Providing a Product Search Engine in Your Online Store

From a web marketing perspective, you need to convert shoppers to buyers. The larger and more complex your store, the more you need an onsite product search engine. Besides the obvious category and subcategory choices, users might want to search by the following criteria, alone or in combination:

  • Product name

  • Product type

  • Price

  • Product attributes, such as size, color, or material

  • Brand

Depending on your storefront solution and the nature of your site, you might want two search engines: one that searches the product database and another that searches content-rich HTML pages.

As always, the trade-off is between flexibility and complexity. Don’t make the search function more complicated than most of your users can handle.

Search engines can locate items only if the entered keyword appears somewhere in the product record. Ask your developer which fields of a record are searched. High-quality search engines can respond by algorithm (rule) to misspellings and synonyms. Otherwise, you might want to include misspellings and synonyms in a nonprinting field of each record.

Try to use drop-down searches wherever there might be confusion about the data, such as whether to include dollar signs in a price or how to spell a brand name. Drop-down lists that work with the search engine allow visitors to choose from a list of search options rather than type keywords.

Product search is an excellent source of market intelligence. Confirm that you can get reports on both successful and unsuccessful searches. Unsuccessful results tell you what your customers are looking for but can’t find. That’s market intelligence!

Some storefront solutions come with built-in search engines, which range from fully customizable to completely inflexible. Your developer can install a third-party alternative on some storefront solutions; others don’t allow it.

Google’s powerful search algorithm is available for as little as $100 per year for ad-free results on as many as 20,000 queries at Google Sitesearch.

Information on purchasing Google’s more powerful, enterprise-level search engines is available at Google Commerce Search for retail sites or Google Enterprise Itstime for data-intensive sites. You can search for other free or advertising-supported, third-party search engines, such as Zoom, which is free for small sites.

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