When is the last time you tested your website’s search? If it’s been a while, it’s time to add this to the top of your priority list.  

Research shows that 87% of consumers start their product searches online. And onsite search is used more frequently than the navigation.

So, how does yours perform?  

We’ve worked with multiple businesses who want to improve this function on their websites, but they aren’t sure where to begin. Often, they want an easy fix: a new site search platform that can be easily implemented without much effort.  

The bad news? That doesn’t exist.  

The good news? Your current site search solution likely isn’t the problem.  

Imagine you’re a clothing manufacturer. As one of your retailers prepares for Valentine’s Day, they decide to increase stock of red shirts. They hit your site to browse options. If a search for “red shirt” doesn’t render all products that fit the bill, you could miss out on sales.   

Illustration showing that a website search for “red shirt” can trigger a variety of products with different features. If your product data isn’t configured properly for search, some of those products won’t show up in the search.

Similarly, your product data must include plain language descriptions. For example, if you’re selling Garmin but don’t have “GPS” as a descriptor throughout your product data, you will likely lose to competitors who optimize for those more general terms. Sure, anyone who hits your brand site will find what they’re looking for. But you won’t even get on the radar of customers higher in the sales funnel, searching Google or retail sites.   

Both of these examples are simple, but they have big implications. Gaps in product data can affect sales across all channels. They can negatively impact how you show up on Google, your own ecommerce website, and your downstream channels.  

It isn’t easy or quick to optimize your product data for search—but it is worthwhile. To truly make an impact on your website and beyond, your business must take a step back and think strategically about product data.  

Here are the five critical steps we recommend to ensuring your product data answers real customer queries.  

1. Create a centralized source of truth for product data 

Before you can optimize your product data for search, it must be consolidated into a central location. Ideally, your product data will live in a product information management (PIM) system.  

Implementing PIM is a significant undertaking—but it’s worth the investment of resources. Having a single location to store and update product data saves significant time and reduces the likelihood of error. And having the ability to syndicate product data from one source to many (e.g., your website or online marketplaces) ensures better data accuracy across all channels.   

Illustration showing that product information management (PIM) software pulls data in from various sources and pushes data out to various sources.

We recommend making PIM the center of your ecommerce ecosystem. Once your data resides in PIM, everything you do to optimize it should be done inside of PIM.   

2. Conduct customer research  

Most businesses make well-educated guesses about what should be included in their product content. To ensure your product data answers the actual needs of your customers, we recommend testing those internal assumptions to validate them—and to ensure you aren’t overlooking critical information.   

Primary customer research is the best way to do this. Survey your customers. Conduct interviews and focus groups. Request feedback about your website and product data. Validate what you know and identify what you’re wrong about, then apply those insights within PIM. 

Research is key to learning what pieces of data are important to your customers and how they search for your products. It shows you what language they use, what attributes they care about, and when they use which channels to find your products. Research shows you what your actual customers want and need, and that is critical to moving products on the digital shelf.  

Illustration showing various stages of research that should inform your product data processes. Research types include survey, interviews, and larger group discussions.

3. Optimize for Google 

By now, most businesses are familiar with search engine optimization (SEO). But in case you need a crash course in how to build an SEO strategy, here’s a step-by-step guide.  

When writing web content, your copywriting team should conduct keyword research to understand which relevant phrases are being searched at what frequency, and how difficult it will be to rank for each phrase. 

Many businesses use SEO strategy to optimize their web pages for search. However, few apply those insights to product data. I propose that we end that today. 

Take any insights gleaned from search engine optimization and use them to further enrich your product data in PIM. The more optimized your product data is for SEO, the more likely your product pages will show up in relevant search queries.   

Illustration showing that various pieces of data in a product information management (PIM) platform can be optimized and syndicated to search engines. Certain information in the PIM is indicated in specific colors (yellow, red, and blue) and those same colors are represented in the syndication path and on the search engine results page (SERP).

4. Optimize for retailer sites 

It isn’t enough to store your data in PIM and distribute it downstream. You must also regularly evaluate your data quality on their sites.  

Are you delivering everything they asked for? For example, if they asked for 15 attributes and you could only provide 10 initially, your job here is not done.  

Consider how your end customers use each retailer site. If you sell through Home Depot, you know that your end customers can shop at both their physical and online stores. The physical store is all about how products are displayed on the shelf—placement, packaging, branding, etc. 

But the online store is a digital shelf where people don’t walk down aisles. They may use the retailer website’s navigation or site search. 

How do your retailers organize product types? Are you sure you’ve categorized products in the most logical way for customers to find them? 

You must also ensure that your product data is consistent across all channels. You want to be sure that it outperforms the competition—and moves product. Tools such as inriver Evaluate can crawl the sites you sell through and give feedback on the consistency and performance of your product data.  

Whatever you learn through evaluating retailer sites, return to your PIM and apply it to your master product data.  

5. Optimize for your own ecommerce website

Now, back to our original scenario. You want a better site search but aren’t sure where to start.  

As you likely know by now, better site search is driven by better product data. And better product data requires knowledge of how your actual customers shop for your products. (See step two above.)  

Certain buyers may come to your website frequently. Others may begin on retailer or marketplace sites, then visit your site to purchase. When you know how customers get to your site, you can optimize for their unique experiences.   

If your product data and the pages on your website showcase the terms and phrases that your customers use, your site search should work optimally. 

Again, your data must be accurate, consistent, and standardized. Any conflicting information that a customer finds on your site or your downstream channels will cause confusion—increasing the likelihood that they bounce and purchase products from a competitor. 

Justifying the investment into product data optimization

As someone trying to improve your ecommerce ecosystem, you want to be sure you’re spending your time and money wisely. As with most things in life and in business, there is no “magic bullet” solution to optimization. 

For example, it may be tempting to rip and replace your current onsite search engine, but if your product data is lacking, that just won’t work. There just isn’t a substitute for doing things the right way. 

Ecommerce is all about connecting your business to people who want to buy your products. It is critical to take the time to optimize your product data. You must understand your customers, their wants and needs, and their buying process. Then, you can optimize for search across multiple channels. 

To learn more about Ntara’ research offerings, visit ntara.com/research. 

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