Archive for February, 2007

Which box is the search?

Tuesday, February 27th, 2007

Do you ever find that you are typing in the wrong box when you’re trying to use the site search? Many sites are so eager for people to subscribe to their newsletter or RSS feed that the text box asking for their email address is more prominent than their site search.

People that are search focused will visually scan the page looking for the site search box. This is often easier to do than scanning the text and trying to navigate the site. I’ll often find that I’ll pick the wrong box and start typing my search term where an email address is expected.

This is more an inconvenience than anything. I haven’t seen any data on whether or not this has an impact on conversion rates. Tamar Weinberg recently blogged about this with some excellent examples. If you have a subscribe box on your site it would be fairly easy to estimate how much of a problem this is by examining how many incorrectly formed email address are passed through the subscribe form.

My general advice on this is:

  • Your search box should be near the top of your page and above any other text boxes.

  • If you’re going to have non search text boxes on your site then add plenty of cues as to the purpose of the box.

A nice example of the latter is on our customer’s site, Blair. The subscribe text box has three cues.

  1. An image of an envelope above the box

  2. The text “Enter E-mail Address” in the text box (which is cleared once the focus goes on the box)
  3. An example email below the box.

All of these reduce the chance that you would mistake that for a search box.

Another tactic I often see is placing text inside the search box, inviting you to search. You can see an example of this on the Cell Phone Shop:
I’m in two minds about whether or not this is a good thing to do. When you do this you’ll almost always see the text in that box appear in the list of popular search terms. But it is really no different than people doing empty searches (in either case you should make sure the page shows something sensible). I’d be interested in your thoughts as to whether this is a good idea or not.

2007 Oscar predictions

Friday, February 23rd, 2007

Last year we tried to predict the Oscar winners by looking at who was searching for the nominees on our customers’ sites. We only got one out of four right which is about what you’d expect with random guesses. Even though it didn’t work very well, that hasn’t stopped us from trying again. Here are our picks for this year:

  • Best Picture – “The Departed”
  • Best Director – Martin Scorsese, “The Departed”
  • Best Actor – Peter O’Toole, “Venus”
  • Best Actress – Helen Mirren, “The Queen”

    On Sunday we’ll find out how well we did this year.

  • A new interface for browsing on-line stores

    Friday, February 23rd, 2007

    I came across today. This uses a Google maps type of interface to browse through a reasonable size shoe collection. You can see all the shoes on one page then zoom into a category to see the shoes up close. I expanded the window to cover both my screens and it’s quite cool.

    Even though the interface is like Google maps, it’s still fairly non-standard which I think will mean it’s not something that would get widely used. Still – it’s great to see innovation like this.

    The Long Tail: Chris Anderson at eTail

    Friday, February 23rd, 2007

    At eTail last week Chris Anderson spoke on the long tail. Chris is the editor in chief of Wired magazine and author of the book The Long Tail. He described how the most popular things are way more popular than the less popular ones and when you chart them you get the power law graph that has the long tail that Chris has made famous. I’ve talked about how site search has a long tail in the past and enjoyed seeing Chris in person.

    Traditional retailers focus on the products at the head of this graph – the popular products. Shelf space is relatively expensive and the products on the shelf have to sell at a certain rate in order to justify being there. This forces traditional retailers to carry only a limited choice.

    Internet retailers are not constrained by this. Because their shelf space is almost free they can carry a much larger inventory. All these products in the long tail are not big sellers by themselves but when you add them all up you can have more sales than you do for the popular products. The really interesting thing from a retailers point of view is that products in the tail have higher margins and higher satisfaction. There is higher satisfaction because people are more likely to find things that match their unique tastes in the long tail and they’re willing to pay for it. This seems to be a win for everyone – by selling products in the long tail you make your customers happier and you make more money.

    One of the challenges for internet retailers is trying to work out how to drive people into the long tail. Retailers like Amazon and Netflix are doing this through recommendation engines, (people who bought this book also bought this book). This got me thinking about how SLI, as a site search vendor can help our retail customers encourage their visitors into the long tail. Obviously site search is a window into the long tail. One of the features of our search is our Related Searches. I suspect these do exactly this.

    For example if you search on Deep Discount for The Departed one of the related searches is the director Martin Scorsese. If you click on that link then we suggest Mean Streets. So within two clicks you’ve gone from a current blockbuster to a relatively obscure 1973 movie.

    We probably need to do some more research but it looks to me like our Related Searches do a nice job of exposing the long tail.

    Why ebay does stupid ads

    Monday, February 19th, 2007

    Have you ever seen bizarre ads from eBay? Often when you’re searching you’ll see an eBay ad and you wonder why eBay would want to buy the keyword you just typed. Often they can be hilarious. Here is a great collection of funny eBay ads.

    At eTail last week we found out why eBay does this. Vice President of Internet Marketing, Matt Ackley described eBay’s automatic system for purchasing and managing keywords. Essentially they watch what people search for on eBay and purchase those keywords on Google, Yahoo, MSN etc.

    It would be an understatement to say the system has some complicated bits. Matt described how they have a team of about 100 people working on this. Most of them are engineers – many with backgrounds in statistics. They’re responsible for creating and managing these campaigns to ensure they yield a positive return on investment and for controlling the spend so they remain within budget.

    Matt said the system works very well. They buy a very large number of keywords and because it’s automatic some of the keywords are not intuitive and some of them don’t perform. The system finds obviously relevant words – like “joe dimaggio cards” but in the millions of keywords there are also some strange ones, like “bodily fluids” and many more.

    I’m not sure how relevant this was to the assembled retailers – a lot of the people I spoke to struggled to find one person to manage their paid search campaigns – so something this complex would not be appropriate. However it did emphasize the value of using your internal search logs for keyword research in your search marketing. eBay are doing this automatically and on a massive scale.

    I found this idea fascinating because our Ad Champion service provides a similar service – it uses the activity on your site search to automatically create paid ad campaigns. It was great to see that the bright minds at eBay are thinking along the same lines.

    What I learned at eTail 2007

    Saturday, February 17th, 2007

    I’ve just returned from eTail 2007. I was a moderator at Search Day and really enjoyed the experience. David Patterson from Edwin Watts helped me out and was full of enthusiasm and energy for internet retailing – as he always is.

    At the end of Search Day each moderator had the opportunity to tell the audience what they had learned. We had been discussing site search and had seen that there are still many retailers that have very basic home grown solutions. In all of these cases they knew that they needed something better. We also heard from a number of larger retailers who where utilizing Endeca and weren’t happy with it. However they had invested significant time and money integrating it with their site – so the pain of changing to something better was significant. We discussed how SLI’s managed site search service Learning Search was able to be implemented in weeks not months and moved much of the ongoing pain away from their internal staff.

    We also enjoyed listening to the retailers discuss their experiences about what worked and didn’t work. They were happy to share, with non-competing retailers, the lessons they had learned. These interactions are often key to the future success of the companies they were talking about. For us this emphasized the value of ensuring our existing customers are happy. While you can’t please all the people all the time, I think we do a fantastic job and it is paying dividends.

    I’d like to publicly thank David Patterson for his time and effort here, and the whole team at SLI for working so hard to keep our customers happy.

    Etail 2007

    Tuesday, February 13th, 2007

    This week we’re going to the eTail show in Palm Desert. I’m attending Search Day with one of our customers, David Patterson from Edwin Watts golf. I’m looking forward to spending a day with a group of leading retailers and talking about search.

    On the Wednesday and Thursday we are exhibiting, please come and visit us at booth #49.