When most people reference Search Engine Optimization, or SEO, they’re talking about adjusting a myriad of details and metadata so their site garners a higher ranking with Google and Bing. What never seems to be included in the conversation is the process of improving a site’s internal search experience—what I’ve dubbed internal Search Experience Optimization, or iSXO.
Not like we needed more trendy acronyms, but the eCommerce world needed a way to differentiate between traditional SEO and the search experience on the site once shoppers get there. After all, failed searches are lost sales—regardless of where they happen.
So, What’s With All The Acronyms?
SEO / Search Experience Optimization is really about cutting through the external noise so potential customers can find your site. This is typically a marketing function—and a large budget item.
SXO / Search Experience Optimization has actually been around since the 1990s. This idea attempted to measure and understand the overlap between SEO and conversion optimization. You’ll hear about SXO in many best-of-breed Voice-of-Customer (VoC) and Consumer Experience (CX) initiatives.
iSXO / internal Search Experience Optimization is focused entirely on the search experience a user has inside your website, all the way through the conversion funnel. This aspect of customer experience needs its own name, its own metric. Because the state of retail search is pretty dismal. And you can’t fix what you can’t track.
Test Your Search Performance
How does your site’s search experience measure up? When you search on the name of a product that you’re sure you sell, do you get the right results? I encourage you to try it a few times and see. There are CEOs reading this right now that will. Possibly yours?
Enter a few different products and see what comes up. Experiment with some common spelling errors. Put the words in a slightly different order. Maybe the alternate spelling of “grey” with “gray”.
Then try using voice recognition, as an increasing number of people are doing. Google reported in May 2016 that 20% of all search queries on the company’s mobile app and on Android devices are voice searches. Repeat the exact same searches on your mobile site if you have one.
So how does your site compare to industry benchmarks? Companies not investing in iSXO typically see a success rate of around 31%. That’s not a great number—especially when you consider each failed search quite likely represents a lost sale. In other words, 65% of shoppers were unable to find the intended product and abandoned their purchase in these instances. The good news is that there’s lots of room for improvement.
The ROI of iSXO
Retail organizations are commonly marketing in a number of different channels simultaneously: SEO, AdWords, pay-per-click, etc. I propose that we start considering internal search as one of those channels—and potentially the most valuable from an ROI perspective. Internal search, as a channel, contains your most qualified customers. They’re already at your website. If they’re conducting a search, they usually have an intent to buy, or they’re price-checking because they’re about to.
In a brick-and-mortar store, sales associates are the “search engines.” When customers come in looking for something very specific, an associate can help them find it. On a website, internal search fills that role. Just like you wouldn’t skimp on employee training, you also shouldn’t skimp on iSXO.
Especially in a world where it costs five times as much to attract a new customer than to keep an existing one.
According to Econsultancy’s Conversion Rate Optimization Report 2016,
for every $92 spent on acquiring customers, only $1 is spent converting them.
That may have something to do with another finding from the same report: only about 22% of businesses are satisfied with their conversion rates. If you’re not satisfied with yours, iSXO is a good place to start improving. Because let’s be honest: even the best of us get tired of trying to squeeze blood from stone.
SEO + iSXO
There’s no question that SEO is valuable for eCommerce marketing. At the same time, it’s crucial to consider iSXO. Making an incremental investment in iSXO helps maximize your SEO activity. Devoting just 10% of your SEO budget to iSXO has the potential to deliver better returns than spending everything on SEO, and leaving your customers stranded in a bad internal search experience. That’s just throwing good money after bad.
Nielsen found that the largest website visitor drop-off came in the first 10 seconds, meaning that you have a maximum of 10 seconds to convince people that you have what they’re looking for, that you are a trustworthy vendor, and that it will be easy to buy from you. The tiniest hiccup can ruin their experience with your brand. If your internal search delivers a page of irrelevant results, your 10 seconds are over.
A New KPI?
When performance is measured, performance improves. So says Pearson’s Law. Perhaps one of the reasons there’s so much room for improvement in eCommerce search is that we haven’t had a standard way to measure it.
For this example, let’s consider the eCommerce customer lifecycle as three parts, each with its own success metrics. The first stage is customer acquisition. For most retail websites, the primary driver is SEO. It’s measured by customer acquisition cost (CAC) and easy to calculate with current tools.
The second and most tricky stage is conversion. This is where iSXO provides the most impact. It is the “pivot point” where potential shoppers become customers, measured by conversion rate (CR) and cost per conversion (CPC), among other things. Yet understanding what drives the conversion rate itself is still largely a guessing game. So many factors contribute to someone’s decision to buy or bail. CR and CPC don’t give us much insight there. But measuring iSXO alongside those metrics—that would provide incredible aspects about the experience.
Stage three is customer retention and relates to lifetime value (LTV). This is where iSXO provides secondary impact, since a smooth search experience ensures customers get used to shopping with you. Shouldn’t we make sure that’s easy for them to do? Measurement here is notoriously difficult, but should be tied back to ongoing Voice-of-Customer (VoC) and Consumer Experience (CX) initiatives. It matters.
Focusing on the second stage, what’s missing in our measurement toolbox is a holistic metric that gauges how effectively your internal site search technology is responding to the intent of user queries—a score explaining what % of search queries return successful results. We could also use an internal cost per conversion metric that divides the investment on iSXO by the increase in sales as a result.
With metrics like these, iSXO could become a new resident on your dashboards, no longer an invisible conversion stumbling block.
Now that you know about iSXO, what steps will you take to improve your site’s search technology? How do you think your search experience compares to your competitors’? If you don’t make it a priority in your organization, then you’re letting qualified customers walk away—to your competitors with better search.
Damon Hill, Vice President | Search & AI/Machine Learning Services
Damon currently works with firms in eCommerce, Finance and Healthcare to enhance their machine learning solutions with high quality training datasets. He is a veteran in the world of enterprise software solutions with a 15-year record of supporting Fortune 500 enterprises in all major verticals. His background in Computer Science and Management Information Systems has allowed him to bridge the gap between technology teams and business stakeholders. Regardless of the application or approach, he is passionate about technology and services that increase revenue and elevate brand identity.