Adding Search to Your Site

Can customers search your website--and actually find what they need? If not, you're losing dollars.

By Melissa Campanelli

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

The success of Google's search technology has transformedweb users, who were already a sophisticated group of consumers,into even savvier searchers who now expect a top-notch experienceon every site they visit-which could be a problem for e-tailers.Many site search engines still offer too many irrelevant results,too few results or none at all.

Feeling the pressure, netpreneurs are improving the searchfunctions they already have or adding sophisticated searchtechnologies to their sites for the first time. "One way todistinguish yourself from your competition on the web is to givepeople a really painless experience finding what they want on yourwebsite," says Avi Rappoport, editor of SearchTools.com andprincipal consultant at Search Tools Consulting in Berkeley,California.

There are many options to choose from when it comes to upgradingsite search. One approach is to simply add Google's searchappliance to your site; it will deliver the same high-qualityresults to your site that Google delivers on the web at large.Another approach is to add faceted navigation-also called guidednavigation, guided shopping, search-and-navigation orsearch-and-browse. This function allows visitors to narrow searchresults into smaller sets, based on a series of choices presentedto them as results are returned. For example, if a visitor types inbags, she can see a list of choices tied to product attributes suchas brand, material and price.

Faceted navigation also allows merchants to display resultsbased on merchandising rules. So if a clothing e-tailer wants topromote a certain type of pants at a particular time of year, thosepants will come up first in the results. Leading vendors that offerthis type of search technology include Atomz, Dieselpoint,EasyAsk,EndecaTechnologies and iPhrase Technologies.

Search Success

CompactAppliance.com, an online retailer that sellsspace-saving appliances, is one company that's achieved successwith its search technology. (The parent company is RichlundVentures Inc. in Austin, Texas.) Last year, CompactAppliance.com,which expects 2004 sales to exceed $10 million, upgraded its searchtechnology to a more sophisticated solution that would providebetter, more relevant results. It chose Atomz'search-and-browse solution, which allows visitors who make ageneral search to sort by subcategories, such as color or price,within that search.

According to the president and founder of CompactAppliance.com,Rick Lundbom, 30, "It's very important to us that we offerour customers the best experience we possibly can when they aresearching for products or other information on our site, and thissolution offered that." The company also signed up for AtomzPromote, which lets retailers merchandise related products orprovide more detailed information in addition to searchresults.

The move appears to be paying off. CompactAppliance.com has seena 35 percent increase in overall sales, as well as significantgrowth in its online marketing campaign conversions and customerloyalty since implementing Atomz' solutions.

Search-and-navigate, however, is not the only advanced searchtechnology you can add to your site. Consider the solution used byPrints.com, a Milwaukee-based online seller of prints, posters,framing and related gift items. The company, which also has agallery, projects 2004 sales to surpass $1 million.

When Jim Felker, president and founder of Prints.com, decided toadd search to his site, he chose technology from Netrics, which focuseson correcting customers' spelling and input errors. NetricsSearch produces results with accuracy by modeling the human notionof similarity. This approach finds correct results, even when dataand queries contain a wide spectrum of errors, variations andstructural incompatibilities. For any given query, there will neverbe a "no results found" response.

"Netrics' error tolerance is what sold it for me,"says Felker, 46. "You can misspell things and still find whatyou're looking for on our site." Such spelling correctionis key to a site like Prints.com. Artists' names are oftentricky, and the titles of artwork can be confusing since shopperscan't always remember the exact word order.

Before adding Netrics, Prints.com lacked a search function onits site-it only had a drop-down box listing about 50 popularartists visitors could click on to get to what they wanted.Advanced search became a necessity as the company grew and addedproducts. "People have high expectations when it comes tosearch," says Felker, who's seen a 50 percent increase insales since implementing the search function. "Google hasclearly raised the bar."

Hosted solutions targeting small to midsize businesses rangefrom $70,000-split into thirds throughout a three-yearcontract-down to $750 per month and everything in between. As analternative, for about $5,000 per month, some vendors partner withcompanies that provide managed hosting of e-commerce sites andinclude the functionality as part of a managed monthly service.

The price may be worth it if you sell most of your productsonline. "When companies implement browse-and-navigate searchand advanced search tools, what they see is increased conversionrates and increased revenue from those searching visitors,"says Eric T. Peterson, a site technology and operations analystwith Jupitermedia, an IT news and research provider in NewYork City. "This type of approach offers the best of bothworlds. So what this means is, you have to spend money to makemoney."

According to Felker, who pays Netrics $750 per month for itsservice, "While $750 sounds like a lot, compared to thealternatives, it's nothing. It's kind of nominal in the bigpicture because if people can't find things on your site,they're gone."

Can you afford to add advanced search tools to your site?Perhaps the real question is, Can you afford not to?


Melissa Campanelli is a marketing and technology writer inNew York City.

Melissa Campanelli

Melissa Campanelli is a technology writer in Brooklyn, New York, who has covered technology for Mobile Computing & Communications and Sales & Marketing Management magazines. You can reach her at mcampanelli@earthlink.net.

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