That most people will probably find your website through a search engine is a given; but how quickly will they leave if they don’t find what they came for in the first place?
If you spend a lot of time browsing the web, you know what I’m talking about: you click through to a certain website, looking for an item or a piece of information, and just can’t find it. You have a nagging feeling that what you need should be there, but the only way you can find it is by browsing through pages and pages of information, or clicking through lists of “archives” that are listed by date and not content. But you don’t have time for that, and so you leave the site- maybe you’ll have better luck elsewhere.
You can, of course, help to prevent this from happening on your site with one very important tool: your site’s search capability. Add a search box to every page (especially your 404s!), make it clear that it’s a search box (the word “Search” really does help), and- perhaps most importantly- make sure it works. Here, some general tips for adding search capabilities to your site (or improving existing ones):
What will power your search?
Google. It should come as no surprise that so many webmasters choose Google to give their websites search capabilities. It’s quick, it’s customisable (up to a certain point), and if you create it through Adsense, you can actually get paid when people search your site.
Use what’s built-in. If you’re using a CMS or blog publishing platform for your website, you can usually get away with using its built-in search capabilities. WordPress, for example, features a fast and smart search engine that works right out of the box for most of my visitors’ needs.
A script. You can write your own script to manage your site search, or you can choose one of many pre-made scripts available (check out HotScripts.com). The advantage of this? It puts you more in control: you can give your visitors the ability to narrow their searches, which generally mean better results.
Test, test, test
As web designers, we’re trained to test out different aspects of the sites we build. We test in different browsers, on mobile phones, on PCs and Macs. To test out a site’s search engine, simply think like a visitor, especially like the visitor you want to target. Test out different search terms, including commonly misspelled words and phrases in the form of questions. Based on the results you get, tweak your content for keywords or tags.
What if your site doesn’t have what your visitor is looking for? Instead of just presenting him or her with a page that says “Sorry, no results”, offer them up an alternative. For example, if Jane searches your t-shirt site for a “black baby-doll tee”, and you’re fresh out of them, tweak your search results to feature related items, offering Jane a white baby-doll tee instead. Also, make sure your results page features clear navigation links to the rest of your site.
And remember: when it comes to searching your site, there’s almost no such thing as “too” obvious. The search box must look like a search box, the search button must look like a button. Google understood the power of search: keep it simple, and give ’em relevant results- the quicker the better.