Yes! It’s true. eCommerce brands in the U.S. lose a whopping $300 billion per year since visitors are not able to find what they are looking for. (Google Report)

Search abandonment (visitors leaving an eCommerce store unable to find a product or due to poor/irrelevant search results) is one of the often overlooked areas by a majority of the eCommerce stores. It might sound like a tall claim but check out the following statistics, which suggest otherwise.

A survey of the search performance of the top 50 grossing eCommerce sites in the U.S. by Baymard Institute reveals that 70% of search engines are not optimized enough to return relevant results for product type synonyms. According to Klevu’s benchmarking report, 78% of the U.K.’s top eCommerce websites are unable to convert through their internal search engine.

An even more shocking data is the frustration that poor product search experience creates for users, resulting in 68% of churn, according to a Forrester survey. It is a massive missed opportunity and marketing efforts are wasted.

If you doubt that your store could be among the sites offering a poor search experience, this blog is for you. By the end of this article, you will get to know:

  • The importance of on-site search
  • Challenges in eCommerce site search
  • Benefits of site search
  • User search queries your site search engine should be prepared for (types)
  • eCommerce site search optimization tips and best practices

How important site search is for your eCommerce store

Site search functionality is a self-service opportunity for users to find products or information they are looking for in your store. The more configured your eCommerce site search is, the easier it will be for users to find what they need.

Your site search’s accuracy and ability to understand users’ queries and return results with abundant information significantly impacts your ROI. It’s similar to a user walking into your store and asking a salesperson to help find a product they are interested in. They need that initial help and then are on their own all the way to conversion. Visitors who use the search bar are 1.8 times more likely to convert. Here are some more stats that show how important site search is for your eCommerce store:

  • Up to 30% of customers use the internal search on eCommerce sites.
  • 73% of visitors will abandon a site within 2 minutes if they can’t find what they’re looking for.
  • 43% of users on retail websites go directly to the search bar.
  • Site searchers are 2 to 3x more likely to convert and spend 2.6x more across mobile and laptop, increasing your AOV (Average Order Value)
  • 39% of purchasers are influenced by a relevant search.

The message is clear. Every eCommerce site needs an optimized and evolving site search experience. We’ll get into optimization techniques and tips in the upcoming sections, which are based on the research study done by Baymard Institute.

The ‘Challenges’ in eCommerce site search

Consumers who use site search are well-informed users. They have done their research and decided what to buy and where to buy from. With a high intention of buying, they visit your eCommerce store and don’t want to waste time.

At the beginning of the eCommerce era, when fewer products were on offer and brands were more into streamlining the transactional experiences, customer experience like site search was simple and a tertiary priority. Most of the site search engines do well with simple search queries like brand name (Nike), category name (Shoes), product name (Nike Air Max for Women) etc. In such scenarios, the equation is pretty simple – Either the product is available or it’s not.

The ever-growing portfolio – The evolution of eCommerce and ever-increasing competition have posed many challenges in perfecting site search. The number of products and variants to choose from has increased exponentially, even in niche eCommerce stores. SKUs have grown from hundreds to thousands making the site search a challenge for stores and disappointing for users.

The Google and Amazon factor – Both Google and Amazon have changed the way consumers expect search engines to respond to their queries. Users have become accustomed to getting relevant results for any search they perform, owing to the market-leading search optimization of these two tech giants, and they expect the same from your store too.

What does site search do for your eCommerce site?

Improves your bottom line

When you help customers find what they want, they buy. It’s as simple as that. An easy search experience directly improves conversions.

Improves dwell time, thereby SEO rankings

A good site search increases the time users spend on your store. As dwell time is one of the critical factors for SEO rankings, your site search helps in improving it further once you’ve done the hard work of bringing users to your website.

Improves brand trust

A good search experience is one of the superior user experiences that your store can provide. The positive impression that relevant search results provide improves your brand’s trust and makes users return more frequently.

Provides insights on customer interests

User inputs gathered through your site’s search engine offer the key to one of the most valuable pieces of information you could ask for – Customer interests and intent. It could be the products, categories, or brands users are interested in, terms used for search, etc. These inputs equip you to make key business decisions and improve your search experience.

Zero dead ends

Once a user is into your eCommerce store, an efficient site search ensures that they head straight to where they want to go and hit no dead ends. Positive site search experience stops users from returning to Google Search, providing more opportunities to convert, up-sell and cross-sell.

Decoding the DNA of eCommerce site search

The eCommerce search context is different. While users search in your eCommerce store, they are mainly looking for products which makes them search in a way different from their regular web search.

So, while decoding how users are devising search queries, you can get to know the various components of a query hinting at the products they want, the criteria they are looking for in a product, and so on.

According to the research study we’ve mentioned earlier, there are eight types of search queries that can be broadly categorized into three segments – ‘Query Spectrum’, ‘Query Qualifiers’ and ‘Query Structure’. Understanding these ground-level basics will help you build search engines with logic and interfaces that align with users’ expectations.

Query Spectrum – Sets the range of search. It’s the base of a search query as it reveals the scope of user’s search queries and set of products they are interested in.

Query Qualifiers – Shortens the boundaries of search by hinting at the criteria, condition, and feature that a user search query accompanies.

Query Structure – It’s about how users construct a search query, including the product range and criteria.


If a user searches for a mobile cover for iPhone XR, the mobile cover is the ‘Query Spectrum’, which specifies the range of products searched for. The condition part in the user’s search query ‘iPhone XR’ specifies the boundary for the search.

When summarized, users set the search range with Query Spectrum, use Query Qualifiers to become more precise, and the Query Structure tells you the context/syntax of the query.

Further in this blog, we will drill down to the finer details of ‘Query Spectrum’, which forms the base of a search query.

Common types of search queries

The Query Spectrum, the phase of setting the search query’s range, includes 4 types.

  • Exact Searches
  • Product Type Searches
  • Symptom Searches
  • Non-Product Searches

Exact Searches

When users are sure about the product they want to buy from your store, they provide a product title or name, or model number.

Example: Walmart

Exact searches might look quite easy to address, but your site search engines should be prepared for more as there are certain special scenarios to consider. Phonetic Misspellings might happen as the user might have only heard the word and provide a phonetically similar spelling in your search bar. Also, your products might have alternative titles and names as well. Your site search should also accommodate them to return the product when alternate titles/names are used.

Another scenario to consider is that users might not type the product name on their own. Instead, copy and paste the titles from external sites like Goodreads (books) or Google search results pages into your search.

While acquiring product information, it is difficult to get all the alternate titles or names as the vendors you procure them from might not provide all of it. Partnering with industry databases to include that crucial product information is better.

According to the research study benchmark report of top 60 grossing Europe and US eCommerce stores, 29% of sites are incapable of producing decent results for “Exact Searches”. Also, 27% of the store’s site search engines were not equipped to handle misspelling in product titles even by a single character.

Make sure you address misspellings, alternate titles, and alternate product names.

Product Type Searches

When users aren’t specific about the product or brand name, or model they want to buy, they opt for the ‘Product Type’ kind of search. Example: Shoes

‘Product Type’ searches will primarily be a user’s effort to find a category of products, and they do it because of difficulties in finding the category from the main menu or because they find using the search bar convenient. The research study suggests that 60% of mobile users prefer ‘Site Search’ as their first option for finding products while landing on a site’s homepage for the first time.

Optimizing your site’s search bar for ‘Product Type’ searches might seem all the more easier than for ‘Exact searches,’ but there is a challenge to overcome. What if the search term of a user is not available as a category in your store? For example, a search query ‘knives’ may be available as a category or subcategory in your site but might be under home accessories.

Example: IKEA

So, proper classification of products into categories and subcategories is essential. If you are still not able to find a relevant category match for search queries, you can try directing users to an intermediary category. Also, you should optimize your search to handle synonymical search terms. For example, if you have a category in place for “Women Jackets,” you should be optimizing your search to return the same results for the term “Ladies Jackets” as well.

Most users do not think of trying other synonymical search terms and leave your website assuming the products are unavailable. While optimizing for synonyms, consider key synonym types like near-identical words (multipurpose knives / multifunction knives), dialect-based synonyms (crisps/chips), and spelling differences (tees/tee shirts/t-shirts). Adding filters would be a handy option for users performing ‘Product Type’ searches as it would help in narrowing down the search results from thousands to a few.

Make sure your products are classified under all relevant categories and provide filters to narrow down the search.

Symptom Searches

Symptom search is the last resort for users who don’t fall under the ‘Exact’ and ‘Product Type’ searches. In this case, users are unaware of the product they need or even a category they might belong to. Instead, they trigger a search based on the problem they are facing or trying to get a remedy.

For example, a user would search for “oily skin remedy,” hoping to get products suggested for oily skin. If your search is not optimized for it, there will be zero relevant results displayed, despite your site having a lot of products for oily skin care like creams, face washes, body washes, etc.

Seasoned by Google search experience, consumers are used to getting relevant answers, solutions, and products for their search query. They expect a similar experience in their online shopping experiences.

Make sure you classify your site’s categories and subcategories based on symptoms/problems. The challenge here is that results for symptom-based searches could be one or more product types. For example, for a ‘Symptom-based search’ for shoulder sprain, the product suggestions could be shoulder caps, sleeves, or slings. For the same search, users might also be looking for suggestions like instant relief sprays, pain balms etc. As the range of products is broad, your site’s search optimization team should conduct detailed research to cover the entire range of relevant products or solutions for the search results. You can provide an autocomplete option to suggest solutions (categories) to drive them into an appropriate path.

Example for symptoms/problems based search: Amazon

If your site features guides to help customers learn and differentiate between available solutions, ensure such materials are easily accessible on the search result pages. Such information can help customers make informed decisions and also increase brand trust.

Hint consumers to use symptom based query in your search, integrate help guides, complement with autocomplete features.

Non-product searches

While the key motive of site search should be to help users find products or solutions quickly, it should also focus on non-product pursuits. The research study’s accounts and self-service usability testing report reveal that 34% of users tried to search for non-product content.

A majority of non-product searches would be for services or information like order tracking, order cancellation, refund policy, return policy, and so on. Though most eCommerce stores have this information, they are mostly buried in the help/support section or footer links. Provide more focus on optimizing site search for non-product searches on mobile as it is all the more difficult to find due to the interface complexities.

Example: Walmart

How you can optimize your site search?

So far, we’ve seen the basics of site search, users’ intent behind the search, and how those intentions influence the way they frame their search queries. Now let’s discuss some of the UX-level best practices and feature-level tips that can make your site search a great companion for your website visitors.

Search bar visibility and UX

Your search bar should be the crowd puller on the homepage of your eCommerce store. Even before optimizing your search bar, the foremost thing to do is make it easily findable. There isn’t much aesthetics about doing this. Just make it predominant. Save the best space (mostly the top, above the menu) and make it significant.

Though your homepage is loaded with content, dynamic blocks, menus, and promotional banners, your Search Bar should stand out, inviting users to get started.

Other search bar UX approaches you can make use of are

  • Make it large enough to accommodate lengthy search queries
  • Provide placeholders like ‘Search or Search for combined with any relevant product categories (if you are a niche store)
  • Make it sticky so that it’s easily accessible at any point
  • Allow users to initiate a search by pressing the ‘Enter’ key


Enable users to complete their search faster with the autocomplete option. Autocomplete is not just about making it convenient for users to search. It also avoids misspellings while users try to type product names and industry jargon. Predicting how a search query might end and providing suggestions beforehand gives a perception of a well-optimized search experience for users.

Avoid the ‘No results’ scenario

What if a product or a category aligning to the search term entered is not available in your store. Do not provide the ‘No results’ or no results found in return. Instead, you can transfer them to your customer support executive for better assistance.

Provide filtering options in search results

Allow users to filter products based on attributes like color, price, size etc. Faceted search will help narrow down the search results faster, especially when a query could return a long list of products.

Optimize metadata

Your product’s titles, descriptions, and keywords are not only important for the search engine rankings but also for pulling up the most relevant search results for queries. Include the search keywords consumers use and also alternate spellings and synonymical keywords in your metadata.

Leverage search analytics

Analytics can help your search team derive key insights by analyzing search queries to improve search effectiveness.

Using the analytics of search engines, your internal search teams can detect the long-tail keywords users come up with. If your site search is returning ‘no results’ for a product name users search the most, you can consider adding that product or a variant to your portfolio. While tracking search engines with analytics, you can detect the conversion rates of landing pages as well. It helps you rethink your marketing messaging for low-converting landing pages and apply the success formula of high-performing landing pages.

Optimize for mobile site search

While we have discussed making your site search box stand out on your home page, it is all the more important to make it predominant on mobile. Users will find it difficult to find and click your search box. Make sure it is convenient enough for customers to use it.

Final Words

Optimizing search is one of the best ways to impress your prospects right from the word go. Imagine how a user would feel if your site’s search bar starts reacting from the very first letter they type and continues to assist them all the way from completing a search query to locating the product or service they are eager to buy? Isn’t that the shortest path to drive users to your checkout pages?

It is time to get into action. We hope our article will serve as a reference point for your initiative. If you need expert advice before getting started, our eCommerce experts can help. Have a one-to-one discussion with our experts to chart a roadmap for your site search optimization.