Conversion Rate Optimization / Ecommerce Research

72% of Sites Fail Ecommerce Site Search Expectations: 3 Steps + a Checklist to Ensure Yours Isn’t One of Them

Zohar Gilad / 7 min read

It’s official: mobile ecommerce on-site search experiences are abysmal.

You probably didn’t need a study to prove that out.

We’ve all been there, after all – typing on a mobile screen into a tiny box that serves us little to no accurate results.

In fact, according to a recent Baymard Institute Mobile Ecommerce Usability study, most of us use on-site search when on mobile (and over other mobile search experiences).

Here’s exactly what they found:

On-site search was found to be the preferred product finding strategy of the test subjects, as they perceived it to be faster than category navigation.

And yet, despite most of us using on-site searches on mobile, the mobile search experience on ecommerce sites is almost entirely broken.

Even on desktop – where consumers using on-site search spend 3-4x more with a given brand – most online stores fall short.

“[This data] comes as little surprise, as we’ve already documented how severely desktop ecommerce search misaligns with users’ search behavior,” points out the author of the Baymard study.

“For example, 70% of (desktop) ecommerce search implementations are unable to return relevant results for product-type synonyms (requiring users to search using the exact same jargon as the site) and 34% don’t return useful results when users search for a model number or misspell a word with just a single character in the product title.”

That’s a big deal – because if a consumer is taking the time to type in what exactly they are looking for from your brand, then they are further down the funnel than any other potential consumer on your site.

And yet, most ecommerce brands treat on-site search as an afterthought.

But you shouldn’t, because ignoring on-site search results in:

  • Lower desktop average order value
  • Decreased mobile conversion
  • Reduced SEO – and thus, less organic traffic

With so many brands ignoring this issue, it’s important to break this down to the basics. After all, consumers are using site search bars (despite all the odds against them – hard to see, difficult to use, etc.) and brands still aren’t paying any attention to them.

Meet the Consumers Who Use On-Site Search

Broadly speaking, online shoppers can be split up into two predominant types:

  1. Browsers.
  2. Searchers.

The first type – Browsers – goes through a string of behaviors that is the online equivalent to window-shopping.

They are shoppers who really don’t know precisely what they are looking for, or perhaps are not sure exactly how to verbally express what they want.

Browsers can navigate through multiple merchandise collections, often using the site menu and view many products in one session, without ultimately buying a thing.

Searchers, on the other hand, are shoppers who exhibit a clear intent.

When navigating a website, particularly an ecommerce website, they are looking for a category of products, a specific product, color, or even a SKU.  

The above example is from a nationally recognized online store, where their best performing on-site search keywords are SKUs.

This focused behavior leads to a exponentially higher likelihood of conversion. This is why search can be characterized as the most important conversion vehicle on on your website.

3 Ways to Optimize Mobile Search for Increased Sales

Think of on-site search as a handy assistant to your most important shoppers – those who exhibit a clear intent.

This is especially true on mobile, where on-site search experiences across 50 of the top online brands (in the study conducted by Baymard) shows the brands average mobile on-site search experience is way below customer expectation par.

This makes sense. Here are the 2 biggest issues confronting searching mobile consumers.  

  1. When it comes to mobile, the smaller screen and touch functionality affects browsing experience.
  2. Viewing is more limited than on desktop. On mobile, a consumer typically sees only one or two products per screen, while on a laptop or desktop it’s likely that dozens of products are visible at once.

These cause mobile browsing to be a more tedious experience –– causing shoppers to abandon the funnel and lose you the sale.

Is it possible this variance in mobile behavior and lack of UX is partly responsible for the lower mobile conversion rate when compared to desktop?

It’s only a correlation, but it’s enough so to light a fire under any brand not focusing on optimizing for it.

Here are 3 tips to power-up mobile site search for your store.

1. Make your mobile search box visible and open.

Designers and UX professionals know the importance of search, and typically assign it prime real estate in a custom theme.

However, in many default store themes, the search box is missing or hidden on the mobile screen.

As a result, search becomes a small magnifying glass icon that is hardly noticeable to the eye, or worse, buried among many other menu items.

Recognize this?

Keep in mind, that shoppers of the ‘Searchers’ variety are your most important customers, and they already know what they want to buy.

Make your search box visible, open and easily accessible, so that people can engage with it intuitively.

What follows is common sense: if your mobile shoppers can type what they are looking for and find it quickly, conversion is not only more likely, it is accelerated.

When shoppers see a clear, open search box front and center, they are encouraged to start their journey by telling you what they are looking for.

Let’s look at 3 examples:

1. BB Crafts.’s visible search box helps shoppers find what they want on mobile, with the search bar clearly visible and ready for text just below the logo.

2. So Good to Buy.

So Good to Buy has a similar design, putting the search bar open and clearly visible just above the logo and below the sales banners.

3. Sam’s Furniture.

Sam’s Furniture’s mobile search bar blends more into the theme, but remains open and visible. It also allows for a photo search option as well.

Sam’s Furniture One of the Most Innovative Brands of 2017

Selling furniture online is hard. Not because its expensive. Not because there are a ton of competitors.

Those things matter, sure, but it is the difficulty in shipping that is the real issue.

Here’s how Sam’s Furniture figured it out.

2. Use rich autocomplete with error-correction to engage shoppers.

Google has cornered nearly 80% of the web search market. It’s safe to assume your online shoppers are familiar with it.

We are all therefore conditioned by Google to expect an autocomplete function.

This means that the search engine predicts a search query as it is typed.

When the autocomplete mechanism works well, it:

  • Helps users save time
  • Iterates their search queries better
  • Finds the results they’re looking for, faster.

In ecommerce, these benefits extend not only to suggesting the search query, but also suggesting the most relevant products.

If the user selects a popular query, he or she would get to a results page, without the need to type the entire product name or search query.

In addition to saving time, this implicitly also assures the shopper that they’re in the right place, since they are not the only one searching for this particular term, phrase or item.

If, alternatively, a shopper selects a recommended product, they would proceed to land on the product page.

From there, they can conveniently click the “Buy” button and begin the checkout process, without first going through a search results page.

Here’s how that process works.

  1. Go to search
  2. Type in search – it auto-populates
  3. Go to product pages instead of search category page

This quick shift from search to product page, in turn, accelerates the purchase cycle and speeds up conversion.

What’s more is that on mobile, autocomplete holds even greater importance, since screen real-estate is scarce, and smartphone typing is error-prone and somewhat harder to execute, compared to desktop.

This is precisely why rich autocomplete is infinitely crucial to mobile conversion.

Shoppers should be able to find products even if they misspell all or part of their query, and this is more likely to happen if visitors are engaged from the very first character they type.

Let’s look at another example by Group Vertical, which uses rich autocomplete to engage shoppers and minimize the typing requirement.

3. Use merchandising to promote products where it matters.

Search is all about anticipating shoppers’ intent.

And with AI on the horizon and machine learning getting faster and much, much smarter –– on-site search may be the first arena to employ these new technologies.

After all, AI algorithms predict with high accuracy which products a shopper will select at a given moment for a specific search query.

For instance, when a shopper searches for “running shoes” – what are the products he or she are most likely products to click on?

AI and machine learning can get us closer to the results.

Search apps and search engines are self-learning. This means that those engines analyze, learn and improve the relevance of search results over time.

It’s why every so often, Google has a major update to their algorithm. As the algorithm evolves, so does the code and thus engineers must get involved.

Of course, machine learning and AI are only half of the equation.

The other half relates to the online merchant’s strategic choices, which can vary according to a number of business related considerations, including:

  • Item profitability
  • Ongoing or ad-hoc promotions
  • Stock shortage and surplus

These merchandising decisions dictate a variety of decisions:

  • Which products are promoted ahead of others
  • Which products are hidden or buried according to season, promotion or keyword
  • Which products appear in searches initiated from specific geographic locations.
  • Which products appear for specific customer groups and segments

Advanced merchandising capabilities are doubly crucial when it comes to mobile shopping.

Once again, this is due to the small screen size, and the fact that shoppers who browse search results will typically only look at only the first few to see if that’s what they are looking for before moving on.

You can’t count on shoppers giving you a second chance – not when competition may be out-UXing you.

By ensuring that the search algorithm takes into account not only the verbiage used, but also other factors such as user behavior, location and promotions, merchants can better match shoppers’ intent and display the most relevant results possible.

Then, the path to conversion is quicker. is merchandising search results to optimize conversion with over 50,000 products. This is key for parts and whole product vendors. They need to promote whole products ahead of their parts. In the example above, you see that when you search for drone, you first get the whole drone product rather than drone engine replacement part.

Your On-Site Search Optimization Checklist

If you’ve been struggling to improve mobile conversion rate in on your site, dive in to your on-site search report and see what shows up.

  • Are folks searching for items that get no results?

Don’t be like HP. Ensure your search results always show something relevant – or at least moves them to another idea.

  • What are your most popular search terms?

Can you use those to inform your SEO strategy, too? The above keywords get people to click on the product page. That would probably be the case on Google, too. Try it out!

  • Are consumers using site search at all?

BigCommerce’s in-store search analytics report breaks down in-store search queries to help you better investigate needs. Learn more about the report here.

Additional apps you can use like Instant Search+ also provide in-depth search analytics for better decision making and optimization prioritization.

  • Can you install a heat map tool (Lucky Orange, for instance) to see if users hover or click on the bar?

The above questions are how you determine if your on-site search functionality needs a facelift.

And in all likelihood – it does.

Not even the biggest brands out there get this right even 50% of the time. But you can.

And that’s how you win over the competitors.

Recommended Site Search Functionality & Best Practices
  • Make sure your search bar in visible on all devices.
  • Use autocomplete for quicker searches.
  • Ensure misspellings still have results.
  • Merchandise on-site search results for relevance.
  • Turn your frequently searched for items into FAQs for SEO.
  • Use images rather than only text.

Additional Store Search Best Practices

Learn how to set up your BigCommerce site for an exceptional on-site search experience now.

Want more insights like this?

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Leave a Comment
  • Sinem Tuchi

    This is one of the best and most informative and useful article i have ever read on internet… congrats! But hopefully our competitors don’t read it 😊

  • SearchSpring

    These are fantastic tips for mobile search. We 100% agree with them.

    Not to take anything away from the above suggestions, (which are spot on!) there’s even more you can do.

    We recently published over 39+ tips and tricks, our secrets from 1000’s of clients and a decade of experience, on how to get the most out of your site search.

    Everything from simple UI tweaks that can boost your engagement by 3x’s, to more in-depth strategies and suggestions like optimizing your product data to get more from your search.

    We don’t want to break any community rules, so we won’t share the link unless BC says it’s okay… but it’s one of our most recent posts for 2018 :)

    Great job and kudos to Zohar and BC for these mobile tips!

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