When I started working for Westpac, “Search” was considered the “poor cousin” of every websites! Its main purpose was to allow customers to search for information when they could not find it on their own. And the more poorly a website had been designed, the more critical is was to have a well performing search box! And thus by corollary, if a website was designed well enough, one could think search was not needed at all. Nothing could be farther from the truth.
Data captured shows that people who use site search are more likely to purchase or convert compared to those who navigate through the pages, as they are navigating with intent and are attempting to find something specific. Information gathering is completed, and they want to view more details about a particular product content such as price, availability, fees or rates. The search box comes with the expectation of delivering relevant results.
Users DO NOT WANT to search
The concept of Search has now evolved, and implementing a “Search Input Box” on a website is not simply about helping customers searching anymore, it is about BEING FOUND.
The word Searching implies customers should work and perform an action to find us, and that idea does not connect well with the simplification of the customer journey. The average users are looking for simplicity and want information spoon-fed to them: users want simplicity and access to the right information in the most intuitive and natural way possible – they do not want to actually engage in the act of searching.
Context, context, more context…
The way I see it, the main question brands willing to implement a relevant search feature on their websites should ask isn’t “How can people find us?” anymore, but should rather be “How can we be found”. And linked to that, I cannot imagine a well implemented 21st century search that would not be proactive and wait for a query to be entered into a search box to return information to customers. On the opposite, contextualisation and personalisation are the key for a well performing search. Contextualisation started to make its way and many applications now wow their users with answers being provided to them BEFORE they even ask a question!
Such examples of contextualisation have become part of our daily lives:
- Google Gmail reminding you when your bills are due;
- Facebook detecting where you are and suggesting information based on your location;
- Google Now warning you when your usual train is running late;
- Apple allows you to set the specific conditions under which a text message is sent*, such as time, weather and location.
Expanding on this idea of contextualisation and journey towards understanding better the customers and their needs, it this idea of globalisation in order to simplify the user journey: data should be accessible from anywhere, and not limited to one website or one application.
The search-and-find game is happening outside your website
As you will notice on the below screenshot, it is not hard to find now reviews, phone call buttons or action buttons directly on the search engines result page, and users do not need to come to visit a website to complete their intention anymore.
Brands need to be present everywhere – search engines search results, digital assistant’s search results, app stores results and other – and to do so, website owners need to ensure their content is built in a way that allows search engines to pick the right information easily and understand the intent to pick from your pages.
With the rising importance of Artificial Intelligence and RankBrain (Google’s machine learning technology), the role of Micro Formats becomes more and more crucial.
Schema markups, microdata that can be added to web pages to help search engines parse and understand a website’s information more effectively, are used to make one’s content clear and appealing to bots. Search engines rely on these markups to display AMP articles, local businesses, new insights, reviews, music, movies, recipes, quick action buttons, call buttons, and much more, and help websites appear even more user-friendly in search engines, which improves the click-through rate and traffic. According to Michael Cottam, SEO consultant at “MichaelCottam”, Google would start using schema markup as a site quality indicator or in other words as an important ranking factor.
Technology and context lie in the heart of every interaction and experiences today, and contextualized content and search are the next steps to bring the information to the customer. According to Tushar G., architect at Westpac, this should be done “in a way that the technology powering the application of a website disappears from view and all you are left with is a simplified more natural user interaction and customer journey”.