The Swiftype Blog / Month: November 2014

Three Lessons from Amazon

Consider the following hypothetical situation: one morning, on your rush to get out to the door, you forget to check the weather. Of course, halfway between your house and the bus stop, it begins to pour. As you sit on the bus, drenched, you decide it’s time to buy yourself an umbrella.

You pull out your phone, open your Amazon app, search for “umbrella,” and click on the first result. After a brief inspection, you decide it’s the one for you, so you click “buy now” to finish up and checkout. Nowadays, the combination of Amazon accounts and Apple’s TouchID verification makes this process faster than ever. Because your shipping and payment information is stored with your Amazon account, and your identity can be verified via fingerprint scanning on an iPhone, users only have to place their thumb over the home button and the transaction goes through. The whole process can take less than a minute, making the shopping experience incredibly efficient and easy for customers.
Amazon's mobile experience is built for speed and ease to adapt for the modern shopper.
What can we learn from this new customer experience, and how can ecommerce store owners improve their sites to replicate the ease of this shopping experience for their own customers? Here are our thoughts, after some consideration:

  1. Think about the user experience, start to finish. The reason this new shopping experience is so profound is because it is remarkably efficient and user-friendly. Think: you open your app, type in “u-m-b-r,” and are quickly able to choose from a list of suggested products. After browsing, checkout is a breeze, and you can continue on your morning commute without needing to spend more time running this virtual errand.
  2. Create simple, intuitive, and fast mobile shopping experiences. In our example, and as studies have shown, mobile shoppers are laser focused and are looking to buy a specific item – not browse. For this reason, users want mobile shopping to be quick and painless. This means fast (and accurate) search, a pared down product page, and a speedy checkout.
  3. Encourage users to create accounts. As we hinted at, part of what made this checkout process so easy was the fact that your shipping and payment information was already stored in your account. Creating accounts for your site’s user will help achieve the same effect, and at the same time can help create repeat customers. A great way to incentivize account creation is by offering discounts to new sign-ups.

As the holiday season gets into full swing this week, it’s more important than ever to make sure your ecommerce store is optimized for the months ahead.

Why Smart Support Requires Smart Search

When a user has a specific question in mind, the most natural avenue for them to discover the help they need is through a search on your help center. But if search doesn’t yield what they’re looking for, it can often be more frustrating than helpful. Below are some of the major reasons why search should be a critical piece of your support strategy.

Knowledge base visitors are drawn to search. Whereas ecommerce sites field more users who are on the site to browse and may use navigation elements to explore a site, knowledge base visitors come with a question in mind and want answers quickly. Search is the most logical way for them to find these answers, and a prominent search bar will quickly provide avenue for resolving their questions.Shopify help

Strong search translates to significant case deflection. Knowledge bases are unique site type because the information they provide only exists in one place – that knowledge base. While other sites worry about weak search increasing their bounce rate and translating to lost customers, weak search on a knowledge base makes users do one of two things: (i) file a support ticket because they can’t find the answer to their question, or (ii) give up on their question and leave the site frustrated. If your knowledge base has a strong search engine that provides relevant results and fast autocomplete suggestions, users will find their answers quicker and use your documentation to solve their problems instead of filing a support ticket.

Search analytics allow unparalleled insight on user problems. Search data provides a unique opportunity to listen directly to what users want from your site, and  knowledge base managers can look to site search analytics for a number of actionable data sets, including top queries, top queries that returned no results, and top autocomplete conversions. By looking at what users are searching for most (especially the queries that return no results), your support team can focus on creating content that will answer these questions.
See what users are searching for most to identify recurring issues.

These analytics can inform search result customization. A strong search solution should allow you to customize search results for a given query and add in results for queries that return no results. This will ensure that users never hit dead ends on your support page and that the most relevant articles populate at the top of your search results. For example, SurveyMonkey customizes results for all of their most important queries:

Because site visitors expect great search, knowledge bases need to provide a robust search experience to quickly help users find answers. If support teams invest in improving their search experience, both site visitors and site owners will be happier in the long run.

First Round Review: Early Stage Ecommerce Sites and Search

First Round

This morning we read a great article from First Round Capital entitled What I Learned the Hard Way Building an eCommerce Site. The article features advice from’s CTO Julia Grace, who joined Tindie after gaining experience with IBM and VigLink. Within the article, Grace spent a considerable amount of time discussing the options that early stage ecommerce sites have when it comes to implementing search on their site, stressing that most ecommerce sites should not spend valuable time and money building out a search infrastructure when they first get started.

Instead, Grace pointed out that, “there are several companies out there that will provide search for your site. This is the right choice when you don’t have the horsepower, staff or bandwidth to build the backend, analytics and dashboards from scratch.” Because search is such an involved and technical challenge, we think this is great advice.

As we often discuss with site owners, major ecommerce sites who have built out their own search engine need to devote considerable staff and engineering time to maintain it – which small companies who are just getting started can’t afford. On top of this, a truly powerful search engine that produces relevant results takes years of refinement. As Grace notes, “your top priority should always be making sure results are relevant.”

She then expands by asking, “Are they [visitors] seeing 100 similar items or 50? Did they mean to find something else? Are they trying to search for something broad and getting a lot of granular results? These are nuanced problems you need to understand, so unless you have significant in-house resources to do this, you should outsource search.” The last piece of advice about search that Grace offers is to be sure that your users have the option to refine their search through faceted navigation, and how you should test out a variety of filters and facets before settling on one interface.

The article goes on to discuss many other aspects of managing an ecommerce site, from how to design your checkout process to optimizing for multiple payment channels. If you have a few minutes today we definitely recommend reading it in full.

How to Drive Users to Your Search Bar

Last week we wrote about how important strong site search is for ecommerce websites, but this week we got questions from several customers about what site owners can do to make visitors actually use the search bar on their site. To summarize our advice and share these tips with a broader audience, we thought it would be helpful to create a specific blog post with tips about how to tweak your site so that more visitors use your search bar as the primary navigation tool.

Make it easy to find. We’ve written before about how Amazon’s homepage has evolved to feature such a prominent search bar, and how users expect to find this same interface across the web. The logic behind this evolution is simple – a larger, more prominent search bar will quickly catch users’ eyes and draw them towards it when they first land on your site. The key here, however, is not to let this logic fall apart when it comes to the rest of your website. Users will arrive to your site from a wide range of locations, and you should be sure that the search bar is easy to find on all pages. You might even consider configuring your site so that when visitors land on new pages, their cursor automatically starts in the search bar. We particularly like the way Shopify positions the search bar on their support page.

Walk in your visitors’ (proverbial) shoes. Don’t just think about a visitor’s first interaction with the search bar on your homepage, think about how they might want to use the search bar as they move through every part of your website. Many users will want to perform multiple searches on your site, so consider placing your search bar in a static site-wide header, making it easy to find at any point. Facebook is a perfect example of this. As you scroll down your Newsfeed, the search bar remains fixed to the top of the screen so you can enter a search without needing to scroll back to the top of the page. Other examples include YouTube, LivingSocial, Business Insider, and Mashable.

Increase your search bar’s functionality. The better the search bar works for users, the more they will use it to find the content they are looking for. Consider implementing an autocomplete dropdown that quickly directs users to popular pages before they finish typing their query. The faster users find what they are looking for, the more satisfied they will be and the longer they will stay on your site. Dramafever provides a segmented autocomplete that lets users choose specific content types directly from the search bar.

Prepare your search for mobile. More and more people are browsing the web with their smartphones today than ever before, and whether they are reading news or shopping online, search needs to work well for these users as well. In ecommerce alone, IBM predicts that 48.2% of online traffic and 24.4% of sales will come from mobile devices this holiday season. Capitalize on this traffic stream by optimizing your mobile website or app for search.

Experiment! Test out the changes you make on your website to see what produces the most conversions. Try placing your search bar in different locations, test out multiple autocomplete styles, or change up the way your faceted navigation works. Optimizely does a great job of helping site owners run powerful A/B testing across their site, and these tests can drive key UI decisions.

These changes will ensure that both site owners and visitors are getting the most out of their site search. In fact, site owners who use Swiftype to power their search have reported up to a 4x increase in their monthly query volume after implementation. Get started today with free trial, or for more information, contact our sales department to hear more about what Swiftype can do for you.

The Unexpected Power of Swiftype Meta Tags for Mobile Applications

Two weeks ago we wrote about the power of Swiftype’s custom <meta> tags and how they allow site owners to pass our web crawler, Swiftbot, information about their pages in a highly structured format optimized for our search algorithm. In this post, we will talk about how a heavily trafficked and large scale music website, Bia2, leveraged their website’s <meta> tags to create a stellar search experience for users on their mobile application in one of the most creative, yet simple mobile implementations we’ve seen so far.

Swiftype for

Bia2 came to Swiftype three months ago because they wanted to create a powerful search experience for users on their website and improve upon the weak search system they had in place. As the premier source for Iranian music and music videos, Bia2 has a massive content library of over 20,000 songs that site visitors primarily navigate to using the website’s search bar. To gain tighter control over how Swiftype indexed this library, Bia2’s development team added <meta> tags to tell Swiftbot exactly what information to gather from their pages (for more on the specifics of how this works, check out our <meta> tags tutorial and see and a screenshot of Bia2’s source code below).

Screen Shot 2014-11-05 at 10.14.51 AM

After Swiftbot indexed Bia2’s content, the team went the extra mile and customized the look and feel of the search bar, adding a sectioned autocomplete dropdown with thumbnails. This created a vastly improved user experience, and CEO Amir Pakzadian observed a 40% increase in pageviews for their artist landing pages.Bia2 leverage Swiftype meta tags to create a sectioned autocomplete

Despite this new and improved search experience for their website, Bia2’s mobile application continued to use an old method, which involved downloading an .xml file to the user’s phone and conducting the search locally on their device. This posed two major problems:

  1. Search results were weak, only producing exact text matches and not ranking results based on a scored relevancy, as an algorithm would.
  2. These results didn’t match the results for the same query on the website – results which Amir and his team had spent time carefully customizing in their Swiftype dashboard.

To eliminate these issues, Amir needed to figure out how to bring the same great search experience to Bia2’s mobile application users. The solution was quite creative, and demonstrates the value of using <meta> tags to create a highly structured data format for your search engine.

Front-end focus, back-end solution

Because Bia2 already had a mobile app with a search functionality, the solution was as simple as redirecting the app’s search bar from talking to their old search engine to instead speaking with the Swiftype search engine that powered their online site. Because the development team created great <meta> tags for his website, the only work they had to do was connect the pages in their mobile app to the Swiftype search results (which you can do easily using our mobile SDKs). According to Amir, “the implementation time was about four hours.”

With this new search experience for their mobile app, Amir was able to focus his energy on completely redesigning the look and feel of Bia2’s app. On Wednesday of last week, the app went live in the Apple store with several new features highlighted – search being a major one of them.

Search is a major coponent of Bia2's new mobile app

Now, users can search from any page and see dropdown results just like on the website. But perhaps the most important part of all of this, is that now search results match across mobile and web, and any customization that Amir does through the Swiftype dashboard will immediately be reflected in search results. Furthermore, now that searches are being performed through Bia2’s Swiftype search engine and not locally on individual phones, Amir and his team can now see analytics for all of their users across all devices.

What were the alternatives?

If Bia2 did not have Swiftype’s web crawler indexing their content and powering their search algorithm, translating their website search experience to their mobile app would have required months of development work to create a similar system on their end. At Swiftype, we’ve spent nearly two years building this out and creating a user-friendly interface that allows site owners to harness this power for their own site. As you’ve seen in this article, this powerful back-end infrastructure allows front-end developers to focus on creating awesome user design. For more about Swiftype’s custom <meta> tags, see our by clicking on the link below.

Why Ecommerce Stores Can’t Afford to Ignore Site Search

According to a recent study by the National Retail Federation, 44% of shopping will take place online this holiday season – an increase from 40% last year and a record since the organization began the study in 2006. The key takeaway from this statistic should come as no surprise: online shopping has grown tremendously over the last decade, and is expected to overtake brick-and-mortar shopping in the near future.

Though this trend might seem to inspire optimism in online retailers, analysts estimate that there are well over 100,000 ecommerce websites on the web, making it exceedingly difficult for these sites to stand out from their competitors. In this environment, site owners need to seize any advantage they can – and a powerful site search is one of the easiest ways to gain a competitive edge.

Here’s why site search is so important for ecommerce stores, and why site owners can’t afford to ignore it:

  1. Visitors expect great search. As we’ve written before, when most people think of search, they think of Google. Google provides such a robust search experience that many people begin their browsing sessions with a Google search – and users expect that same experience when they land on individual websites (30% of ecommerce site visitors use search, and this is expected to rise as time goes on). Disappointing search will quickly frustrate users and make them leave your site, causing you to lose out on a huge percentage of your customers.The most successful ecommerce sites have adapted to these expectations by prominently placing a search bar on their homepage. Consider Amazon has experimented with a range of homepage layouts, beginning with a sidebar listing categories and eventually moving towards a simple interface with a prominent search bar. Because Amazon is the undisputed leader in online retail, their use of such a prominent search bar has heightened user expectations for this interface across the web.December 31, 2007. Amazon’s search bar is buried at the bottom of their homepage, and the sidebar navigation is the primary way for users to find products.December 31, 2007. Amazon’s search bar is buried at the bottom of their homepage, and the sidebar navigation is the primary way for users to find products.
    July 31, 2008. The search bar is now prominently displayed, but the sidebar remains in place as a navigational tool.July 31, 2008. The search bar is now prominently displayed, but the sidebar remains in place as a navigational tool.April 30, 2012. Amazon eliminates the sidebar, offering instead a single search bar to serve as the primary portal for users entering the site.April 30, 2012. Amazon eliminates the sidebar, offering instead a single search bar to serve as the primary portal for users entering the site.
  2. Searchers are high value visitors. Customers who use the search bar typically have a clear idea of what they want, and are more likely to buy on your site if they can quickly find what they are looking for. In fact, customers who perform a search are 40% more likely to convert than users who don’t. By meeting these users’ expectations and providing a rich search experience with features like autocomplete and faceted navigation, site owners can capitalize and dramatically increase conversions.
  3. Most sites have weak search. In June, Baymard Institute conducted a comprehensive study of internal site search across 19 major ecommerce websites, concluding that, for the most part, “search doesn’t work very well.” Part of this study looked at the range of query types that ecommerce websites typically field, paired with an analysis of how well equipped the leading websites are to handle these queries. The results showed that most site search engines can only handle relatively simple query types, demonstrating the need for an advanced search algorithm to power your internal search.
    baymardFor an explanation of how these various queries differ, see the original article.
  4. Search bars generate invaluable user data. One of the major reasons why websites like Amazon have moved towards featuring such a prominently displayed search bar is because user generated queries provide such valuable insight about what users hope to get from your website. When intelligently collected and organized, site owners can leverage this data to make key business decisions, such as what items to promote, what items to order more of, or how to move forward on your SEO/SEM campaigns.

If you’re ready to take your site search to the next level, Swiftype is here to help. Sign up for an account today or contact sales to schedule a demo.

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