How Important is the Search Bar?

There’s one thing almost all eCommerce sites have, and often it is the one thing most eCommerce sites ignore. It’s the thing  your “ready to buy” customers will look for first, and yet a recent study by the Beymard Institute showed that even among top websites huge mistakes are being made.

That small feature? The Search Bar.

That’s right, that little magnifying glass at the top of your website. It’s something some people never pay attention too, but for many of your customers it’s the quickest route from landing on your website to making a purchase.

So, what exactly did the Beymard institute say?

“Search was generally the preferred product finding strategy of the test subjects during the mobile e-commerce usability study, as they perceived it to be faster than category navigation. Unfortunately, search is almost entirely broken on most mobile e-commerce sites in practice.”

If you went to your local hardware store and you knew exactly what you needed to buy, only to find products in odd spots and the shelves “entirely broken” you might be a bit worried. You might even quietly remove yourself from the situation and go to the other store down the road. Having any part of your site described as “entirely broken”, let alone a direct line from your home page to exactly what the customer wants, should be cause for alarm.

The customers using this feature are the ones who often know what they want to buy. They know the brand, the specific product name, or, in some cases, the SKU of the product they wish to purchase. They have come to your site to see if you have it, and will often be ready to buy it there and then.


How can we improve the search function?

There are three simple ways to help improve your search function:

  1. Increase the visibility of your search box
  2. Have a helpful autocomplete, and display related items if nothing is found.
  3. Most importantly, make sure the data feeding your searches is solid and comprehensive. 


1.Increase the visibility of your search box

This is possibly the easiest change to implement, but one that’s easy to overlook. Make sure your search bar is easy for your customer to find. Don’t hide a small magnifying glass for them to click on if they really want to search.

Remember, these customers are armed with information and are often ready to buy. We want to make buying your products as easy as we can.


2. Have a helpful autocomplete, and display related items if nothing is found.

Most of us use google. It’s the most widely used search engine by a large margin. So, when we are looking at how search functions work, naturally, we should look at the best.

The autocomplete function is one that saves us time. We no longer have to laboriously type out questions like, “Who is that blond guy from Game of Thrones?” or “How much wood can a woodchuck actually chuck?” (Viserys Targaryen and about 700 pounds ) We get halfway there and google takes over. Your websites search should do the same, helping your customer get where they want to go faster.

And, what if they do make a mistake?

Again, let’s look to google. They certainly don’t show us a blank screen that says “Sorry mate, type that again. I have no idea what you meant.”  We see a screen with the closest results they can find site, and a helpful “Did you mean:”

By taking these few hints from Google we can make it a whole lot quicker, easier and stress-free to get your customers to where they need.


3.Make sure the data feeding your searches is clear and concise.


Ah yes, data. The thing we know best. Data plays a huge roll in the way searches work on your site. In Fact, data is a huge part of what will make a big difference in suggestion 2 as well.

Data is what underlies all of this information. Making sure it is clear, concise and easy to search is a huge part of making a successful website. (We have lots of information on what makes for good data and the 5 key elements of good data.).

To help improve your searches we need to focus on three of our 5 elements of good data :

  • Clear and Concise – Clear and concise information helps to narrow down searches and allows for the most relevant results.
  • Key attributes – Attributes help customers narrow in on exactly what they want. Making sure they’re all relevant and filled out allows you to  show your customer exactly what they need. There is no point showing your customers untreated timber if they are are building a new jetty, or there is no point in showing pink doilies of your customer specifically searched for green.
  • Completeness – Having complete data means that your customer will be able to find the product, no matter what they search for. Remember, they might be searching for a specific brand, by a product name, or even by the SKU. Having all that information means that no matter what they search customers will be able to find their product.


When you are looking at your website stats remember to take into account all the different types of users you have. There are browsers, who might click around your site for hours, looking at lots of products. They are the window shoppers, and can be a very important part of your website, but never forget the other users. The searchers. Those who know what they want, and they just need your help to get it.  Watch the way searchers use your site and look at the ways you can make their journey even faster, and they will keep coming back.