The secrets behind On-Site Search, with Rise at Seven

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Published on 21/07/20 by Bradlie Houldsworth


A popular and common function of most eCommerce websites is a prominent search box where a website user can enter a search query, typically the product they are looking for, in hope of finding the product easier than navigating the site with links.

Our clients see between 5 and 15% of their website users interacting with the on-site search box, and those users who do then convert around 80% higher, therefore this segment of traffic is highly valuable to every eCommerce retailer.

We reached out to Stephen Kenwright from Rise at Seven to chat all things search. Stephen is a legend within the digital marketing world, known for his smart strategies, straight talking, and waking up at 7am. Find below the transcript of the discussion.



Transcript:

Brad

Hey Stephen Kenwright, thank you very much for this. It is good to speak, we’ve known each other obviously for a few years through different projects and different things that we’ve done together. So I obviously know who you are but do you want to introduce yourself and talk a little bit about your background?

Stephen

Yeah sure, so yes I’m Steven Kenwright, I own a specialist creative SEO agency, called Rise at Seven, we’ve been going for just over a year now and previously to that I was at Head of Digital at Pendragon PLC, so working client-side on Stratsone, Evans Halshaw, CarStore.com – car dealerships and then before that I spent about seven years at an SEO agency called Branded 3, so I’ve been around a little bit yeah.

Brad:

Good, good and what was the inspiration around Rise at Seven and what was the story there?

Stephen:

Well, lots of serendipitous coincidences happening, you know I think ultimately I’d always kind of planned on joining another SEO agency after Branded . But I wanted to go client-side to try and experience you know what the other side of the table looks like I don’t think that you could be a great agency unless you really understand that, I was originally intending to and uh I’ve got a long story short now as well, but my co-founder, Carrie she applied to be on the BBC Apprentice and she got through the last  so they’re kind of last interview stages before actually getting on TV to put the business plan together for that which is what Rise’ use as our business plan that we put together for the new brand no way and uh yeah she didn’t get on and happened to tweet that she didn’t get on and then we happened to be seen by an investor who said well i’ll stump the money up and if you want to do it then let’s do it and then the rest is history as they say.

Brad

Amazing, so how many staff are you up to now?

Stephen

We’re up to 29 now um yeah so growing pretty quick we’ve added more people since lockdown started slowed down a little bit when lockdown first started but yeah from 2 to 29 in a year so growing quick.

Brad:

That’s pretty good! OK so let’s chat about search then, particularly site search I guess or product discovery or whatever phrase you want to use. The facts to begin with: 70% of websites that we know use Google Custom Search which is crazy considering that’s a 15-year-old site search platform that doesn’t really look much different to as it did  15 years ago. Also, 85% of e-commerce retailers don’t actually optimize site search which is crazy considering the potential, so moving on from that I guess your clients in particular – I get that your proposition is a little bit different around SEO and that kind of creative piece, but on-site search: how much emphasis do your clients pay on that and do you feel that’s enough? 

Stephen:

Generally my opinion of site search it’s like the biggest best-kept secret in marketing generally because it tends to be no one’s job, yeah there is common across a lot of our clients and I think the commonality really is if the client has an e-commerce team then site search probably sits with them and if they don’t have an eCommerce team it probably doesn’t say with anyone and that’s kind of how it goes and we work in a variety of sectors,  e-commerce is one that we have a lot of. But actually just retail generally yeah and they tend to be on that maturity scale have moved away from custom search and have something yeah whether it’s out of the box or more often than not they have some sort of solution. But a lot of our clients don’t have a real strategy around it they kind of have a better bit of tech than they did have, they measure site search in google analytics for example and they may do something with it but most of the time I wouldn’t say that there’s an emphasis on actually optimizing it or really you know consistently getting data from that and using it for something 

Brad:

Yeah that’s interesting and you’re completely right and I saw your tweet around this – which member of the website team does site search sit with, because is it a behavioural piece (technically yes) so is it more of a trading kind of function or is it core Ecommerce function, or is it marketing you know where does that really sit? So I guess it depends on how technical you want to be, because from my experience optimization depends on what you’re trying to achieve – so is it technical, is it you’re looking around adding functionality are you looking around redesigning that search box, or are you looking around data – so is it actually improving your matching and the data itself and the algorithm? So I guess it depends doesn’t it, on the what the ambition is where they want to try and get to with it.

Stephen:

I think that you kind of break it down to a team or a person’s objective within an organization, I think the likelihood that they have someone who’s in charge of site search increases a lot when they have someone charge your conversion. If that is a metric that’s someone’s job then my search tends to take more of the focus and you know there’s every business has people who are focused on revenue and most businesses are people who focus on traffic but they’re the two right so there isn’t a middle person unless you have a more sort of mature e-commerce business most of the time.

Brad:

Yeah, I agree, but I think there is a third though – I think design comes into it and UX too. And I guess this could be interesting for you around the kind of creative piece, because is Site Search really looked at as a design thing is that ever really redesigned you know a search results page has ever really looked at and thought about the UX? I don’t think so.

Stephen:

I don’t think so either, no I think that they’re probably neglected more than 404 pages!

Brad:

Yeah it’s true, yeah there’s probably slightly more emphasis around the search box if you’ve got like an auto-fill a quick search but the results page themselves probably not no. But then is that the same trend with the industry around search? You know you look at the Google SERP and are there vast differences over the past many years but if you look at maybe a month ago, is it really much different? So where do you feel is a good place to start, then? Obviously I know a good place you can find a site search audit but where would you say is a good place to start with site search?

Stephen:

I think site search is more than more than SEO, actually, it’s really obvious. I think SEO has got a bit of a black box around it because you’re trying to reverse engineer a research engine that you don’t know anything about in Google, whereas you know if you are looking to actually make some inroads with your site search just use it actually just actually start typing some things and say would this actually serve me as a person. If i’m looking for and especially when you’ve been working at an organization for any any amount of time more than a month you still get familiar with the product you probably know. Let’s say you work at a travel business you’ve looked at the holiday destinations right, you work at a fashion brand you’ve had a look at some of the clothes and you start to think how you would go about actually buying an outfit if you actually start typing things that normal people type. This is one of the kind of great misdirects, as well the numbers aren’t the same numbers as you get in search volumes in google ads where people search for dresses every week or whatever it might be… maybe people that are searching for a product but there’s people that you should really be serving whereas Google you know there are million businesses that would happily serve those customers so I think a really straightforward thing to do first is start using it and see does it behave in the way that I wanted to are there really frustrating things like auto complete taking me to products that aren’t there or you know how are those search results ordered am I getting the thing that I really expect to see first is the relevancy there yeah exactly and then the second thing is well you know your competitors are doing the same thing yeah who does who does a really good job of it and you know even if it’s you have a go at your core competitors they want massive brands and they aren’t doing a great job of it that that tells you there’s a real opportunity there.

Brad:

I’d agree and then going on from that how would you I guess that’s the first manual step in identifying issues opportunities – tracking from then on in so obviously you mentionedGA which is you know a great place to start is there any special wizardry around tracking that you know? Any ideas ?

Stephen:

There’s a lot of things that you can do, tracking in GA is a massive step but actually I’ve worked with businesses very recently you haven’t done that so yeah and that’s a that’s an obvious thing but then trying to track what you can track that you just want to know things like zero result searches is really really you know obviously what kind of things are people searching for that aren’t getting any results and that’s not always something that GA will tell you but tag manager can. So if you’re firing the right events you are able to see these kind of keywords are serving no results what people are looking for them all the time and then it’s really obvious that you need to either get that product in stock if you don’t have it or create some content around that or something that’s going to give someone a place to go rather than just getting getting frustrated so I think actually tag manager is a really good way of trying to anything from you know even just scroll depth on a search results page like if someone is actually using that function as far as most businesses goes are they using it or not do that does that person convert it but if someone’s using it and then they’re spending you know five minutes on that search results page trying to find a result they’ve scrolled right out of the bottom they’ve scrolled back up thinking they’ve missed something and again you know you’ve probably got a relevancy problem so I think anything that ga doesn’t do there is a way of doing that with tag manager pretty much it’s just what what would you like to know basically.

Brad:

Yeah, I think yeah some good points there firstly no results reports, definitely, scroll-down is good behaviour metric. Is there any others you feel interesting I guess because like search can be more of a discovery piece as well from a retailer’s point of view can’t it so looking for an opportunity for a buying a merchandising opportunity? Whether it’s a content piece around what are people trying to find from you know content about our brand any way of tracking them do you feel any opportunity there?

Stephen:

Sure yeah I mean just even volumes that come from Site Search  one of the things that we use it for more than anything else is trying to assess demand for product areas and we did we work with misguided for example and they have launched product lines or really evolved product lines based on the fact that they’re getting a lot of interest on that internally on the on the site itself yeah so they’re they’re doing things like the um the bridal section of the website they’ve just launched a bridal section but something that a lot of people are looking for maternity as well especially yeah the kind of thing that you know wouldn’t necessarily be obvious per se but is a real um crucial thing for someone who’s actually going to buy something you know you are pregnant is this going to fit you know that a really you know um in theory it should be obvious so I think just the volumes of um volumes of keywords that people are looking for sure but then even just the volume of people that use the search is a really crucial thing because I think if you’re finding that a lot of people are searching for one or two certain things that probably give you an indication that that should be in your top navigation that should be somewhere very prominent on the website and and I think you can kind of tie that back to Google as well because the number of people you can kind of think of it as a good thing that someone is searching for your brand plus a keyword but the first thing to assess when you’ve gone back to the original search engine google is is it just that i’m not making that prominent on my website and people can’t find it it’s that it’s that look at the volume and try and understand why that is the volume why are people searching for that thing is it not fair is it not prominent is it not stuck yeah 

Brad:

Do you feel the the way obviously that’s around what people are searching for but you feel the way people search is different in modern times but you know especially when you look at much more natural language kind of search types and um the content that we’re serving as well back to them do you feel like that’s evolved over time do you feel like the way people search has changed on-site?

Stephen:

I think it’s evolved I don’t think it’s anything like what Google has, I think those two things have got really separate. People have a real expectation that they can ask a question with real non-sequiturs or with all sorts of filler words and just type it or talk it or whatever. I think what’s still the case with on-site searches people tend to use a keyword or two keywords, it’s shorter tail terms because people first and foremost are looking for something that they expect to be. Whereas with Google it tends to be people are using Google for an answer to a question more than anything else and if they know where something’s going to be you know they probably go straight there. So instead of Googling cheap flights, they go to Sky Scanner -that kind of thing.

Brad:

Yeah, that makes sense. Do you feel the especially your work around creative SEO, do you feel like that content you’re creating, do you try and weave that into the site in that type of way or does your content sit at the side?

Stephen:

It definitely depends on the retailer but the more common way of doing things now certainly how we are, is that content will be tweaked into the rest of the website, so when we’re looking at an e-commerce brand and it’s really common that a lot of retailers still have a blog somewhere and that content exists in that little silo separately. By this point they’ve got five-ten years of archive blog posts as well and it’s just a thing it’s over there and really not many people use it and actually there is a load of information in there but if it was just moved into the website itself then it would be incredibly useful. So I think the first point is we don’t want to just open up site search to the blog because if you’ve got years of blog posts and you’ve got products the only way that this is going to go is that someone’s going to get an out-of-date blog post, zero chance without some real effort and engineering work that you’re going to get the most relevant result people every time it’s not there are very few bits of sites that are smart enough to do that out of the box if at all it’s gonna have to be strategic work. So rather than just saying we’ve got all of this stuff let people find it I think it’s more a case of well let’s take some content out of this silo blog, or whatever it might be where that content exists, and let’s make some real emphasis on what’s important. What are the few things that we expect people to be looking for and then let’s actually put that again on navigation for sure I mean most retail brands have things in there now that’s normal is not a problem you know so yeah I think it’s it’s generally better to leave that and I think generally best to not just turn it loose and say anything that’s on the website they’re getting.

Brad:

You mentioned tech just then, I think that’s an important point because it’s only been I think in the past few years where there have been abilities for content to be indexed alongside product and I feel like it’s only it has only been the past few years where you know more enterprise-level search engines have been able to say here are some products but also here is some content alongside it that’s related in you know the relevant way at least are there any kind of tech vendors do you feel are doing that properly are there any that are doing a search in a good way do you see?

Stephen:

I think there are a few I think obviously you guys are doing a good job of it and I think generally speaking the platform that search is built on has improved massively so although there are vendors there are there are technologies that several vendors build on that make a big difference and yeah I think like when you saw search appliance retired one of the real trends that I saw was people going back to the thing that came with their cms that was a that was a a real sort of change because people had a lot of brands that particular financial services and more bb brands and the ones that are taking it seriously but didn’t have quite so much more reason to take it seriously as the econ retailers did yeah they tended to be using this because they had a load of internet stuff and that kind of thing that was powered by the same sort of search and they tend to have these platforms that could power a good search experience that they hadn’t used and they’d left it on search appliance for far too long basically so what I saw at that time was people not really going for a replacement but actually going for the tech that had evolved massively yes yeah so many of the ceo like when you put search appliances your cms probably didn’t have that you probably didn’t have a decent search function no they still don’t like wordpress’s search function is not great no I agreed yeah definitely you’re looking at something like um episerver or sitecore and you’ve got apache Solr-powered um search functions yeah good

Brad:

Yep it’s true and like yeah Solr versus Elastic has been that constant battle over the past sort of years in Search tech and I feel that although Elastic’s capabilities are arguably better in one way – they obviously have different approaches but technically both open-source pieces of technology that can be really used well. So that’s true I think as well you know like so much of this is strategy, if you look at a brand that you think does a very good job of this the chances are 20% of that is the tech and 80% of that is people thinking about it and actually testing and using the data to actually inform a better experience because it just doesn’t happen out of the box. 

Brad:

Definitely doesn’t, we have that with many clients, I mean a lot of our clients are retail based so it’s interesting when you look at um quite complex synonym matching um the whole kind of hypernyms in place there’s certainly certain strategies that work some but don’t work for others so it has to be tailored and although out of the box you know Elasticsearch is great and our tech-based on that is powerful still a lot of tweaking needs to be done there’s still a lot of strategy work and there’s a lot of like you said the extra of effort needs to go in to make something good and usable so definitely it’s Definitely a mix yeah yeah sure cool well thank you very much for that that was really really useful, hope everyone found it great and I’ll, chat to you soon!

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