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The Curious Case of the 12 Types of Ecommerce Site Search Queries

This is a 4 part series on how to deliver a stellar a site search experience. In this post we will take you through the different types of search queries customers use on eCommerce sites, and some of the prerequisites to build an intelligent site search that is capable of solving these query types.

Site Search is an integral part of the product discovery experience on ecommerce sites and customers have now come to expect an accurate & user-friendly experience while shopping online. For customers, search is an easy and quick way to discover products, however, a majority of ecommerce sites still have a long way to go before they can provide a relevant & usable site search experience. But before we get into site search best practices, let’s learn a little more about the customer mindset when they search.

Customers who search for products online can be bucketed into two categories:

  • Primary: These are the customers that know precisely what they want and that’s why they head straight for search.

  • Alternative: These customers switch to site search after unfruitful navigation attempts and use search as a fall back.

Both these types of customers expect relevant search results. The first type may be little more forgiving and may try 4-5 times before abandoning search, as opposed to the second type of customers, who will most likely quit if the search fails. All this points to one thing: a good site search, which returns relevant search results, is the need of the hour for ecommerce companies.

The curious case of the 12 types of eCommerce site search queries

Let’s say a customer searches for a ‘brown leather jacket’ on an eCommerce site and the search returns relevant results – a jacket made of leather which is brown in color. If the seller does not have that particular type of jacket, the search still shows jackets or different variants of it, for instance, in different fabrics or colors. How does this happen? This answer lies in ‘context awareness’ which forms the backbone of an intelligent site search – one that is able to understand user intent to show accurate results.

Relevance of ecommerce site search was one of the defining themes of our recent webinar: How to deliver a stellar site search experience – Best practices, usability guidelines and more. In this webinar, we had guest speaker and well-known ecommerce usability expert, Jamie Appleseed (from the Baymard Institute), talk to us about how customers search on ecommerce sites.

According to him, shoppers don’t just use one type of search query to look up for a product. As per the Baymard study on ecommerce site search usability, their search queries span across 12 different types. To give an idea of how difficult it is for site search to solve all 12 query types, even the top 50 retailers in the US do not support all the 12 query types. Before we look at some of these query types let’s look at the classification of each.

  • Query Spectrum: These types of queries are about setting search range. Here users are either looking for a product or particular type of product; or they could search with a symptom/problem or even with a non-product information.

  • Query Qualifiers: Users sometime uses certain qualifiers to specify conditions. For instance, they may look for specific features or themes, any if a product is compatible with other products, etc.

  • Query Structure: This means using actual syntax of the query i.e. how customers are actually searching and the language they are using.

12 query typesNow let’s look at some of the query types.

  • Exact search: With this kind of search, the user knows what exactly they are looking for. They may search using exact product name or a model number. The key here is to be able to solve typos and misspellings, without making the users type the query again. Example –

    Exact Search

  • Product type search: Users here are not looking for a specific type of product but a type/category of a product. They may also use various synonyms or different variations of it for instance sofa / couch, etc.  Example –

    Women's Tshirt

  • Feature Search: This is one of the most common query type users use while they search. The features may encompass color, price, performance specs, etc. Example –

    Feature Search

  • Thematic search: These search queries are often vague with fuzzy boundaries. The searches may include searches based on occasions, seasons, etc. Example –

    Thematic Search

  • Slang, abbreviations and symbol search: Users don’t always search the way the site wants them to. More often than not, they use synonyms, or abbreviations or symbols. Such as USD ‘$’ symbol or search for blow dryer instead of hair dryer. The site must understand the intent and return results that match user’s expectations. Example –

    synonyms

To hear about the rest 12 query types, watch our webinar and hear about them directly from Jamie Appleseed!

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