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We recently analysed the major factors that influence our visitors to subscribe.  The results? The surest sign of a subscriber-to-be was one who used our site search box. So naturally we’re looking into improving it, but that's not actually relevant here. Far more important here is getting more people to use it in the first place.

People aren’t search-shy, we know this from Google’s original search-box-only interface. According to DoubleClick, less than 20% use on-site search (the actual figure varies by sector, of course). So looks like the majority of visitors are finding just what they want right away, right? Much more likely, they don’t trust the onsite search box. Aha.

Site search is often labeled ‘important for user experience’ and then sidelined. We all know that site search is related to user experience. We also know from our On-site Search Buyer's Guide that it’s a growing area, and The E-tailing Group tells us that as many as 70% of online marketers are looking to add or improve their onsite search in 2006. The same report tells us that Keyword Search was rated top by merchants as most valuable to their businesses.

Using the search box on a site generally happens for one of two reasons – either the user wants something they couldn’t find via the navigation, or the user wants something faster than they think they could find it by browsing.

Site search represents a risk to many users – pop in a term or two, maybe you’ll get results. If you get results, maybe they’ll be relevant. Maybe they’ll be complete. But do you trust it to produce? Ever been to a clothing retail site, entered ‘black shirt’ and had zero results returned? 

Yes, the experience is important, but classifying site search as user experience is overlooking the initial trust required to even try the search. And that initial trust goes a long way when convincing a buyer that your brand, your site and your product are worthwhile and reliable.

One trend positively affecting the site search industry is the current explosion of content, creating a need for efficient information retrieval. Emphasis on efficient.
Francine Abgrall of Endeca, said: “The biggest opportunities for growth are in areas where findability is related directly to revenue.” Bingo, that’s E-consultancy. 

For a site such as ours, with twenty main topic areas (search marketing, email marketing, etc) and thousands of marketing white papers, it’s essential that the user locates the content they want. And quickly. 

So what’s often overlooked in site search? It’s not what search actually does, that's something obvious to test and refine. What's overlooked is how the search is being used in the first place.

At E-consultancy, we do information. In order to survive, our descriptors (as defined by our users) have to be punctuality, reliability, accuracy - which distilled all mean trust. If our users don't trust our information, if they think it's outdated or inaccurate, they certainly won’t pay for it. And they're going to look elsewhere next time.

The point, as ever, is engaging the user – but here it’s specifically the rewards of engaging the user in an area that’s unreliable. Users who trust in a site enough to use its search box are users who trust the brand and the technology driving it.

Jos Merideth

Published 17 July, 2006 by Jos Merideth

5 more posts from this author

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