Website search used by 5% of visitors - study

While a relatively small number of visitors are using the search function on websites, conversion rates through site search are up to 50% higher than the average. This is the verdict of a Screen Pages study into 39 of its clients' websites, using Google Analytics data. The stats cover almost 3m site visits over a three month period. Other studies have put site search usage at higher levels, 30% according to this one from Fastsearch but, as the Screen Pages study covers small branded niche retailers and not comparison engines or large sites like Amazon, this may explain the lower figure of 5.4%. Some site search stats from the study:
  • The search box is used by an average of 5.4% of all visitors to these websites. For four of the retailers in the sample, more than 20% of visitors used the search function.
  • Use of the search box results in an average conversion ratio of 2.4%, against an average of 1.7%. That's an improvement of close to 50% when visitors use site search.
  • A third of the sample showed a doubling of conversion rates where customers used the search box.
  • Visitors use this function more on sites that provide guided search, i.e. a range of options for narrowing down product searches.
The difference in site search usage was also down to the characteristics of websites. One site with a strong brand was Joules Clothing, which is also easy to navigate. The search box is also relatively small, and placed on the left of the page rather than the top centre, so this may also be a factor: An example of a site with high search usage is WesleyOwen, which is partly born of necessity, as the site has a large range of products (50,000 +) on offer: Key takeaways from the study:
  • The importance of a usable site search function; especially for retailers stocking large and undifferentiated product ranges.
  • Site search results pages are important for conversion rates, especially the ability to filter and sort search results.
  • The value of analysing user data and optimising for popular searches. The terms entered into the search box offer a useful insight into the minds of your visitors.
  • The particular importance of the search box for retailers using catalogues. A number of sites in the study used catalogues to generate traffic, with means site search needs to be optimised for product codes.
While this study may portray lower site search usage than a broader survey on online retailers might, it illustrates the fact that the vast majority of online shoppers prefer not to use site search. Entering a term into the search box requires more cognitive effort than using link navigation, meaning an effective information architecture and a usable website that is easy to browse is all important.

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