Product Search Engines: Everything You Need to Know
Discover how a product search engine helps grow your eCommerce sales, customer base, and engagement rates while also delivering a better user experience.
Where does optimizing your product search engine fall on your to-do list?
If you’re like many eCommerce brands, it’s probably not a priority -- and that may be hurting your business in more ways than one.
Simply adding a search bar to the top of your online store and hoping for the best isn’t enough. You can’t assume that the search bar knows what to do; you have to make your product search engine work for you.
So how do you do that?
You’ll find ten must-have features and functionalities every product search engine should have in today’s guide. These will take your search capabilities off autopilot to boost your sales and revenue the smart way.
So let’s start at the beginning and discuss what a product search engine is and why it deserves your time and attention:
What is a Product Search Engine?
A product search engine is the search bar feature on your eCommerce site that allows customers to pinpoint items in your store.
Your shoppers will enter keywords or the name of the product they’re looking for into the search bar, and a list of results matching those will show up.
Customers can find exactly what they came to buy without browsing product categories or endlessly scrolling through pages.
So you can think of this process like running a Google Search on the inventory in your online store.
Unfortunately, that’s what most people are used to and now come to expect.
See, Google quickly delivers relevant results whenever people perform a search. But their complex algorithms are much smarter than your average eCommerce product search engine.
So when shoppers looking for a particular item can’t find it in your store ASAP, they get frustrated and upset.
And that’s the last thing you want because people at the search stage are ready to make a purchase right then and there.
Why Should You Care About the Features and Functionalities of Your Product Search Engine?
By now, you probably realize that a search bar isn’t as simple as it sounds. And if you don’t understand what’s going on behind the scenes, you’ll never be able to utilize this feature to its full potential.
A spectacular product search engine can help your brand:
- Quickly show shoppers you have what they need
- Shorten time to purchase
- Boost your customer/user experience
- Upsell and cross-sell complementary products
- Increase average order value
- Raise sales and revenue
Your search results must be relevant, personalized, and appear lightning-fast. When they do all three, shoppers won’t think twice about filling their carts with goodies and checking out.
If your product search engine fails to achieve those goals, shoppers are likely to bounce from your page without completing a purchase or abandon their carts altogether.
That means a lackluster or poor-performing product search engine will turn away potential customers, hinder conversions, and stunt your average order amount.
We can probably guess which camp you’d rather be in.
So let’s talk about how to optimize your product search engine for greatness.
Evaluating Product Search Engines: The Top 10 Must-Have Features and Functionalities to Consider
As you look for a product search engine that meets your eCommerce store’s needs, make sure you have these 10 key features before pulling the trigger:
1. The Ability to Recognize Typos
With many online shoppers browsing from their phones and tablets, it’s far too easy to accidentally hit the wrong keys and misspell what they’re looking for.
If your product search engine can’t handle typos, users may receive a “no results found” message. And that will only frustrate them and give them a reason to leave your site without buying anything.
That’s why your product search engine must understand someone’s intentions, even if they spell the keyword wrong. It should be smart enough to deliver relevant results just as quickly as if they spelled it right.
2. Synonyms and Similar Keywords
Your product search engine should also be able to pick up on similar keywords and synonyms.
For example, if someone searches for “black shirt,” products matching “black t-shirt,” “black top,” and “black blouse” should come up in the search results too. These are essentially the same product, despite the keywords being slightly different.
Your shopper will be directed to black shirts they expected and maybe get introduced to new ones they hadn’t considered.
But if your product search engine turned up a goose egg because “black shirt” didn’t reveal black t-shirts, tops, or blouses, your shopper may assume that you don’t sell what they specifically came to buy (even though you totally do).
3. The Ability to Filter Search Results
A filter feature allows shoppers to whittle down results from a product search to zero in on the items they really want.
Shoppers should be able to check one or multiple boxes that help describe what they’re looking for while hiding what they’re not interested in.
Going back to our black shirt example, shoppers should be able to filter out long versus short sleeve shirts or tanks. Checking certain filter boxes should give them a smaller, personally curated list of options to choose from.
With fewer choices to overwhelm them, customers not only have a better shopping experience, but feel more empowered to make a purchase decision.
Another helpful filter to include is customer reviews. Your shoppers should be able to sort products based on the highest and lowest reviews, so they can see which products are worth buying based on how well others received them.
To do this, your product search engine needs to have both filters and attributes as features. Then you can properly tag your products, and the filters can do their job when the time comes.
4. Showing Relevant Results
Relevant results match your shopper’s needs even if the items are not an identical keyword match.
So let’s say your shopper searched for black shirts.
A product search engine displaying synonyms for black shirts will include the tops, tanks, and blouses we mentioned earlier.
But one adding relevant results will take this a step further. It may also show black sweatshirts, black sweaters, or even black bodysuits.
These meet the same goal (a black upper body garment) and shine a light on different products or versions your customers may not know you carry.
Shoppers may be curious or intrigued by these results and wind up adding items to their cart they didn’t initially intend to buy. And finding something close on your search results page is much better than turning up nothing.
5. Auto-Suggested Searches (Also Called Guided Search or AutoComplete)
If you’ve ever started typing in a Google search bar only to have it fill out the rest of the query sentence for you, you’ve seen auto-suggested searches in action.
Most people take full advantage of auto-suggested searches -- and the same should be true for your product search engine.
This feature helps shoppers find what they’re looking for faster. It can also suggest items they may not have considered until seeing the suggestion.
Your shoppers should only have to type a few letters into your search bar before it starts auto-populating a list of options. Then, they’ll simply click the suggestion and beeline to the results page instead of getting bogged down with typing full keywords or product phrases.
Making it easier to get to your products shows shoppers you value their time, know what they need, and want to make their experience as smooth as possible. This effective sales strategy will boost sales and customer loyalty.
6. Merchandising and Complementary Product Offers
Merchandising is the practice of making products appear more attractive to shoppers. This allows store owners to bring awareness to and push products that may be bestsellers, trending, seasonal, or have the highest profit margins.
Though merchandising is easy to do in a brick-and-mortar store, your product search engine can do the heavy lifting for your eCommerce brand.
One utilizing this must-have feature will allow you to display relevant products as you see fit. So you can make sure your highest-rated products appear first and grab your shopper’s attention as they browse the rest of the results.
A hardworking product search engine should also promote complementary products. It may weave these into your search results or in sidebars using banner images.
This is a fantastic tool for promoting new items, those you’re trying to discount due to seasonal changes, or overstocked items you need to clear from your inventory.
Personalization isn’t just an excellent conversion tool for email marketing. You can also utilize this in your product search engine.
Here, personalization in your product searches works like retargeting ads. Your results page will contain relevant items your shoppers previously browsed but never purchased.
So you get to show them items they’re looking for and evoke that FOMO feeling by displaying what they’re missing out on.
However, unlike retargeting ads, you don’t have to wait for shoppers to leave your site. Instead, you can personalize searches immediately to capture the sale before they bounce without a purchase.
Personalization is also ideal for offering relevant and complementary products.
If your shoppers were only looking for a black shirt, but you show them the most popular skirts and pants to go with it, your shoppers may want the complete look and snatch them up too.
Personalization extends the time shoppers spend on your site, reducing your bounce rate while boosting engagement, conversions, and average order value. Who wouldn’t want all those perks?
8. Product Rankings
Along the lines of merchandising and personalization, a product search engine that lets you customize product rankings can do a world of good for your store.
Shoppers new to your brand or customers overwhelmed with options like a clear indication of where to start. And there’s no better way to assign a “ranking” to your products than using your customer reviews.
You can set this feature to display relevant products with the highest customer reviews first on your results page.
Shoppers will quickly and easily see which products other customers love and find most useful/valuable. This will make them more likely to trust those items and buy them.
9. Inventory Management
Inventory management is another important yet overlooked feature in product search engines. With this, you’ll get to show product results based on your inventory status.
After all, you don’t want to display a bunch of out-of-stock products on your results page. Do this, and your customers will be bummed they can’t have the products they want.
Besides feeling serious FOMO, they may not want to “settle” for whatever is available. So they’ll leave your store and search for the same items on your competitor’s site.
However, if you set this feature to only show what you have available, they’ll never know what they can’t have.
10. Analytics Reporting
Finally, your product search engine must provide real-time analytics. You’ll be able to use this data and intel to make informed decisions and fine-tune your searches.
This is the best way to optimize your searches for what people are actually looking for. It also helps you sell products that people want while ditching those they have no interest in buying.
Try to find an analytics report that tells you which product searches yielded “no results” too. This is like the kiss of death for shoppers intent on buying specific items from your store.
Seeing these “no results” searches may show you need to add more synonyms to bring up similar products or add new items to your store your customers want.
Either way, addressing this issue is in your store’s best interest.
3 Special Points to Consider Before You Decide On a Product Search Engine
In addition to the 10 must-have features we just discussed, you’ll also want to know how your product search engine stacks up when it comes to:
1. Tech Support
If you run into an issue, is there support available around the clock or only during weekday business hours?
You don’t want your search function to go down on a Friday, for example, and be out all weekend as you wait for a support team to get back to work on Monday. This setback will cost you in sales and customers.
2. How Much Is Automated Versus In Your Control
While you should be able to turn some features on autopilot, others will need to be managed and updated by your team often, such as your inventory and suggested product recommendations.
So even though it’s tempting to go with an all-automated service, it could hurt your search results and the overall experience you deliver to your customers.
To avoid that, find a product search engine that strikes the right balance between automation and the ability to customize according to your business needs.
3. Pricing Structure
Find out if you have to pay more to get the features listed in this guide or if they’re standard and part of the product package.
If you have to pay extra for every little must-have feature, it can quickly add up and become out of your budget.
Final Thoughts on Evaluating Product Search Engines for Your eCommerce Business
After reading this guide, you’re now equipped with a checklist of must-have features to gauge whether a product search engine is right for your eCommerce business.
From here, you could rank the features you deem most important for your store. Then, compare your options and consider details like tech support and price before deciding on the best tool to use.
By taking the time to optimize your product search engine, you’ll be much closer to achieving higher sales, boosting your average order value, and expanding your customer base while delivering an exceptional online shopping experience.