10 Jul Episode 1: Your On-site Search Sucks | B2B eCommerce Secrets Podcast
The first episode of the B2B eCommerce Secrets Podcast! We tackle the number one issue for customers of distributors and manufacturers – SEARCH!!
In this podcast, Justin King jumps right into the topic of “Your Search Box Sucks,” along with how Amazon does it so right and why most distributors’ search box doesn’t perform optimally. Implementing some basic improvements will help you mirror their success, and will pay dividends for your customer experience – and your business. On-site search is a program, not a one-time project. It’s an ongoing effort to optimize for:
- good search results
- inventory available
- past order history
For most companies having a search box that sucks will drive customers away and those customers, once gone, are not likely to return. Changing your thought process and best practices to being dialed in on making the customer’s search experience a painless, accurate, and efficient event will keep your customer attrition rates low and your returning customer rates high.
It’s about 6:30 A.M. on a Monday morning and we’re about to launch a podcast, I’m pretty excited about it. A couple of weeks ago, I was talking my VP of Marketing Sarah Falcon. She brought this idea up and she said, “Listen there’s nothing out there for B2B eCommerce. There’s a lot out there for retail and a lot out there for eCommerce but there’s nothing out there for distributors and manufacturers. We owe it to our audience to do it” and I happen to agree with her and said let’s go. Like most things we do, we just kind of do things, and test things out, and see what works and it’s really one of our best qualities, and this is no exception.
We have a tremendous amount of content to share tremendous amount of ideas. Tremendous amount of people to introduce you to distributors and manufacturers. People that are doing this well and I am really excited about this podcast. This is Episode One, I hope you enjoy it!
I want to start with an incredibly important topic. I want to kick this podcast off with the most important topic that I think we can talk about. It is the thing that frustrates your customers more than anything else. It’s your search box and so often the search box is the last thing that we do as part of our eCommerce project. That makes no sense to me. I think we have to address content and search first in our projects, not last. So, let me say it to be really really clear: your on-site search box sucks. Fix it, and it will dramatically improve your customer experience.
If you have a couple hundred SKUs, or a couple of thousand SKUs, or maybe even tens or hundreds of thousands, or even millions of SKUs, how do you expect the customer to find their product from your home page? They’re not going to use navigation, right? Let’s just be honest. Their customers do not click category, subcategories, subcategory, 35 clicks to find what they’re looking for. No way, they expect to use search and expect good search results. B2B is no different.
From Amazon to Grainger, the search box is the most used feature and you know from your own experience how frustrating it is when you use a search box and you get bad results, right? Most people have had a bad search experience at work or home, meaning you’ve gotten that zero results found page that’s so annoying. I mean I found the product yesterday, I bought the product yesterday, and today it is zero results page. That makes no sense, right? A few minutes or even seconds of a bad search experience people are gone. They leave. But let’s talk a little bit about how search has evolved and how it started. So, let’s start talking about B2C because that’s really where search started.
I was actually part of the company that invented this whole thing of search and navigation. I was part of Endeca who was then bought by Oracle, and when my contract ended at Oracle, I quit my Oracle job, and came here and started this thing. At Endeca, what we invented was guided navigation search and navigation meaning I click on I’m looking for shoes so I click on size 13, I’m 6’3’’ I want size 13 blue Nike shoes and you’re clicking through navigation and it’s narrowing a very large catalog from a lot of items to just a few items that now are relevant to me.
That’s what search and navigation was. I mean, check out the Wayback Machine, it’s at archive.org. You can look at Amazon’s site from 2001, the search box is big enough for two words in the top left hand side. I bet you won’t find it. At the beginning, the search box was only big enough in 2001 for a maximum of two words. Why? I mean because Amazon didn’t trust their search box. You didn’t trust the search box. Search has come a long way. I mean today if you look at Amazon’s search boxes across the screen it’s massive, it’s huge. They want you to type into their search box.
The search today is trusted, and we when we use it we get fantastic relevant results on Amazon, right? We find exactly what we’re looking for. Did you know the Amazon also gets something else out of their search experience? Not just that they provide a better customer experience or understand conversion. They get lots of data. I mean tons of data. They actually get to understand how people search and the terms that they use to find what they’re searching for. That data is incredibly valuable. Amazon learns what converts and what doesn’t convert. Then they funnel all of that learning back into the search experience, back into the customer experience to make it better.
Search is important. When a B2B user visits your website, you have no idea what problem they’re trying to solve. You have no idea what they’re looking for. Are they looking for a product or are they looking for a “how to”? Even if you knew the product problem that they were trying to solve, you wouldn’t know how they were going to solve that problem. Meaning, what information do they have in front of them? Do they have a product number, a brand name, a competitor a part number, or a generic attribute? You just don’t know what they have in front of them.
Search allows B2B users to find what they’re looking for in the way that they want to find it. On-site search is now a standard among websites – standard on B2B & B2C. But it is not always a very good experience, right? I mean, is it a good experience on your website? For most of you, it’s not. I can tell you I’ve looked at many, probably hundreds of distributors sites, and manufacturers sites. Most of your search experiences are just bad? In B2B, site search is even more important because we have complex products. I mean complex with tons of attributes, lots of variants, lots of images. There may be hundreds of thousands of products or even millions of products. I’ve got a customer with eight and a half million products on their website and most B2B users. They want their search to find what they’re looking for. But there are some other things that they’re looking for as well.
Search should be done in context – meaning it should be personalized to who the user is like, what industry they’re part of, what company they a part of, what role and it should be in the context of their contract. Meaning, if you have a contract with a customer that they’re only allowed to buy these products then you shouldn’t be able to search and find those products. I mean, it makes sense, but at the same time, most distributors don’t do it that way. It should be in context of the inventory you have. You don’t want to show a customer products that are not in stock when you have other products that are in stock. It should be in context of the inventory availability that you have.
You should include the manufacturer part number, competitor cross-reference part number, matching partner number. Listen, customers don’t know that partner numbers have dashes in them, or their partner number does have a dash in it and that number is in your database without the dash. You need to be able to strip out all the special characters and do matching – what’s called part number matching in search.
You have to have automated spellcheck. Your customers are probably bad spellers or they just have fat fingers, or they just mistyped something. You have to have an automated spell checker. Good spell checking. You should also have it in context of your past orders. You should be able to search and filter based not just on what the catalog shows, but actually what I purchased in the past. I should be to narrow your catalog down by all the items I’ve ordered in the past to create my own mini catalog of just the items I’ve ordered. I mean, wouldn’t that be incredibly beneficial to your customers?
Listen, am I being clear? Search matters. Search is so important we’re going to talk a lot about search on this podcast whether you like it or not. The best of the B2B distributors the best of the B2B manufacturers have concentrated and built search into their projects and are addressing it in the front. I will talk about a little bit about how we should address it. So, first of all, good search is based on good product data. Look, you can make bad product data better with good search – no doubt about it. But the best companies have both good search and good product data make product data make product content a priority within your organization. It’s progress over perfection.
Make your product content better every week, every month, every quarter. Just like I’m about to talk to how search is a program product content is a program. Meaning there’s no start and stop date. You have to make it better all the time. You have to get better. There is no such thing as perfect data or even good data. There’s only such thing as data that’s getting better and better. Search is the same thing optimizing your search box is not a project it’s a program that improves month over month, quarter after quarter, year over year. And it’s and it’s going to be ongoing. It’s going to be the ongoing work that’s a critical part. Someone’s got to be looking at the logs. Someone has got to be looking at the terms and their search results for those terms and matching and against your best sellers is the products that are turning for this search term actually relevant.
Or is it the best-selling products a lot of times. Customers will have distributors who will have their best-selling products but they’re only showing on page 2 or 3. It’s kind of like Google. You have to optimize your content, your pages, your search results, the ordering of your search results to be relevant to what should sell to that customer. And that takes analytics, deep analytics not your standard page view. Google analytics needs to be personalized. I mean this stuff isn’t hard to put in place and it’s not expensive to put in place, but you have to put in advance search analytics to be able to give you good information.
I hope I’m being clear. On-site search matters. On-site search is so important to B2B. Listen, I believe that if you fix search on your website, you will fix most of your problems. I think that if you just concentrated all of your efforts on the search experience, you would solve most of your problems. I’m serious about that. I think a search is that important.
While we’ve interviewed over 4000 end user customers of distributors and manufacturers and they all tell us: “listen, the biggest pain point is search never works out. We bought the product yesterday and today we can’t find it on the website.” It’s so frustrating for customers. Fix search and you will fix the majority of your issues within your site.
Hey, so Episode 1 is done. In the books. I hope it is valuable for you. I hope you hear my passion for B2B commerce for distribution and manufacturing. I do love any feedback you have comments on any topics we have covered. Thank you.