Not All Site Search Technologies are Created Equal

It’s estimated that up to 30 percent of customers will go strictly to the site search box to find what they’re looking for when they land on an e-commerce site.

It’s staggering to think that roughly one in three visitors to your site will ignore everything from huge splash banners to callouts in the menu, with one singular focus in mind: getting search results that depict exactly what they’re looking for, no more, no less. What this ultimately means is that your site search box needs to be the most useful component of your e-commerce site — it needs to be perfect at what it does.

Now, customers might not care how your site search works — as long as it works — but retailers should absolutely be focused on what makes their search box tick. How your search function is powered has a lot to do with how it’ll perform, which can be the difference between racking up conversions and creating frustration among your customers.

Syntax versus semantics

The first thing to understand about on-site searches is that it boils down to two schools of thought: syntax versus semantics:

  • Syntactical searches are powered by keywords, attributes, brand names and other singular words that can be pulled out and applied to products. The theory is that a person searching for something like “cowboy boots” will be able to type those words into a search box and come away with results that narrow things down to all available products that have “cowboy” and “boots” in common.
  • Semantic site search is powered by natural language processing. This is the concept of taking the way people naturally speak and connecting their search queries to complete concepts, rather than just buzzwords. Someone searching for “laptop and tablet combo,” for example, would get search results for 2-in-1 computers, despite no applicable keywords or products called “laptop and tablet combo.”

Really, syntactical and semantic searches are part of a linear progression in search comprehension: semantic search was born out of a need to correct the flaws of syntactic searching.

The Power of Natural Language Processing

Natural language processing has become the secret ingredient to on-site e-commerce search functions and for many retailers, is quickly replacing traditional syntactical searches. Why? Because there’s very little room for error when it comes to returning search results: either you’re giving customers what they want right off the bat or you’re watching them leave in favor of a different, ore accommodating shopping platform.

The gaps left by syntactical searching are simply too prevalent for on-site search to remain effective in today’s modern age of digital convenience. Because it relies on specific text-clues, instead of interpreting semantic meanings, syntactical search falls short in a number of key areas:

  • If no keywords are recognized or products aren’t appropriate recognized based on keywords, no search results will be returned… or worse, a wide variety of inapplicable products will be returned.
  • The gamut of products presented based on multiple keywords may be too large, not narrowing down products to present a customer with any more refined results than they’d find on a category page.
  • Misspellings can hamper search results by either not recognizing keywords or returning incorrect results based on misinterpretations of misspellings.

The troubles for syntactical searches go on and on, painting a grim picture for retailers and their customers, who demand refined, accurate results immediately upon submitting a search. But, where syntax falls short, semantics shine.

Far and above processing keywords or independent variables to coerce results, natural language processing recognizes the full gamut of meanings from a search query. Interpreting colloquialisms, fixing spelling errors, parsing unnecessary text and examining every variable as it relates to every other in a search query puts semantic searching on a plane of its own.

A stepping stone to conversions

If one in three people visiting your e-commerce site will head straight for the search box, it behooves you to make sure they’re able to find what they want when they get to the first page of results. If your on-site search is powered by syntactical algorithms, you might be losing a significant portion of these potential customers to the pitfalls of text-based searches. On the other hand, semantic searching might take you one step closer to counting them as conversions.

Are you willing to gamble 30 percent of your on-site traffic?

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