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How To Improve Internal Search On Your Website

Amanda AalpoelAmanda Aalpoel/Full Stack Developer
January 31, 20193 min read

Most sites have some sort of built-in search engine, but search is often an afterthought that comes up when a website redesign nears completion. Website administrators often ignore the importance of a useful site search and curation of search results. Many site administrators assume if they have good content and enough keywords, Google will take care of the rest. Unfortunately, that’s not always the case.

Why is Site Search Important?

Site Search Keeps Users Engaged

Internal search enables end users to find the content they need. It helps them land on a goal page and convert, whether that means making a purchase or contacting your company for more information. If your end users can’t find what they want, they will get frustrated and leave.

Site Search is a Shortcut for Sites with Large Navs

Large sites, such as CNN’s, can have thousands of pages and complex navigation structures. Information an end user wants might be nested several levels deep, and that location might not be apparent from the site’s main navigation. A robust site search allows users to get direct links to information they need without wasting time navigating the site.

CNN Large Navigation

How can I Improve My Site’s Search?

Feature Important Search Results

A productive website search engine gives administrators control of search results. For example, a site administrator at a manufacturing company might want to feature an upcoming trade show at the top of the results page. Results that stand apart from the rest of the organic search results emphasize their importance.

Visual separation highlights the most important content, whether that separated content arises from the user’s current search query or if an administrator has pushed it into prime position. Google continues to develop ways to feature results; Google methods offer guidance for featuring results on your site. Learn more about how Google features results for different types of search queries here.

Group Search Results When Appropriate

If your site contains different categories of information, consider grouping your search results into a faceted display. This allows users to see results for each information facet, and then visually select the type of information they want to pursue.

Tempco’s public website search features a faceted search engine to group results into categories for recommended results, products, resource documents, and part numbers.

Tempco Grouped Search Results

Indicate Whether Content Should Be Indexed

Depending on your CMS or website search engine software, content admins can set search engine indexes to ignore selected content. This avoids cluttering the SERP (Search Engine Result Page) with unimportant results. One common approach is to apply a “no index” tag or directive, in the way of Google search engine practice.

Do not index weak or unimportant content, including:

  • Email marketing pages or online versions of your organization’s marketing emails.
  • Site navigations (side nav, top nav, utility nav).
  • Interactive elements (buttons, form inputs, etc.).

Always Return Results, Even When a Term is Misspelled

Users often misspell search queries. Your site search engine should handle common misspellings by returning results for the correct term so your user doesn’t see the dreaded “no results” message. A “no results” message may frustrate users and deter them from searching again, even when the error was theirs. Returning results or a call to action matters a great deal in user engagement.

Include Search Term Suggestions when Possible

Provide suggestions to users as they type into a search bar. Google sets a high standard for auto-suggest and many users are familiar with the behavior. Suggestions help users understand which search terms or phrases will return results.

Google Suggested Search

If possible, suggest terms that exist within your site’s content. Suggested terms indicate, to the user, forthcoming results for these search queries. Take it a step further by grouping suggestions based on different types of data. This is useful when your site has an extensive content library.Medium’s main site search uses a more complex approach to suggestions by grouping suggestions into relevant data types.

Medium Site Search Example

Assuming that your site has a sufficiently robust and flexible CMS, you can apply these tactics to improve your internal search engine and enhance your users’ experience.

Amanda AalpoelAmanda Aalpoel/Full Stack Developer

Amanda is a full stack developer and analyst with a talent for improving interface designs as well as navigating the complexities of business intelligence reporting processes and simplifying web interfaces for both usability and mobile functionality. She has applied these principles to SharePoint intranets and public websites alike.

Read Amanda Aalpoel's Blogs

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