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Mar 26 2018

How Relevant Is Your Site Search: 5 Elements You Can’t Afford To Ignore

Cheryl Joy

Content Writer

Earlier this month, it was announced that Toys "R" Us would be permanently closing its doors after 70 years in business, marking the end of an era of traditional holiday shopping and birthday celebrations at the toy store.

Victoria's Secret almost faced a similar debacle when shoppers chose being practical as far more important than being sexy. But, as eCommerce started picking up, they saved themselves by evolving as a brand and showing relevant search results for their online stores.

However, Toys R Us is a different story altogether. Amidst last-minute scrambles for discounts, nostalgic videos of how it all began, and discussions over what's left to salvage, the story remains the same — online beats retail yet again.

We've heard the diatribe about innovation disrupting normalcy and changing how things are done in a hundred different contexts before. The industrial revolution made mass-manufactured goods accessible and affordable for a huge population waiting to consume them. It gave way to a better way of doing things and led to the technological revolution, abundance, and the luxury of choice.

The Tides are Turning

Dwindling sales and smaller profit margins at Victoria's Secret aren't much of a secret anymore. The sales in the last holiday season fell by 4% compared to the previous year's period.

The problem? Women don't relate to the brand anymore. The last few decades have seen a seismic shift in priorities and ways of thinking. As a result, the brand's mantra of putting sexy over practicality is increasingly becoming obsolete.

Evolution and change are the only constants that mark every shift in commerce. The ones that survive are those who know how to ride the wave rather than collapse under its weight.

Staying Relevant in the Face of Change

What the stories of Toys 'R' Us and Victoria's Secret symbolize, in varying degrees of severity, is how the inability to change as per the shifting priorities of the consumer impacts the biggest of companies and the most proliferous of brands. The change affects them all, and evolve they must.

In the context of eCommerce, the story of evolution begins with the introduction of a basic search. The search involved picking up a query in its most rudimentary form and matching it to existing products with the same text description from an online catalog.

Thankfully, we've come a long way from there.

Semantic search, as it exists today, involves understanding user intent when they visit a site. And understanding what people are looking for when they type out a query on a site's search bar consists of much more than a basic text match.

Understanding the Context of Relevant Search Results

A sophisticated site search algorithm understands shopper queries like a human would. Relevance, in search, is the ability to map queries to products that match them accurately. This remains, at its core, the most fundamental need that all eCommerce businesses strive to solve in different ways. Quite understandably, that makes it their biggest challenge as well.

5 Elements of Site Search You can't Ignore

Sites must handle dimensions intelligently. Solving for relevant searches involves several important factors. Here are the top five elements you should incorporate into your site search to fine-tune relevance on your site. 

  1. Specification Handling
  2. Interpreting Dimensions
  3. Feature Extraction
  4. Relational Queries
  5. Phrase Identification

Specification Handling

Understanding the parts of a search query to identify specifications or attributes of the product is an integral part of intelligent search. For example, a search algorithm should understand that in a query such as "iPhone X cases," the shopper is looking for a specific accessory suitable for a particular product subtype.

Though it sounds like quite a basic ask, many sites still fail to incorporate specification handling in their site search.

Interpreting Dimensions

Different strokes for different folks. No place is this phrase more relevant than in online commerce. Especially for hardware and electronics, where different geographies have their preferred scales of measurement, it becomes imperative that sites handle dimensions intelligently. 

A search algorithm should surface a 40-inch television to anybody searching for it, irrespective of whether they look for a 40' television, a 40-inch television, or a 40 television.

Feature Extraction

When you ask for a blue cashmere sweater at a store, it doesn't take long for them to understand that you're talking about an expensive but highly gorgeous piece of winter clothing in a particular color. Those are the simple nuances of offline shopping that online miss out on.

Feature extraction allows search algorithms  to break down search queries into their components and assign weights to each attribute. This allows the algorithm to figure out which attributes in the query are most important and must necessarily be present in the search results. 

Relational Queries

As we get deeper into making search algorithms think like their human counterparts, it is essential that they decode the relationship between words in a query rather than treat them as individual planets floating in isolation. This is all the more reason why the old text-match method doesn't work anymore because, thanks to Google, shoppers are looking for almost anything online, and they're typing it like they're thinking it!

When a shopper looks for 'evening dresses for parties" or a 'round bedside table lamp,' they describe features added to the basic product itself and showcase the most relevant search results to the shopper.

Phrase Identification

The final test of relevance lies in the ability to identify phrases in a search query, irrespective of length or complexity, and tie them together while presenting results to the shopper. This is especially true for search-intensive shoppers who come to the site looking for something particular.

For example, a shopper looking for a replacement headlight for his car will go straight to the search bar and type out the requirement rather than go through the navigation to get there.

A website's smart search feature can interpret the intention of a shopper's search query and provide relevant recommendations, similar to the convenience of being given the correct product or a related variation when making a specific request in a physical store.


The ability of businesses to connect with and serve a larger, diverse audience through the internet will determine their success in the digital age. Online shopping allows merchants, from small boutiques to large brands, to offer a similar in-store experience with the added convenience of shopping from anywhere. 

Unbxd Site Search helps merchants increase product visibility and adapt search results to evolving consumer behavior.

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