Site Search Is a Direct Marketing Success Factor
4 ways to stop thinking of search as a product locator and start thinking of it as a targeted way to connect with customers.
Marcel Munoz, CTO, Thanx Media
Changes in online shopping behavior are demanding that site search strategies change along with it; that means site search can no longer be thought of as just a product locator. Instead, search has become one of the most critical customer touchpoints for the online experience, bearing in mind that direct marketing success depends on both off- and online customer touchpoints. So how do you create an integrated approach to merchandising and content management that meets or exceeds customer expectations? Here are four ways:
Catalogs are part of a balanced direct marketing strategy
Is print really dead? No. It's still an important and viable direct marketing tool. According to the Direct Marketing Association, approximately 12.5 billion catalogs are printed and mailed every year, contributing to online sales. The key? Create a seamless cross-channel experience by including calls-to-action in your catalog that directs consumers to the site, perhaps through a text code.
Leading organizations are also focusing on search innovation to influence conversion rates, average order value, and customer satisfaction. They're accomplishing this by integrating product search with marketing and product content management.
Pay attention to current market pressures
Online shoppers are a key driver for the shift in direct marketing and e-commerce strategies. Their behavior and expectations are shaping the way organizations coordinate site search, online personalization, and omnichannel strategies.
Aberdeen Group's Analyst Insight for Search innovation finds that “rapidly shifting customer affinities” are driving a need for search innovation. In addition to these shifting affinities, consumers are doing more pre-purchase online research than ever before. This has led to an increase in demand for extensive product information.
Aberdeen Group also points to search as the number one market pressure by e-commerce industry leaders. Online shoppers now have a preference for site navigation and personalized content, which makes it necessary to leverage search as a key customer touchpoint benefitting both the shopper and the seller.
Remember: Marketing, merchandising, and content management strategies need to be coordinated to ensure that site search delivers the right results to the right customer at the right time.
Get to know your customer on a personal level
All successful strategies begin with knowing who your customers are and then finding the best way to connect with them on an individual level. The days of mass marketing are behind us and the key future success lies in identifying customer needs and making search a one-to-one touchpoint.
In the same Aberdeen Group study, e-commerce industry leaders cited three primary strategies for success:
- Personalized search results
- Increased search result variability
- Product strategy based on deeper customer segmentation
The common denominator: the buyer's increased demand for personalization and the ability to control the shopping experience. Your marketing efforts should be focused on deep customer segments, which include buying behavior to allow shoppers to refine search results based on product attributes such as size, category, color, and brand.
Improved relevancy and consumer-driven navigation options help improve conversion rates and increase average order value. Critical site search features are attribute-driven navigation and dynamic merchandising—without these you won't be able to implement an effective search strategy.
Support your search capabilities
Aberdeen Group's insights report found there to be a fairly large gap between e-commerce leaders and followers in offering the top two innovative search capabilities—smart auto-complete and relevancy ranking—to their shoppers. Seventy-three percent of leaders have auto-complete functionality, while only 20% of the followers offer it. Auto-complete streamlines the shopping experience and has been proven to help increase search conversions.
Similarly, 71% of the leaders use relevancy ranking (using site search criteria to rank and display the best results), and only 34% of the followers have this ability. Relevancy rankings can be used for more than featuring top brands or your most profitable items. They can also be used to promote products that are selling well, demote products that are low on inventory, and offer the right product at the right time.
It requires more than the right technology to transform site search from being a product locator to a customer touchpoint. It's crucial to identify the right team of resources to manage your internal search and merchandising. It's best to have dedicated analysts who provide actionable insights to your merchandisers. Data collected from site search analytics provides customer insights that can guide your merchandising team and enable them to make the most of the search features and functionality.
Overall, a successful direct marketing strategy should include a technology component with a focus on driving online sales. Shoppers expect a personalized experience, which makes site search a key customer touchpoint—and one that can't be ignored.