testing on Flipkart, which replaced website content with semantically similar well-performing queries shown a leap in conversion:
- 1.37% increase in click-through rate
- 6.74% increase in the add-to-cart ratio
- 15.84% reduction of null search ratio
Now that you know the importance of site search queries, where can you find them?
Google Analytics can be great but the setup might be a bit tricky. It's better to have an onsite search solution with an analytics feature. This is what Boost Product Filter and Search offers.
We have a list of the search terms most entered by your customers, analytics of keyword trends from a date range. It's everything you need to understand their search intent. (Source: Boost Commerce)
Then comes the questions of how to use them.
First and foremost, do in-depth keyword research for highly searched terms. Sometimes, the search volume from external search engines can be smaller than expected. Or, the keyword difficulty is too high to rank for. Still, you may get inspiration for long-tail queries, which confront less intense competition.
This is the first step to optimize on-page SEO. As Google explains its search algorithm: “The most basic signal that information is relevant is when a webpage contains the same keywords as your search query”, the best bet for on-page SEO is to include commonly searched phrases in the webpage content. Whether it's in the headings or body of the text on the product page or collection page, the information is more likely to be relevant.
Besides, you can erase keyword mismatch.
Use your search data to build a bank of synonyms based on the various ways shoppers describe the products they’re looking for. It helps bring up the same search result for different search terms. These words usually share relevant products or terms which you don't have in your product attributes but your customers might want to search.
For instance, you sell bikinis, but the onsite search volume for “swimsuit” is higher, so you must create a synonym for this in your site’s search tool. Synonyms increase search result appropriateness, cracking the gap between shoppers' intent and the website's content.
Redirects help you navigate the result for a branded keyword. Say you have a collection for all items from the cosmetics brand “ColourPop”. You can take the searchers for “colour pop” to that collection using a redirect. The keyword's search result page is not as relevant as the collection page in this example as the internal search engine will index other products that contain “colour” or “pop”.
Find ideas for products or services gap
More than just showing you which merchandise is selling like a hot cake, site search history indicates those search terms with no results. Sometimes it’s just a spelling mistake that tricks the site search engine, but it can also be a site content hindrance.
Despite no official confirmation yet, SEO-ers know that user engagement does matter in terms of ranking. The product not found page is like a dead-end for visitors. It reduces time on page, lifts up bounce rate, and narrows average session duration. That's why you have to fix it.
The 0 result page falls into two categories: you have the item but your search solution doesn't crawl it, or you currently don't have that item.
The former is a critical issue that may relate to how customers describe your products on a search. Remember the example of “ladies pregnancy dress” and “women maternity gown” earlier? If your search solutions just simply index and return results based on keyword match, chances are that searchers of “women maternity gown” won’t find anything on a “ladies pregnancy dress” store.
Boost analytics shows top search terms with no result and their search volume. It helps you identify which keywords to focus on and optimize to reduce the 0 product found page (Source: Boost Commerce)
One more reason for people not finding what they want on your eCommerce site is the search range. Some site search engines are limited to product attributes like name, description, variants, and so on, while shoppers might look for a FAQ page, a blog article that contains information about shipping, or a returns policy.
Another thing you can discover from site search data is what people want but does not exist on your site yet. That's an excellent idea pool for a new blog article, a new webpage, or featured content on the homepage. More than that, you can expand your keyword research, and tune in your website’s content.
Also, it is the seedbed for product development or product extension.It'll bring you more traffic and increase engagement metrics for your site.
The issue when a searcher can’t find an existing product on your site is touch-and-go, so try to fix it in the first place.
How to leverage search with no results?
Check if your search scope is sufficient. Make sure the internal search engine indexes both metadata and full copy, both HTML and other content based formats, both product pages, and blog articles.
Ideally, you should have all the functionalities from site search solutions to site search analytics in one app. It will save you from additional coding, which weighs down your site and slows page loading speed.
If you don't offer what visitors are looking for, you can still keep them on your site.
Prolong the time on page and session duration by proposing a valuable next step instead of leaving the result page blank with a cold message like “No product found". It can be alternative recommendations or details to contact support that come after an apologetic statement for not having any results.
A heart-warm notice like “We haven't found the product you’re searching for. But why don't you have a look at our best sellers" will win the customers' smile right away. And they’ll likely carry on browsing.
Furthermore, invest a bit of time to perform thorough research on the search terms that end in no results. If the search volume is large, make a plan to incorporate them into your content. These might be the potential keywords to rank for.
Predict the trend for seasonal products or services
Onsite search data is changing day by day depending on the product nature and the overall trend. For example, warm clothes are likely on the top search at the end of summer. Coral lipsticks will take the lead after journalists write about how many movie stars wear them at the Oscars.
When you have proper site search data in your hands, you have the power to predict sales seasons for your product catalog. It’s similar to customizing Google Trends for your own business. You can then decide what to do next in your SEO strategy.
A user-friendly app for analytics and reports helps you find product trends with ease (Source: Boost Commerce)
You need to keep it fresh and Google is pushing “fresher, more recent search results”. Thus, using site search trends, you can allocate the right time for changes in your content strategy, as well as product promotions to catch the highest interest.
Your content schedule will no longer be based only on popular holidays, events, or seasons. Rather, it is catered for your audience and their search behavior on a constant basis.
Also, you can use strategies to optimize SEO success factors like site structure, load speed, backlinks, and so on for your site before the peak season. Thereby, your site shows up in a higher position on search engines during red weeks.
What’s more, studying the popularity of search terms throughout a date range or comparing between two time frames, you'll be informed of traffic movements and can be better prepared for any spike in demand.
It helps to give your site a better user experience and increase engagement. Nothing sucks more than running out of stock while customers are in high demand.
After you gain the site search trends, you can create a keyword calendar for your online store. The predictive information is helpful for picking which products to put in the spotlight at what time.
It's a way of “getting your customers to where they already want to go, but faster” (Dana Naim, Head of Marketing, Twiggle). Also, it's equally important to prepare enough inventories before the sales season in order not to lose any potential customers to your competitors.
Additionally, before the peak season, plan to double-check the on-site experience to prevent your page from lagging behind.
Optimize successful and unsuccessful internal search queries for external search
Keep in mind that what visitors search internally is also what they search externally. Well-performed keywords from site search show great potential for ranking on SERPs. The success of an internal search term can be measured by conversion rate, which usually doubles the average conversion rate.
Successful search phrases with a high conversion rate show valuable tactics to apply for other keywords of your eCommerce website. On the other hand, those that fail to meet the searchers' intent require your time and effort to optimize for internal search.
The first thing to do is to check your organic ranking for those terms.
Congratulations if you are already landing on a top position. However, never rest on your laurels. There's always room for improvement. Update the content regularly, add more useful and relevant topics, and keep a close eye on your competitors to ensure you won't lose the ranking.
Also, it's a good idea to turn the successful queries into a default suggestion for customers. You can display them as popular searches on the instant search widget or showcase them on the recommendation section on the homepage.
Don't forget to review the most relevant page on your site when one looks for these queries both on-site and off-site. You may discover a set pattern, some similar touch points that bring these keywords to succeed.
Moreover, those highly converted searches, both internally and externally, give you precious lessons to implement for other keywords. The real problematic things may be as little as an unattractive thumbnail or a hard-to-understand product description. You may also need to create additional plans or campaigns to upgrade the website quality with in-depth content to rank higher.
In the worst case scenario, your web link is buried somewhere in the deep depths of Google, then you should carefully review both on-page and off-page SEO. Some key search engine success factors to look into are:
- Content: Is it helpful? Is it updated? Does it look “good" in the search bots' eyes?
- Site architecture: Does your site run smoothly? Is it mobile friendly?
- Domain authority: Is the site recommended by other websites of the same field? Does your site have trustworthy mentions on social channels?
Improve website navigation for better user experience
Website navigation is a crucial feature to ensure a frictionless on-site experience for visitors, which in turn fosters your SEO.
From the way that visitors search on your site, you can learn:
- Items that usually come together in a search session: this is a great source for ideas on grouping products into categories or collections
- Collections or pages that are in high demand: it works as a suggestion for the featured section on the homepage or the highlight on the main menu bar
- Filter option values that get the most clicks: can be used to inspire new collections. It also influences the order of the navigation menu so that online browsers feel the most convenient when doing a faceted search
There are many paid tools that help you scrutinize visitors' paths on your site. Hotjar with the powerful heat map reveals “what users do on your website pages—where they click, how far they scroll, what they look at or ignore”. Some other alternatives are Crazy Egg, Lucky Orange, and Content Square, which offer similar session replay.
Top searched products can be combined to make highlighted collections like “Trending Items".
Furthermore, as the Boost app offers deep analytics on the filtering of both result pages and collection pages, website owners can make the best bet for the navigation menu with top clicked filter options.
SEO is just the beginning, conversion is what matters most
Content is king. We all know that and that's why we have to produce appealing content for the website to be successful. But how to know your content is doing good? Especially on internal search result pages, where the likelihood of purchase is almost doubled.
As onsite search results are normally set as non-indexed pages to external search crawlers, we can't rely on the SERP ranking to know its performance. Instead, “a higher click-through rate (CTR) generally correlated with higher satisfaction with the search experience”, said JP Sherman in an in-depth article about site search and SEO on MOZ.
You can review the Click-through rate on search result pages to measure the relevance of returned products for a search and how engaged users are on your site. If you have a greater than 65% CTR on the search results, it's possibly an indication for a positive search experience from online browsers.
It also implies a greater chance for conversion on an assumption that a satisfying search experience means customers find the products they are looking for on your site. When a term is highly searched for but it shows low CTR, low engagement, and a high exit rate on the results page, that's a red flag for content.
Some critical metrics you should pay attention to in terms of CTR on the result page include Filter Section CTR. It reveals how searchers interact with the Filter on internal SERPs via:
- Total filter clicks: reflect the number of clicks on the filter trees
- Top filter option value: a list of the top values selected by your customers
- Top filter value combination: a list of the combination of all option values selected
You can see the search refinement information on Boost app (Source: Boost Commerce)
Search refinement information gives you insights into searchers' interaction with result pages, thereby, raising some ideas for new navigational elements. For example, if you find the filter value “black" is used a lot, you might create a collection tab named “All about black" on the menu bar.
Moreover, result page views per search should also be taken into consideration. If your visitors need to click or scroll down to page 2, page 3 to find the relevant products, this may suggest the need for additional filter options or the need for content optimization to clarify some more topics.
Experts' Tools To Take Advantage of Site Search Data
The overview dashboard of Google Analytics with key metrics (Source: Business2Community)
This is an all-round weapon for eCommerce store owners. It shows you how your site search and website is performing with many analytics and reports.
- Advantage: Free, universal, in-depth analytics, integrable with other Google tools like Google Keyword Planner and Google Tag Manager
- Disadvantage: Complicated in the initial setup, confusing interface, unclear policies for transparency and privacy, lack of customer support
An alternative for Google Analytics is Matomo, this open-source software gives you basically everything you get from Google tool with a price starting from 19EUR per month
- Advantage: Provide heat map and session recording, easy to use, similar tracking metrics as Google Analytics, affordable pricing, many advanced features
- Disadvantage: Currently not compatible with data from Google, Facebook & Bing Ads, different pricing to use advanced features like heat map, session recording, custom reports, A/B Testing
Hotjar is a popular option to track how visitors interact with the content on your website. The price for Hotjar’s monthly subscription is $99 minimum.
- Advantage: measure page performance with Heat maps, record on-site experience of visitors
- Disadvantage: No data about search terms, not record search logs, expensive
The heat map of Hotjar reveals lots of information about visitors' interaction on the page (Source: Hotjar)
Boost Product Filter and Search
Boost Product Filter and Search is a third-party app for Shopify stores to upgrade their internal search engine and filtering solution
- Advantage: Useful analytics for site search and filter, many options to manage search and filter functionalities, excellent customer support
- Disadvantage: Currently only available on the Shopify app store
To Cut A Long Story Short
An SEO plan that actually gets you on top of SERPs requires piles of work, both, technical and non-technical. The latter seems a bit harder to achieve as it means a profound understanding of the audience. One easy but often unappreciated source for this is site search data.
If you are not in the fractional percentage of companies that are actually learning from internal onsite search data, follow our recommended actions above to begin. You'll see a complete change in your SEO result.