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 Tindie.com’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.