Analysis

Guest comment: A more effective approach to optimizing conversions – testing site search and navigation pages

Shaun Ryan SLI Systems

Is your investment in site search and navigation paying off, or are you simply benefitting from lucky guesswork? Testing is key to making sure your website is working the way you need it to, says Shaun Ryan of SLI Systems.

by Shaun Ryan

The investment you’ve made in relevant site search and navigation appears to be paying off, given the positive impact on your website: higher conversions, larger orders and more page views. You’ve even had fewer complaints and a decline in the abandonment rate for people using the search box. But do these successes mean you’re truly doing enough to improve the user experience and enhance your bottom line? Maybe not.

More than likely, unless you’re testing your site search and navigation properly, you’re simply doing a lot of guesswork. You’re crossing your fingers and hoping the results on which you’re basing decisions for improving the presentation and performance of your site (or not) will lead to the results you seek.

Flying blind works fine, until it doesn’t – and then the results can be costly. A better way to give your customers the optimal search and navigation experience, and your bottom line the optimal results, is to conduct A/B or multivariate tests of key aspects of your site search and navigation pages. However, knowing how to test, what to test and most importantly, how to interpret the results, is complex and requires some effort. But if you take the time to do it well, the benefits will be clear and measurable, and the process very rewarding.

Here is some guidance to help you identify the aspects of site search and navigation you should test and determine how best to approach the testing process. Testing options are wide-ranging and there are many factors to consider, depending on what you want to offer your visitors (and what they want you to provide).

Optimal number of results per page
Offering more results per page may seem like a good idea. It increases the chance your users will find what they need, as they spend less time scrolling through multiple pages. However, offering more results on a search results page increases the page load time, and thus, can have a negative impact on the user experience and easily lead to visitors opting not to complete a transaction. Test different numbers of results to find out what is optimal. Additionally, consider testing the option of allowing visitors to determine how many results they would like to see appear on the page – give them the power of choice.

Non-product content
Many websites now offer features such as video, blogs, how-to guides, and user ratings and reviews, and are posting content on social networks like Facebook and Twitter. When social media and user-generated content are included in search results, they can have a powerful impact on whether a visitor feels a connection to your brand. And what visitors see and hear from others in the online social sphere can influence their purchasing decisions. Testing not only will help you determine which features and content to include in your site search, from blogs, Twitter feeds and Facebook wall posts to YouTube videos, but also the most logical way to incorporate them.

Merchandising banners
Are you making the best use of banners? For instance, you can benefit from strategically placing banners on ‘no results’ pages to drive people towards related items. Banners on site search and other pages are also effective for highlighting special offers, such as discounts on shipping, brands on sale, or other items you want to promote. Where you should show your banners, how big they should be, and what content you should include on them are all variables you can test.

Buy buttons
These are small but very powerful features on your website – and can have a great impact when included in search results pages. Their core purpose is obvious. By placing buy buttons next to items in search results, you can remove one step from the shopping process and may even help motivate visitors to follow through with a purchase. However we have seen them have a negative impact on conversions as well. You can conduct tests to determine whether you should have them on the search results page and the best design, size and ideal placement for your buy buttons to see if they help visitors feel compelled to make a transaction.

Refinement options
What, if any, refinement options you should offer, how best to feature them on your site (for example, deciding whether to use a pull-down menu or clickable links) and the order in which you should present them are all worth testing. You also may want to test whether including a specific item finder, a box where people can input the brand, style and type of item they’re most interested in, can lead to higher conversions.

Displaying prices in search results
Here’s another way to ‘go deep’ with your testing. Learning the correct answer to this question could have a significant impact on your profitability: which pricing information for your products or services in search results help or hinder your ability to optimize conversions? For instance, should you show the estimated tax amount? Should you display total prices based on various shipping options? If you offer warranties on your products should the added cost be shown? Restaurants have found that diners spend more money when the price doesn’t have the ‘£’ symbol in front of it. Would the same thing happen if you removed those symbols on your site?

Related searches
Related searches are additional suggested search terms displayed on a search results page to help your customers find what they’re looking for. They’re usually based on the similar keywords used by other visitors when searching for like items. You can conduct tests to determine if displaying them has a positive impact.

Different ranking algorithms
The way search and navigation results are ranked varies by the provider you use, but your solution should allow you to incorporate different algorithms, like sorting results by price (highest to lowest or lowest to highest), brand (in alphabetical order), most popular, or on sale. Even better might be to allow your customers to decide what ranking order they prefer. Of course, the best way to determine what works best is to test the different options.

Look to your service provider for help
A/B and multivariate testing are highly effective in delivering clear, measurable results that can help you make informed decisions to better optimize conversions on your site – but it can be time-consuming and complicated. To ensure the process is not too resource-intensive for your business, look to your site search provider for assistance. There are tools on the market that can take the pain out of A/B and multivariate testing of site search, navigation, promotions and page layouts, and your provider may have the right one for you. They also may be able to provide a team of experts to handle the testing process.

Lastly, ask your search provider whether the search results can be delivered via Ajax. It can speed delivery of search results pages, particularly, as visitors click on refinement options, because it will only resubmit any new information to be loaded to the web server. The difference can be fractions of a second, but any site owner knows this time savings can enhance the user experience. Whether Ajax makes a difference on your site is something else worth discovering through A/B and multivariate testing.

Shaun Ryan is co-founder and CEO of SLI Systems.

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