The Swiftype Blog / Blind Spots: How to Learn from “No Results” Pages

Blind Spots: How to Learn from “No Results” Pages

For site owners thinking about their internal search engines, the prospect of users seeing a “no results” page is a major fear. No results pages frustrate users and make them leave your site—if a site-wide search doesn’t populate results for their query, who can blame these users for assuming that this website doesn’t offer the content they are looking for?

From the perspective of the site owner, a “no results” page means one of two things: (i) either the website search engine is not powerful enough to find relevant content, or (ii) the website simply doesn’t have content for that query. In both cases, these no result queries reveal key blind spots that site owners need to look closely at to improve their user experience. Let’s look at these two possibilities in detail, suggesting what site owners can do to address these problems.

What are users searching for but not finding on your website?

Possibility #1. Your search engine can’t find relevant content. Modern web browsers are accustomed to powerful search on websites such as Google and Amazon, and they expect the same search experience across the web. However, most websites have weak search engines that are ill-prepared to handle anything beyond very basic, one-word query types. A high number of “no results” pages indicates that your site search engine is built on a relatively simple search algorithm, and it is worth questioning whether an improved site search solution would address this issue. Is your site search algorithm prepared to handle the following query variations?

    • basic misspellings
    • pluralization
    • prefic/suffix additions
    • missed spaces or punctuation
    • mutiple word phrases
    • synonyms

Possibility #2. Your website doesn’t have content for a particular query. An obvious reason that users might see a no results page would be that your website simply doesn’t have content to meet this users’ needs. You may be aware that users are hitting a no results page for a certain percentage of searches performed on your website, but have you spent the time honing in on exactly what these dead-end searches are? Analyzing user search behavior offers site owners unparalleled insight about user intent—by listening to exactly what users are searching for, you can iteratively improve your website to meet your audience’s needs.

An obvious response to a no results query is to create content to cover these blind spots, but this is only possible if your search system provides you with this information. When thinking about how to optimize your site search experience, be sure to think about harvesting the vast amounts of data that a site search bar produces. Consider the following examples of ways that a range of websites might leverage information on their no result queries to drive content development:

  • An ecommerce site realizes that users are searching for a particular product that is not currently offered. In response, site owners order a major shipment of this product and capitalize on demonstrated user interest.

  • A customer support team notices that users are searching for “change payment information” but seeing no results, forcing these users to write in time-consuming support tickets. To reduce these inbound tickets, a support team member writes a comprehensive article on payment information to satisfy user searches.

  • A news website launches with a focus on American political issues, but users are also searching for content on foreign affairs and finding no results.  To maintain site traffic, the company hires a foreign affairs writer to supply fresh content.

Aside from creating content to fill these blind spots, site owners should make targeted adjustments to search results for individual queries by adding in results that they think would be particularly helpful, or deleting results that might be irrelevant.

Because search is a such a natural entry point to a website’s content, it is essential that site owners take strategic steps to minimize “no results” pages and keep users on their sites. For specific information on how Swiftype can improve search on your website, visit our solutions page today.

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