It’s probably been a long time since most small and medium-sized business met new customers and asked, “So how did you hear about us?” They already know the answer.
Most likely, new leads and prospects landed on a web site by typing something into a search engine. For years now, marketers have been trying to guess what that “something” could be by conducting extensive keyword research. Then, it’s not only a matter of optimizing the site to make sure those words are there. It’s also a matter of developing content like white papers, blog posts, videos and other assets that tie into the themes to which those keywords refer.
This emphasis on search engine optimization (SEO) makes a lot of sense, but it doesn’t explain why more marketers aren’t paying attention to something closer to home -- their on-site search data.
No matter what kind of business you’re running, and how well you’ve designed your web site, there are always going to be items that visitors might need to look up. That’s why, usually near the top right-hand corner of the home page, companies offer that little magnifying glass symbol or empty field where a search of everything on the site can be conducted. This is table stakes from a web design perspective -- perhaps so common that the company never really bothers with their on-site search engine ever again.
In fact, according to a report from eConsultancy, 42% of companies ignore on-site research, while another 42% fold it into their other online measurement capabilities. A paltry 15% actually spend time trying to improve how their on-site search works.
Think about it, though: on-site search is the digital equivalent of someone walking into a physical store location and browsing the shelves. In this case, however, browsing probably isn’t a leisurely, pleasant activity but a quest to find something they need right away. This could be details about a product or service, background research or details about the right contact points.
Tools like Marketing Cloud become even more powerful when you pair them with relevant, actionable data. Here are some ideas on how specific kinds of on-site research results could power the way you nurture demand and drive engagement in prospects and customers:
Let’s go back to the store analogy for a moment. If a customer walked in, headed to a particular shelf, picked up a product and headed to the cash register, it’s a good sign your merchandising and assortment strategy is working well. On the other hand, if they seemed to be walking around in circles with a confused look on their face, it would probably be time to move certain items or at least ask if they wanted some help.
A high number of searches per session could suggest there are gems within your site that need higher prominence, or that there are common questions your digital experience isn’t answering. Part of the solution might be moving information to the home page, to a landing page or another section of your site. It might also be an opportunity to push out content related to the most common on-site searches through other channels. This could include e-mail newsletters, social media posts and more.
What happens when you land on a search result page that says, “Sorry, no items returned for you search?” Most likely you head to another site, or try and find the information by some other means. It’s the equivalent of someone in a physical store saying “Sorry, I can’t help you,” and sending them on their way with a shrug. This is a wasted opportunity on many levels.
This data could suggest you need to offer more content to assist in the awareness and consideration phase of the buying cycle. It might also mean you have to think about other links you could include on a “no results” page that keeps the visitor engaged with you. Even a simple redirect to an online resource centre might work, as would the use of a chatbot where they could ask for live assistance.
On-site searches can also go the other way, by providing too many items to consider, or organizing them in a way that’s based on date rather than relevance. Either way, monitoring the performance of online search should be factored into the customer journey your target audience is taking with you.
If you’re seeing a high click-through rate from on-site search, where are they heading? You may discover there are products and services that don’t receive a lot of marketing efforts today but which have high interest among your site visitors. That could help influence the way you prioritize marketing and the budget dollars you allocate towards particular tactics.
It’s one thing if your customers are conducting an on-site research for a certain product or service. It’s another thing entirely when they add a word like “health care,” “for banking” or “for retailers.” Groupings like this suggest there may be more vertical-specific questions or areas of interest in your audience about what you’re selling. How you market those goods should evolve accordingly.
That’s just one example, though. What if the product or service name is followed by “not working,” or “upgrade?” This could point to ways to help customers deal more efficiently with service issues, which then supports the customer marketing efforts you make later on.
As with SEO, on-site search is more than just a way to help your audience get where they need to go on your site. It’s primary data about their interest, intent and even their frustration. Harness that data with Marketing Cloud, and their next on-site search could turn into a more engaged customer -- and more business for your company.