What Is Internal Site Search and How to Choose the Best Implementation

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The ability to search for something on your site without navigating through it page by page is something most visitors have come to expect. Learn about the benefits of internal site search and determine which implementation method is best for you.

Internal site search works a lot like a search engine, but it only returns content from within your site. If visitors don’t see what they want when they land on your site, they may use search to find a specific thing, expecting it to be faster than clicking through your navigation to find it.

REI Internal Site Search Screenshot

Some studies have shown visitors who use site search have up to a 43% higher conversion rate. Here’s why:

If your site’s percentage of traffic from search engines is similar to most, then the majority of your visitors typed something specific into a search engine and clicked through to your site. If they aren’t able to find what they are looking for in a reasonable amount of time, chances are they’ll click back to the search engine. If you give them the option to search your site, making the process faster for them, they are more likely to stay, and that results in a more likely conversion.

How Internal Site Search Works

In many cases a site’s internal search results aren’t updated in real time. If you add a new blog post, for example, it may take some time before that post shows in the search results because many internal search configurations pull content from an index that only updates periodically.

The benefit of an index is the results tend to be better because they have been filtered, organized, and weighted, and the content has been assigned a relevancy score. In other words, the results have been optimized. For example, if you have an eCommerce site, you may want to give more weight to your product pages than to your blog posts for product-specific terms. Doing that would make your search results better because they are optimized based on intent. If a visitor searches for “patagonia women’s micro puff hoody,” the searcher is probably looking for a specific product and not a blog post about Patagonia jackets.

Ways To Implement Site Search

So, what are the different types of site search implementations? I’ve broken the options into four different categories: Freemium Plugins, Premium Plugins, Paid Service, and Custom Code.

Option 1: Freemium Plugin

If you absolutely don’t want to spend any money on internal site search, you can use a freemium plugin. Here are some you might consider: Relevanssi and Swiftype Search (the free version). Obviously, there will be many limitations with a free service, but often times it’s a better option than the default search offered on many website platforms. If you have a relatively small site, this will probably suffice.

Option 2: Premium Plugins

If you don’t mind spending up to around $200, a premium plugin is a good option. Some popular ones are WP Solr, SearchWP, and Ajax Search Pro. Premium plugins are usually a one-time fee, so once you purchase the plugin, it’s yours. If you choose a plugin (whether freemium or premium), you’ll have to adjust the plugin settings to optimize the search results.

Option 3: Paid Service

There is usually a monthly fee associated with a paid service. A paid service is a great option if you want a simple setup with optimization partially built in. Some paid service options are Google Custom Search Engine, Cludo, Swiftype Search, Algolia or AddSearch. As an example, you can get Swiftype pricing here: https://swiftype.com/site-search/pricing. Paid services can be used on any type of site, but I think they’re best on more complex sites that have a lot of products and/or content.

Option 4: Custom Code

This is a fairly complex route and will most likely involve a developer unless you are well versed in code. Using code is the most flexible and customizable way to implement internal site search. However, it’s the most complex and time intensive as well. There will be necessary maintenance, as well.

Most of these options will require some level of developer involvement or hands-on setup. But, custom code is likely the most expensive option up front.

So, how do you choose the option that’s best for you?

Choosing An Internal Site Search Implementation

There are certain things to take into consideration when you’re deciding which internal site search implementation to go with. However, no matter which option you choose, there will be some ongoing work involved to give your searchers the best results for their query. Here are some questions to consider when making your decision:

  • How big is your site? If your site has a lot of pages, having more detailed optimization options are probably important.
  • How complex are your needs? Hospitals, for example, may be trying to offer different search segmentation (i.e., doctors, services, locations, and more). If your goals are similar, you’ll want an implementation that can handle that complexity.
  • How often will you be adding or removing content from the site? If the answer is not often, then going with an indexed option would probably be sufficient. But, if this changes in the future and you’re adding or removing a lot of content, you’ll want to reassess and possibly consider more custom options.
  • How frequently will you want the index to be updated? Daily? Weekly? Monthly? If you want it to be updated in real time, you’ve narrowed your options to ones that allow your to control when the index is refreshed.
  • How much do you want to be able to optimize the results that people see? How much time and effort do you want to put into fine tuning?

No matter which solution you choose, you will need to test and experiment with the settings. The more control you have, the more settings there are to work with and the more hands-on time you’ll need to factor in.

Aside from being a faster way for visitors to find what they came to your site looking for, another benefit is the data you can collect from site search to give you some insights on what your searchers want.

Insights From Site Search

In order to get data on your internal site search, you’ll need to set up site search tracking in your Google Analytics account. Once you’ve done that you can start collecting data on the searches your visitors perform. Included in that data are the search terms your visitors used, the number of times those terms have been searched within the date range you set in the report, the percentage of times a searcher refined their search term, and other helpful intel.

In my next post, I’ll unpack what you can do with the site search information you collect in your analytics. Stay tuned!

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