Site Search Vendors: Which is Best for SEO and Conversion Optimization?

Google says by the end of 2017 they will be sunsetting Google Site Search. Many eCommerce businesses are already looking for the best replacement. We’re preparing to help our clients make that choice, and thought it would be fun to try a new content format at the same time.

Welcome to Inflow’s first Cross-Channel eCommerce Chat!

So welcome to the first in what will likely become a series of Cross Departmental Slack Chats about eCommerce marketing, in which experts from Inflow’s SEO, Conversion Optimization and Paid Search teams spend some time discussing issues like product reviews, pop-ups, A/B testing methods and more.

We’re starting with a big one: Site Search. Which vendors should you look into? What features are a concern for SEO? And what features are most important for conversion optimization? Let’s see if we can get some of these questions answered for you.

Tim Hampton, Conversion Optimization Advisor

I’m Tim, your faithful Moderator and Inflow CRO Advisor. I’m also known as Facilities Director Fred.

So gents, what features should a merchant consider when choosing a site search solution?


Michael Kuehn, Inflow Sr. Conversion Optimization Advisor

Michael has been optimizing eCommerce sites for 7 years. He loves strategic boardgames and conversion optimization.

From a CRO perspective it really depends on the specifics of your site – what you sell, the size of your catalog, etc. A website for a brand that sells a small number of items can get away with way less functionality.

 


 

Everett Sizemore, Marketing Director, Inflow

Everett Sizemore, (aka “balibones”) is our Director of Marketing and technical eCommerce SEO expert.

Hmmm… from an SEO perspective, it should give merchants the ability to spin off landing pages from the most popular searches, which involves reporting, as well as the capability to redirect the search result for top queries to a custom landing page.


Devon Cox, CRO Team Lead

Devon Cox has been doing online marketing for 15 years and eCommerce Conversion Optimization for 9 years.

One thing I always start with is a simple calculation of how much revenue you might expect vs how much the solution costs.  For example: I tell clients they should expect users who search to convert at 2-5x more than those who don’t – in GA you can put a dollar value on the delta between what your site searchers are currently converting at and the 2-5x benchmark – that’ll help start weeding out solutions that may be too expensive (or maybe you’re already doing an awesome job in search).


Glen McMurry, Sr. SEO Strategist

Glen McMurry (aka “bonecrusher”) is an SEO Strategist with years of onsite technicalSEO experience.

Some of this might be wrapped up in other technology, but if you don’t want these pages to be indexed (and often you don’t) you need to evaluate how you are going to keep your search pages out from the start – try to explore if the technology has any solutions for this, either built into the platform or instructions on how to prevent it from happening.


Michael Kuehn CRO Expert

@devon that’s a great point – you definitely need to consider ROI with this as many of the vendors are fairly expensive.


Everett Sizemore, eCommerce Expert

@BoneCrusherGlen, I completely agree. Most of the time it’s more about how to keep this stuff OUT of the index than trying to get any additional SEO value from these pages.

Adding to what @Devon said, some of them are free, depending on your needs. Magento, Shopify, and BigCommerce either have decent site search out of the box, or will free/inexpensive add-ons, but they usually aren’t as feature-rich as the other vendors, which offer way more value than just returning search results.


Michael Kuehn CRO Expert

Again, this comes back to the ROI question – the more advanced features cost more but also drive larger improvements. If you’re running a multi-million dollar company it would be silly to spend just $100 a month.


Tim Hampton, Conversion and SEO Expert

Thinking back on the past couple of years are there any vendors that are standing out as having the best site search? Are there any that you recommend more than others?

 


Devon Cox, eCommerce Expert

Klevu has feature parity which is why I like them, but I’ve seen a lot better support from SearchSpring.


Glen McMurry, Technical SEO Expert

I second @devon for SearchSpring – there are many reasons but one of the best is that they have such a large market share, so if you have a problem there is a high probability that another brand has already solved it and that knowledge is out there on how to fix it.


Michael Kuehn CRO Expert

Both Klevu and SearchSpring check all the main feature boxes: strong faceted search, learning algorithms, search recommendations and auto-complete – but I don’t think Klevu offers intelligent recommendations. It’s not a requirement but it’s a nice feature that a lot of the enterprise level tools offer.


Everett Sizemore, eCommerce Expert

SLI is also good, but $$$$. I like the way some sites are handling the SEO stuff.


Tim Hampton, Conversion and SEO Expert

@balibones you say good with “SEO Stuff” What exactly do you mean by that?


Everett Sizemore, eCommerce Expert

I think feature-wise it will come down to conversion optimization and user experience. With site search it’s less a matter of helping SEO than of not harming it. You don’t want the internal site search results indexed most of the time.

I like the way PetsPyjamas does it: Example site: http://www.petspyjamas.com/search/go?w=chain
Because the entire /search/ directory can be blocked in Robots.txt it gives SEOs a “nuclear option” to just exclude the entire thing.

Also, search for “pug” and get redirected to a category page:
http://www.petspyjamas.com/pets/dogs/breed-pug/0


Glen McMurry, Technical SEO Expert

Sidebar: @balibones indexation is a huge topic for SEO – do you noindex the pages? block them in the robots? Is it already built into the platform? Is it easy to integrate/control if it’s not?


Michael Kuehn CRO Expert

Great question Bonecrusher!

Bonecrusher Hates Everything


Everett Sizemore, eCommerce Expert

Good questions @glen (aka Bonecrusher). I think it depends. Most of the time for large sites I just block them altogether, which is what Google recommends, and is good for crawl budget. You could use an X-Robots response or a Robots Noindex meta tag but Googlebot would have to crawl the page to see the directive. But if for some reason you have internal search result pages with lots of external links… Different situation.


Tim Hampton, Conversion and SEO Expert

So how is SLI for Conversion @devon and @kuehn?


Michael Kuehn CRO Expert
SLI is really an enterprise level tool and it’s priced like one


Devon Cox, eCommerce Expert
I think it’s great for conversion, but its a serious implementation commitment ..


Michael Kuehn CRO Expert
@devon right – they integrate server-side and take control of your category pages, it’s a big investment of time and money, but you do get a really great set of features

It’s also important to consider integrations – SLI integrates with way more platforms than most of these systems.


Tim Hampton, Conversion and SEO Expert

@here, Ok so we have covered SEO, CRO, Pricing and some specific vendors that offer this service. What other items should vendors consider before choosing a platform?


Everett Sizemore, eCommerce Expert
Reporting is important, and something you’ll get from most platforms. I like to use it in several ways for SEO.

1. Look for searches that returned 0 results. Those are your product development opportunities that should go to merchandising.

2. Look for searches that are synonyms or typos of what you are calling your products. For instance, I once renamed a product called a “Balance Ball” to “Exercise Ball” and also optimized for “Yoga Ball” based on internal search data.


Michael Kuehn CRO Expert
@balibones that’s a great point. Something to consider, some of these services do this automatically in the background or allow you to set this up on the back end – if you see some of this in your data now this might be an important feature to look for in a vendor



Everett Sizemore, eCommerce Expert
Finally, 3. You can find the most searched for keywords and create custom landing pages and curated product collection pages. @kuehn @devon These probably convert way better than internal search result grid pages, right?



Devon Cox, eCommerce Expert
@balibones yes, and is a key piece of any search solution: active management. I’ll add that some search vendors allow the creation of ‘virtual category pages’ that can help create these kinds of custom landing pages.


Glen McMurry, Technical SEO Expert
Soft 404s also seem to be an issue within site search for SEO – make sure that if you don’t have any products returned within the internal search you are returning a 404 page instead of a “no products found” page with a 200 response code. Searchspring, for example, is particularly bad at this: http://www.yummielife.com/search?q=bag


Everett Sizemore, eCommerce Expert
@glen Yup. Big problem when you get tens of thousands of those indexed.

Cat eating pizza gif

/Gif [yummy life]


Glen McMurry, Technical SEO Expert
@balibones It wouldn’t be much of a problem if you were disallowing these pages in the robots.txt file and adding the noindex tags into the head, but you never know…



Tim Hampton, Conversion and SEO Expert

@here, Anything else we should be on the lookout for when selecting a vendor?


Devon Cox, eCommerce Expert
Product feeds – most of them will require one – do you have one already, does it have the right parameters (cost/category,product specific features etc) – will you have to make one and will the search vendor help with this?


Michael Kuehn CRO Expert
In general, look for a vendor that specializes in your type of business. In doing some research on the options out there many of them are not eCommerce specialists. The ones that focus on your niche are more likely to keep up with the trends in eCommerce and add features that will allow you grow with them so you’re not looking for another vendor in a year or two.


Everett Sizemore, eCommerce Expert
Relevance is the big one. If the site search itself doesn’t return the results you want, or getting the results to show requires too much back-end work (like tagging all of the products) you should consider a different product.

Integrations matter too. If it doesn’t integrate with your eCommerce platform it’s a no-go so that’s probably something to look into out of the gate.


Michael Kuehn CRO Expert
Every business is different – our key items above are the things we see working in most cases, but you know your business best. If you need features like foreign language support that might be one of the first criteria you look at since most vendors don’t offer it.

So use this as a guideline but ultimately you should be coming up with your own list of requirements based on your needs.


Tim Hampton, Conversion and SEO Expert

Are there any vendors here that we didn’t talk about that are worth exploring?


Everett Sizemore, eCommerce Expert
Lucidworks / Solr if you aren’t “just” eCommerce. Then there’s SwiftType and SearchNode, which are featured in a Kiss Metrics post I read the other day, but I haven’t used them yet. They seem promising enough to look into. Also Nextopia, which integrates well with Magento, BigCommerce, Shopify and Volusion, among others.


Devon Cox, eCommerce Expert
I’d say that with active management (and a well reviewed platform specific plugin) you can do as well as the most expensive platforms, but if you don’t have the time or resources – the high end platforms have a good to great ROI.


Tim Hampton, Conversion and SEO Expert

@here thank you all for your contributions today. This was bigly valuable!


Michael Kuehn CRO Expert

Bigly Valuable

/Gif [Yuge]


 There are many tools out there that don’t work well for eCommerce because they’re more focused on surfacing content results, rather than products. If you know of other exceptional site search tools for eCommerce not covered here, please share them in the comments section below. Thanks!

Which Site Search Tools do YOU Like?