Avoiding lost sales from a poor on-site search tool

We have all been there.  “I know this information or product is on this website, but can I find it?  I know, I’ll try the on-site search.”  And then nothing useful comes up!  This is a frustration that people all over suffer single every day on millions of websites.

Is the search on your website behaving as the user expects?  Your enquiries and sales depend upon it.  Have you asked users to test it?  Learn how to inexpensively ask people to test your website search for you.

But will it really affect my sales and enquiries?

Why yes sir.  Let me give you an example.

Let us take a look at two websites and compare their on-site search.  Argos and Homebase.  Imagine that you want a garden table (I do actually).

I visited both sites, typed in “garden table” and here are the results.


Not bad – it shows, well… garden tables.  Good thinking Argos.  It is a shame the site doesn’t keep my search term in the search box to help me remember what I typed and allow me to improve my search.  Does Google drop the user’s search term after each search?  NO.



Aside from the 2 promoted items, my search for “garden table” presents in order, a parasol candle holder, hexagonal stainless steel lantern, wicker heart basket lantern, chair, parasol stand, chair….  Shockingly awful results.  The frustrated visitor will be forced to shop elsewhere when they can’t find what they want.  That could be a lost sale now and a lost future customer.

Will this hit the Homebase bottom line?  Yes, of course it will.  And their search has been very poor for years.  They will in my opinion have lost hundreds of thousands of pounds.  I suppose a small operation like Homebase doesn’t have the budget to test and improve!

Does this affect your website?

This is not, yet another article just about e-commerce websites, as the principle applies to ALL websites.  Please don’t think that your lead generating “brochure ware” site is excluded from this because it isn’t.

To find out if your on-site search is more helpful than helpless, the search tool will require testing and for that you have a few options:

  • test it yourself,
  • ask other people to test it for you or,
  • use a service like User Testing.

Whatever you do though, you need to decide upon a test plan for exactly what is to be tested, because the tester has to know what it is that he or she is looking for.

For more guidance on producing a test plan, take a look at the test question ideas on User Testing.

If you have any questions about the testing of your website, let me know and I will be pleased to help.

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Nigel White
My career has given me insights into large and small businesses across many sectors. Academically, I have a MA (Strategic Marketing) and use this understanding to provide consultancy and advice to all clients I work with. Very high on my agenda: needs analysis, service, and quality.