How on-site search can drive holiday revenue & help e-commerce sites compete against major retailers

This holiday season is set to break a new record, with online sales reaching beyond $100 billion, according to Adobe’s recent predictions. Following Black Friday and Cyber Monday outcomes, most of that revenue will be divided among Amazon and a handful of large-scale e-commerce sites, including Walmart, Target and Best Buy.

With so many dollars at stake, there is still a sizeable amount of market share available for smaller online retailers. But what can e-commerce sites do to compete with the likes of Amazon or Walmart?

An optimized on-site search platform could very well be the answer to capturing more conversions and driving more sales during the holidays. Unfortunately, many e-commerce sites may be missing the boat by not paying enough attention to their on-site search efforts.

How on-site search impacts revenue

According to SLI Systems, which offers an AI-powered e-commerce solution, visitors who use on-site search make purchases at a 2.7x greater rate than website visitors who only browse products. If searchers have indicated exactly what they want — specifying a color, size or material within their query — SLI Systems says it’s the e-commerce site’s job to quickly deliver the product that best matches their search.

“Don’t make these folks navigate their way to what they want. No extra clicks. You’ll likely lose them even if you have a great price and an amazing free shipping offer,” says Bob Angus, an e-commerce consultant, in a post on SLI System’s company blog.

Eli Finkelshteyn, founder and CEO of on-site search platform, says most of the of the on-site search market is still predominantly made up of companies that have built platforms in-house.

“I think there’s an erroneous belief among a lot of companies that search is really core to what they do,” says Finkelshteyn.

“At the end of the day, I think, for e-commerce websites, they’ve got things they need to build themselves, that no one can help them with — things like merchandising, making sure you have the lowest prices, quick delivery, that you have the product that customers want — but search is adjacent to that.”

Finkelshteyn says companies need to make sure their on-site search is optimized so that consumers find the products they want.

“I think that’s notoriously difficult to do,” says Finkelshteyn.

With an on-site search function, you may only be serving up a limited number of results. If a consumer is searching your site for a specific product, Finkelshteyn says it is imperative your on-site search knows how to deliver the most relevant products.

The technology driving an optimized on-site search experience’s platform incorporates a number of technologies, including the integration of machine learning to improve personalized auto-suggestion results.

“Typo-tolerance is automatic with us. We do that using phonetic and typo-graphic dissonances,” says Finkelshteyn, “What that means, essentially, is that we’re mapping how a word is pronounced to the canonical word in your data set.”

For example, if someone is searching for a Kohler faucet but enters a search for Koler — they will receive the correct product match.

Finkelshteyn says another fairly common on-site search challenge is typographical misspellings — when someone simply enters a typo. An effective on-site search platform should be able to recognize common misspellings and still surface relevant products.

On-site search from a brand’s point of view

Dennis Goedegebuure serves as the VP of growth and SEO for sporting apparel company Fanatics. The company operates more than 300 online and offline partner stores. A portion of those stores handle the e-commerce business for all major professional and sports leagues.

“I work very closely with the on-site search teams to make sure the sites differentiate themselves with the offers we give our users,” says Goedegebuure.

The VP of growth says on-site search plays a crucial role in Fanatics’ e-commerce business.

“When you capture a visit, you would like to offer your customer the best selection. So making sure they get the best selection at the best price for the best value to make the sale is obviously top priority,” says Goedegebuure.

According to Goedegebuure, it’s not only about product competition, but the competition among online retailers for share of wallet.

“The customer only has a certain amount of money to spend, you would like to make sure they spend it with you.”

Goedegebuure’s teams are constantly running tests to fine-tune their sites’ on-site search functions.

“We’re running a bunch of experiments all the time, from sizing of the pictures to the little icons that we add to the search, to sort-order, to the number of items in the search result page,” says Goedegebuure. “We’re running constant experiments to find an optimal configuration of our search and to improve the conversions we get out of the traffic.”

According to Goedegebuure, the on-site search tests his teams are running have helped identify a definite sweet-spot for the number of items displayed in search results, as well as determining how the sizing of a picture can impact conversion rates.

On-site search for the holidays

In terms of holiday preparation, Goedegebuure says Fanatics on-site search algorithms may be tweaked to align with holiday promotions.

“If we have a brand on sale — like our own Fanatics brand — these might be pushed up to the top because there are better pricing points,” says Goedegebuure, “If an item goes off sale, you need to adjust for that.”

Finkelshteyn says one of the major on-site search mistakes he sees companies making this time of year is failing to refresh their index rankings.

“If you have a search index with rankings you’ve built over the last year, you still might be optimizing for searches that are not really seasonal right now,” says Finkelshteyn, “For example, if somebody searches for the word ‘blanket’ during the summer, you probably want to give them a beach blanket. If somebody searches for the word ‘blanket’ during the winter, you probably want to give them a warm blanket.”

Whether your company has built its on-site search platform in-house or is using a vendor platform, making sure it is optimized for the holiday e-commerce surge should be a top priority. As we enter the final days of the shopping season, there is still much revenue up for grabs.

Adobe’s latest reports found that holiday e-commerce had reached $50 billion by the end of November, leaving more than $50 billion of its predicted $100 billion in revenue to be claimed by the year’s end.

For many e-commerce companies, fine-tuning their on-site search algorithms may be the most profitable move they could make this holiday season — and beyond.

[This article first appeared on Marketing Land.]

It's time to embrace new strategies for apparel: Broadening tactics through user intent

With more data on purchase intent, consumers, advertising methods and the shift from big-box retailers to online stores, the apparel industry has seen a massive shift in its advertising structure over the past few years. More powerful marketing technology and a more competitive market have forced the industry through its most profound transformation since the industrial revolution.

Google regularly changes their search result types based upon user intent, allowing them to home in on what people need in certain verticals. A search engine results page (SERP) may display videos, related articles or answer boxes based on the user’s presumed intent. That means apparel retailers need to expand and optimize their content offerings based on SERP displays for their target keywords.

Furthermore, advertising and marketing are no longer solely about conversions — apparel brands are also setting goals and measuring success in terms of how well they appeal to, interact with and engage returning and new consumers. To stay relevant in today’s apparel industry, it’s essential for brands to embrace new marketing methods and measurements.

The apparel vertical’s competitive landscape continues to increase with new brands, shifting search trends, and of course, the increase of online conversions versus in-store sales. By leveraging the reach of new digital methods and different devices, apparel brands can improve user engagement in ways that go beyond the simple click to purchase.

Have a relatable voice

Brands must engage their core audience members by relating to them through personalized content. By understanding their users, brands can create a content strategy that aligns with their SEO and social media goals.

While conveying their relatable tone of voice and personality through content, brands must also use key insights from purchase data, audience data, and even seasonality to appeal to people. For instance, Nordstrom has mastered tailoring content around important events and seasonality. This includes events like prom, wedding season, seasonal work attire and swimwear for different occasions.

When searching for the query of “wedding guest,” Google understands my user intent: finding something to wear for a friend’s wedding. Nordstrom ranks highly in the SERP, as they have formatted their online content and optimized it with the user intent in mind.

On Facebook, Nordstrom leads the discussion for work attire and the newest wedding looks. They’re simple and sleek throughout imagery, post copy and the links provided that clearly result in engagement, visibility, word-of-mouth, and even conversions. It’s no wonder the brand’s millennial mindset has paved the way for their future.

Content that’s written for the purchase intent prevails with this strategy. The key is to focus on what the consumers want to interact with.

For another example, take the online male apparel brand, Chubbies. This brand is extremely niche, selling mostly shorts and swim trunks for men. The brand has developed a distinct voice and culture for all its digital channels with a unified brand image.

Find your influence

Marketers know that people trust people more than they trust brands. Developing and implementing an influencer campaign exposes your brand to new audiences that are more likely to enjoy your products. It’s also a chance to harness relationships that may have not derived from more traditional methods of digital marketing.

For example, this BlackMilk Clothing influencer taps into her own social circles and followers to share her favorite items. She answers user questions and spreads word of the brand to new audiences.

At ZOG Digital, we’ve seen a targeted increase in followers when employing this strategy. By working closely with niche fashion influencers for blogging and social media efforts, we directly saw over 300 percent increase in average engagement rate on Facebook only and over 520 percent increase in new followers on Instagram.

And influencers are not just for social media; many influencers run their own blogs on top of social media platforms. When influencers develop new blog content featuring or linking to your brand, it can have a direct impact on the visibility of your brand in SERPs.

Brands should vary how they communicate with (potential) customers, pushing content across their own web properties and those of influencers. With their now expanded media metrics, the outcomes can all be connected and work toward a specific brand goal, like visibility, increase of engagement or followers and simple brand awareness.

Take online shopping to specific products

While many brands recognize the power behind traditional search ads and Facebook ads, they still have not expanded into or experimented with Shopping ads.

Shopping ads, also known as Product Listing Ads (PLAs), appear at the top of Google mobile search results and in the right rail on Google desktop search results. They’re more than a simple text ad — there’s a visual aspect as well. These ads show users a photo of your product, a title, price, store name, color and size. And if that’s not enough, ad extensions can help you add more detail to your Shopping ads.

Brands that use Shopping ads to promote their inventory have often seen improved website and in-store traffic. These ads can also nurture leads who may be thinking about purchasing a product. We’ve seen significant success within apparel brands utilizing Shopping ads with tailored strategies encompassing different product categories.

When implementing a shopping campaign as a part of our client’s paid strategy, we saw a direct impact on the total site conversions and traffic. During the first month of the new Shopping campaign, the client saw nearly 5,000 conversions, with the Shopping ads playing an essential role in 40 percent of those conversions. Since the campaign’s implementation, the client has seen year-over-year growth in direct traffic revenue of 90 percent, with Shopping ads assisting overall site revenue by over 50 percent.

Final thoughts

It’s time for apparel brands to evolve their strategies and measurement beyond just conversions. Rather than rest on your laurels, take these digital marketing tactics for a test drive and see if they work for your audience.

It’s imperative to test content strategies, influencer marketing, shopping ads and other approaches. Otherwise, you’ll be left behind in the heat of competition — optimizing and hoping for conversions, rather than embracing and accepting the ever-changing landscape of digital marketing.

[This article first appeared on Marketing Land.]

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.