So, what is it?
Search technology forms the basis of how most people use the internet and that certainly applies to large websites with many pages. Visitors type in their search query (or the first couple of letters of their query) and, voilà, the search results appear on the screen.
That’s site search: technology to search on a website. And although that seems a simple thing, the underlying technology is complex.
This definition also excludes Google, since Google searches the entire internet (or a large part of it) and not just your website.
Back to your search bar: every time a visitor types something in there, a complex search operation takes place behind the scenes, and super fast at that: within a fraction of a second, the search results appear.
This is how it should go anyway, if a website has great site search. Unfortunately, not all site search solutions are created equal.
Who needs site search?
A search bar is useful for basically every website that contains more than a few pages. But as soon as a website grows and more and more content is being added (such as sub-pages with additional information, blog items, white papers, forum posts, videos, PDF documents, etc.), it becomes more challenging for visitors to find what they are looking for.
In that case, the user interface becomes more important. The navigation menu’s need a clear structure and content should be ordered accordingly. But no matter how well the interface design is, visitors will not find all that content through a few menu items. That’s why, when a website grows, the required functionality of the search bar (and underlying technology) increases as well.
A good search function is crucial for organizations with large websites with a lot of traffic. Websites of banks, insurers, telecom providers, educational institutions, governments or healthcare institutions, for example: websites with thousands of pages and thousands of people visiting these pages every day. Read more about when search as a service is most useful.
The benefits of site search
A well-functioning search function speaks for itself. Visitors get a more pleasant user experience, find relevant content faster and get better answers to their questions. As a result, more visitors convert to customers, while your support desk receives fewer tickets.
And if that’s not enough,site search can decimate the bounce rate - the percentage of visitors that leave the website immediately after arrival - of your website.
But none of these benefits come to life without proper functional management of the website content and the search function. Above all else, search results should be relevant. Spitting through an endless list of irrelevant search results, only to conclude that the thing you were looking for is not there, is incredibly frustrating, to say the least.
Needless to say that frustrated visitors leave the website, resulting in low engagement scores and high bounce rates: the stuff of nightmares to every webmaster.
The BBC researched their website traffic and found out that for each extra second the site takes to load, 10% of their visitors left.
So, what should great site search be able to do?
As we’ve seen, not all search functions are created equal. So what does make your search bar stand out of the crowd? Of course, that largely depends on your website’s requirements. Large and more complex websites have vastly different needs than simple websites with a few pages.
Speed, relevance and other features
Complex websites often contain tens of thousands of pages, divided over different sub-domains, with content in multiple languages. It can be a challenge to unlock all that content through one simple search bar.
Relevance of search results is particularly challenging: how do you ensure that visitors don’t get too many results and that those search results are most relevant in relation to the search query?
The first step is to gain insight. A good search solution provides some form of analytics into the search behavior of your website’s visitors. Maybe they are looking for content you don’t have? Or maybe they are all looking for your most prominent pages, but those don’t come up at first place in your search results? If you don’t know, you can’t fix it.
When you understand your visitors better, it becomes a lot easier to manage your website (and your search function) properly. Of course, you’ll need a search function that supports functional management in the first place.
Filtering search results can also be a powerful tool to help your visitors navigate your content. Let’s take a hospital’s website for example": many pages with (complex) content about all kinds of (medical) topics. Adding filter functionality, gives visitors the possibility to filter search results, so they only see the search results in that category (for example: “services”, “locations”, “jobs”, “research”, “folders“, etc.)
There are countless other examples of advanced site search features, such as real-time search (search results that come up immediately when the visitors types the first letters of the search query), automatic spelling correction of search terms (people misspell search terms a lot), synonyms (so that certain keywords that mean the same also the same give results) and contextual search. You can read more about features of advanced site search here.
Do it yourself or outsource?
Many content management systems offer built-in search functions, and although these can work great for simple websites, they quickly fall short when your website grows.
In that case, an organization can choose to build its own search solution. But search technology is complicated and, even with a capable in-house IT department, building search often requires a disproportionate amount of resources (time, money and happiness of the IT staff).
Fortunately, there is an alternative (yes, this is where we come in). A search-as-a-service provider, such as Pandosearch, takes care of the entire search function for you. We make sure your site search function works well (all the time), while also providing you with the tools to properly manage your search content. No more worrying about maintenance or uptime.
If you have a website with a lot of traffic and a lot of content (or a collection of multiple smaller websites), odds are that your search function could be improved. We are happy to handle it for you.