The Swiftype Blog / Month: January 2015

The importance of robust Shopify site search

Swiftype for Shopify

When a shopper visits your store, many have a clear idea of what they want to purchase. Because of their extensive experience with websites like Google and Amazon, these shoppers are naturally drawn to the search bar when they have a specific product in mind. Data bears this out – visitors who begin their visit with search are 70% more likely to convert than those who do not, making them some of the most high value visitors on your site. A strong search engine for your store is key to ensuring that your most valuable customers have a clear and simple path from search to checkout.

Problems

Shopify, along with most other ecommerce platforms, comes up short in providing the type of search experience your customers expect. The reason behind this shortcoming lies in the fact that implementing a powerful ecommerce search engine is a very technically complex problem. While Shopify ensures that you have a search option on all their stores, they have (correctly) allocated their engineering resources towards building a reliable, fast, and user-friendly ecommerce hosting product. This challenge is complex enough without adding the complexity of robust ecommerce search with the features users expect, such as autocomplete, spellcheck, typo protection, and an advanced algorithm that handles phrases and single word searches seamlessly, not to mention optimizing them for each and every one of their users.

The Risks of Weak Shopify Search

Shopify stores with underwhelming search engines miss out on numerous valuable opportunities, not only in maximizing their conversion and customer value, but in customer intelligence. There’s a reason Amazon features search so prominently in its user experience, beyond the conversion benefits: the invaluable user data they collect about their customers’ purchasing habits and click-through rates. Search queries are a direct signal of user intent – a free text box asking simply “What are you looking for?” Store owners should be paying extremely close attention to visitor trends such as their top searches, the most popular products in search results, and the searches that most commonly yield no results, and incorporating this data into both their product offerings and marketing strategy.

Fix it Yourself or Hire a Professional?

If you employ a large development team and have the resources and capabilities to build, maintain, and scale a robust ecommerce search engine, building your own search solution might be the right approach (after all, Amazon does this). However, if you are like the vast majority of Shopify store owners, you chose Shopify as a way to keep your development costs down and aren’t interested in hiring a team of developers who only work on maintaining an excellent search experience. In this case, using a third party provider is likely your best solution, as you’ll have a team of search professionals working full time to ensure you have the best search available. At Swiftype, search is the core of our business, and we have developed a Shopify search product that provides a beautiful and intuitive search experience, a powerful search algorithm addressing the problems of out-of-the-box search, and a user-friendly dashboard that allows non-technical stakeholders nearly infinite customization and control over their store’s search experience (and we’re releasing more dashboard features regularly). We even power search for Shopify. For more information on Swiftype for ecommerce stores, visit our solutions page today, or to install search immediately, follow the link below.

Browsing vs. buying: UX design considerations for mobile shoppers

In 2015, it is not surprising to online retailers that mobile users comprise a major portion of online shopping. Phones are becoming bigger, faster, and more user friendly; kids who have grown up using smartphones and tablets are entering the consumer market in a major way; and ecommerce websites are quickly adapting by building responsive, mobile optimized websites and apps. All of this has contributed to the significant rise in mobile traffic and sales over the past several years, with nearly half of all online traffic and almost a quarter of sales in the 2014 holiday season taking place on smartphones or tablets, according to a recent study by IBM. The takeaway is clear: today’s consumers expect seamless mobile shopping experiences, and online retailers need to adapt quickly to keep pace with industry leaders.

Mobile traffic is growing, but desktop still dominates in sales.

However, a closer look at this data suggests that the division between mobile and desktop shopping is not so black and white. After splitting mobile traffic and sales data between tablets and smartphones, it seems clear that many users have different preferences for what device they browse with vs. what device they actually complete a purchase on. For instance, IBM’s data reveals that although smartphone traffic more than doubled that of tablets, sales on tablets were over four percent higher. This contrast, coupled with the relative swell in desktop sales vs. desktop traffic, suggests that smartphones are primarily used for research and browsing, while tablets and desktops are favored for completing transactions.

What can site owners learn from this behavioral trend, and how can they optimize their mobile shopping experience(s) to satisfy these browsers? The answer to this question revolves around two main topics of discussion:

  1. What elements of the user experience are most important for researching and browsing?
  2. Should site owners focus on building apps or creating mobile optimized web browsing experiences?

Let’s explore these two questions independently before returning to a discussion of where mobile shopping UX design might go in the future.

User Experience: how to build for browsers

Compared to desktops, mobile phones do not offer nearly as much space on the page to place navigational elements, such as product categories. These elements could be placed in a dropdown menu activated by a single “menu” link, but these can be difficult to design and clunky for smartphone users. A better alternative is to feature a prominent search bar that persists across all subdomains, allowing shoppers to search, browse, and re-search without having to go back at any point in the process. Amazon is a leader in this respect, with a large search bar that provides autocomplete suggestions for users as they type. Statistics clearly demonstrate the importance of search for mobile browsers. A recent survey by Harris and IAB of over 2,000 smartphone users revealed that search is the primary portal through which users find new content on their mobile devices.

Furthermore, product thumbnails should be enlarged to compensate for the reduced screen size—basic responsive design is not enough if your search results are still displayed in a 4×4 product grid on a small phone screen. Additionally, users should be able to zoom in on high resolution product images so that they can look closely before adding them to their cart. These UX changes are relatively simple but important principles that should inform both mobile optimized and application UX design.

Prioritization: creating apps or optimizing for smartphones

In an ideal world, site owners would not need to make a decision on this issue, instead allocating engineering resources to simultaneously build an app and mobile optimized browsing experience independently. However, most websites lack the resources to move so quickly on this front, and are forced to adopt a strategy for developing one before the other. Internet Retailer’s 2015 Mobile 500 report presents a key statistic in this debate, revealing that 80% of online shopping takes place within an app, and that users within an app are 30% more likely to convert. This means that more traffic and sales flow through apps, making a seemingly clear case for focusing on app development.

Still, mobile browsing experiences should not be overlooked. As we touched upon earlier, many online shoppers begin by browsing on their phone even though they often won’t ultimately complete a purchase through this channel, making this mobile browsing experience a critical first impression. Furthermore, Internet Retailer admits that the 80% of traffic in apps statistic is, “surely skewed by large numbers of loyal users of apps from big players such as Amazon.com and eBay.” Taking these caveats into consideration, mobile browsing remains an important UX priority.

Looking forward

Though desktop remains the dominant platform for shopping research and sales, its share of online sales and traffic has been on a steady decline for years. Today, a failure to address mobile design translates to lost opportunities, especially when mobile browsing is considered as the “first impression” that modern shoppers have of an online retailer. For details on how Swiftype helps websites deliver superior mobile browsing and in-app search experiences, check out our mobile solutions page today.

Laser Focused: B2B ecommerce white paper

Today we are excited to announce our first white paper: “Laser Focused: Why B2B Buyers Demand Powerful Search”. This report synthesizes a number of ecommerce and B2B reports from 2014, but places a special focus on buyer behavior and the importance of site search for the B2B consumer.

Download Laser Focused: Why B2B Ecommerce Buyers Demand Powerful Site Search.

Internet Retailer’s industry-wide October survey of B2B professionals revealed that site search is the most important feature that buyers look for on a supplier website, making it clear that powerful site search is a clear competitive advantage in the quickly changing space of B2B ecommerce.Laser Focused discusses the underlying reasons behind this trend, and provides concrete recommendations about what site owners can do to improve search on their store in 2015. Along with this discussion, the white paper addresses questions such as:

  • How has the growth of online shopping transformed the traditional model of B2B commerce, and how have consumer expectations shifted over time?

  • What are the key differences between B2B and B2C buyers? What are their similarities?

  • Why is a basic search algorithm insufficient for B2B buyer behavior? What advantages do more robust, complex algorithms provide?

  • What does a powerful search experience look like? What are the options for implementing powerful search on ecommerce websites?

To download Laser Focused, click on the link below. To get in touch with a team member today to talk about your search, contact [email protected].

Year in review: our favorite implementations from 2014

To kick off 2015, we wanted to highlight some of our favorite 2014 Swiftype implementations across a range of different websites to demonstrate the results that some of our users have been able to achieve. In all, Swiftype started powering search on thousands of websites this year, and served billions of queries. Nearly three years after launching, we are excited that so many people have found Swiftype to be such an integral part of their website, and we want to share these stories to inspire users in the future.

Qualcomm

Qualcomm is a global semiconductor company that designs and markets wireless telecommunications products and services, serving millions of customers worldwide, with more than 25,000 employees across 150 offices. When Qualcomm approached a leading web development agency to help them rehaul their existing website, search was a top priority. Because Qualcomm offers such a wide variety of products and services, they wanted to create an easy browsing experience to let customers hone in on exactly what they are looking for quickly.

Qualcomm made search a central pillar of their website user experience.
Qualcomm’s search implementation is great for several key reasons. To begin with, their search tool is prominently displayed on the left side of the page and remains visible on every page of the website. This makes it easy for users to search, browse, and re-search without needing to scroll to the top of the page. Another aspect we like is their autocomplete and faceted search options. The combination of these two features cuts down the time users need to spend searching by directing them straight to content they are looking for and letting them refine their results without moving to a separate results page. Lastly, we are happy to see the great results that this web development agency produced with Swiftype—providing their clients with a powerful search engine without the need for back end development work.

HubSpot

HubSpot is a major inbound marketing and sales platform that came to Swiftype for help powering their knowledge base search engine. While HubSpot’s support team had spent countless hours developing helpful content to answer user questions, their previous search solution did not allow enough control over their search experience. By switching to Swiftype, HubSpot was able to completely customize their search engine and create the user experience they hoped for.

Hubspot is a great example of powerful search over a large knowledge base.

HubSpot’s search is simple yet effective. For starters, we appreciate how they prominently displayed the search bar on their support page—a clear prompt for users to begin their support questions with a search. Furthermore, the placeholder text in the search bar clearly tells users how to interact with the search box, reassuring them that they should feel free to “type your question here.” From there, the fast autocomplete drop-down is color coded to differentiate between “quick answers” and “user guides,” letting users choose results based on the article type. Similar refinement options are available on their results page, where users can select the types of articles they’d like to see displayed.

Qualified Hardware

Qualified Hardware is a B2B retailer that sells high quality door and lock hardware. Before switching to Swiftype, Qualified Hardware was using a home-grown search solution that was costly to maintain and often failed to return relevant results for the highly specific queries that their customers were performing (such as item or part number searches). Swiftype’s powerful search algorithm helped return better results immediately, and to bring their search to the next level, Qualified Hardware took advantage of Swiftype’s custom meta tags to create a highly refined relevance model, as we’ll discuss below.

A quick search will immediately reveal the great work that their team put into styling their autocomplete with suggested brands, categories, and specific products. The results page also offers the option to display products in a grid or list format. These elements give users a great front end experience, but what makes this implementation truly outstanding is the skill with which Qualified Hardware leveraged Swiftype meta tags to deliver highly relevant results based on a wide range of product attributes.

Qualifed Hardware distinguished itself by creating a highly refined relevance model optimized to drive conversions.

Swiftype meta tags are a unique tool that any site owner can leverage to pass specific information to our web crawler as it indexes your site’s content. This allows site owners to fine-tune their relevance algorithm and deliver highly relevant results (for specific details about using Swiftype meta tags, see our tutorial). Qualified Hardware used this tool to its fullest extent, listing detailed information for each product such as popularity, whether or not the item is in stock or needs to be special ordered, the product SKU, and more. A quick peek at their source code on a product page will demonstrate just how extensively they used this tool. Once this information was indexed, Qualified Hardware was able to tweak their search algorithm to feature popular products, move special order products to a lower position for general queries, and overall optimize their results for conversions.

Modern Healthcare

Modern Healthcare is a leading source of healthcare business news, research, and data, with thousands of articles and publications. Before Swiftype, Modern Healthcare used their CMS’s default search function, which was slow, produced poor results, and was difficult to customize. Swiftype gave them improved speed and relevancy, with the ability for non-technical team members to customize search results.

Modern Healthcare's search bar is easy to find across their whole website.

Like Qualcomm, Modern Healthcare made their search bar easy to find by floating it in a static header element that follows users as they scroll down the page. This makes it easy for users to always have access to search and begin a new browsing process from any page on the site. Once users begin searching, the autocomplete quickly suggests articles, while displaying thumbnails of images associated with each article. Finally, on the results page, users have the option to refine results by publication date— ensuring that results are from the specific timeframe they have in mind.

These implementations demonstrate some of the incredible results our customers have been able to achieve with Swiftype. If you’re thinking about taking your search experience to the next level, we’re here to help make it happen. To see how Swiftype can work for you, contact [email protected] to request a demo.