As we previously wrote, a good search function on a website ensures that visitors can quickly find the correct information. The algorithm behind the search bar delivers the most relevant search results for each search query. However, not every visitor is the same, and it is possible that the “best search result” may differ for each visitor. This is where contextual search can help. In this blog, we will explain what contextual search is and when it is a good addition to your site search.
Context of the visitor
Websites that consist of hundreds or even thousands of pages rarely target one type of visitor. The content covers multiple topics and categories. It can be useful for the effectiveness of the search function to know in which category - or context - the visitor is located. The search function can then adjust the search results based on that context.
For example, a visitor reads an article about mortgages on a bank’s website. Afterwards, this visitor searches for the word “interest” in the search bar. In this case, the visitor is most likely looking for information about mortgage interest rates and not savings interest rates. The context “mortgage” thus ensures that other content appears at the top of the search results than if the context were, for example, “savings.”
Contextual search makes this type of distinction possible: the technology behind the search bar takes into account the context in which the visitor is located.
Categories and Roles
The context doesn’t have to be limited to a page or category, but can also be a role. A student visiting a bank’s website is looking for different information than an entrepreneur on the same website. This requires that the website knows the visitor’s role. This probably requires some form of profiling, which should always be done in compliance with applicable privacy laws.
When a website uses Pandosearch to power the search function, it is easy to pass along a context with every search query. Our search API will respond, taking into account the context, providing the most relevant search results for that context.
Is contextual search always a good idea?
Does this mean that you should always add contextual search and that you should pass along a context with every search query? Probably not, since that would most likely be overkill.
In some cases, such as with clearly separated content categories, it may be better to set up different search engines or not to pass along context at all.
Contextual search is particularly suitable if the visitor’s context is likely to be relevant, but you cannot say for certain that other content is not also important. For example, the visitor who first reads the mortgage page and then searches for “interest” may still be interested in savings interest rates.
There are various factors to be considered when deciding whether to use contextual search. For example, it can help to first determine the context-related pages for a certain search query: which pages should always appear at the top of the search results for this context.
Then it may be useful to define a counter-example: which pages fall outside of this context, but should still appear in the top 10 of the search results.
As you can already tell, this is rather difficult and some deal of customization is required to implement contextual search properly. The engineers at Pandosearch are happy to advise on contextual search for your search function.