A Surge in Query Volume is Coming

Posted by , November 24th, 2015 at 9:09 am PST
Categories: eCommerce, Site Search | No Comments »
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black-friday-rushThis morning (when I was supposed to be sleeping, but wasn’t because of jet lag), Flipboard popped up an article about Google’s scale that mentioned Google serves 1.2 trillion searches per year. That’s a lot! In the last year, SLI served over 15 billion searches across our more than 1,000 customer sites, which is about an 80th of what Google reportedly served. Given these numbers, I’m sure that across the web the number of searches within websites is higher than the number of searches on Google, Bing and the other web search engines.

With Thanksgiving, Black Friday and Cyber Monday coming up, SLI expects to serve more searches in the next seven days than any other week of the year. Thanksgiving is very much an American holiday, but the retail events surrounding it have become an international phenomenon. Retailers around the world take advantage of the opportunity to boost their holiday programs. Last year we saw large query volumes from our Brazilian retailer customers. UK retailers are jumping on the trend with £1.9 billion forecast to be sold in Black Friday sales.

The SLI team has been working to ensure we have plenty of capacity to meet the peak query volumes across the more than 1,000 sites that we power. In measuring search activity during Thanksgiving weekend last year, we found the highest day during this surge in shopping resulted in about 2.7x the normal number of queries. But the real peak is when the sales first open, the emails are sent and people rush to get the best deals. During a recent pre-Black Friday sale we saw the per-minute query volumes hit 200x their normal level.

Especially at this time of year, it’s vital that retailers’ infrastructure is ready to handle these peaks. SLI customers can rest assured: we are ready and waiting.


Retailers: Get Ready to Sell Rain Gear (and More)

Posted by , November 19th, 2015 at 6:20 am PST
Categories: eCommerce, Merchandising | No Comments »

Outlook_map_Precip_2015_2F_2000In drought-drenched California, we are preparing for an extra holiday guest. But instead of washing sheets for the air mattress, we are fixing leaks and clearing gutters. El Niño, a climate event defined by warmer than usual Pacific Ocean temperatures that affects global weather patterns, is expected to bring heavy rains over the next few months to California as well as the entire southern tier of the U.S.

According to NOAA, this year’s El Niño is one of the strongest on record. Parts of California could see 40-50% more rain than average while Florida could get 70% more rain.

While some might wait and see, the wise will no longer ignore long-neglected winter chores.

What does this mean for retailers? Folks have a legitimate weather-induced excuse reason to shop. (You think I’m kidding, but I just bought myself three pairs of boots.) Here are some ways you can capture the attention of shoppers preparing for El Niño:

Treat El Niño like its own retail season. Look at your products with fresh eyes and think about what people might need to buy during an extra rainy season. Yes, people might want boots, hats, gloves, jackets, umbrellas and waterproof socks. But they might also need floor mats, windshield wipers, rain barrels, tarps, sand bags, heavy plastic sheets, generators and sump pumps. Parents will need activities for kids who are cooped up inside for days at a time. And let’s not forget the best in rain-proof beauty products, such as waterproof mascara and anti-frizz hair products.

If you sell anything your shoppers might want to weather the upcoming storms or make cabin fever more manageable, make sure they know what you’ve got. All the best practices of merchandising apply. Highlight special deals on El Niño-related items. Recommend products based on what shoppers are searching for. Curate landing pages to showcase your entire El Niño-related product selection.

Provide how-to guides. The Los Angeles Times offered readers 28 things to do to prepare for El Niño rains this season. The list includes must-do tasks for your home, garden and car. Many are DIY projects. For example, No. 18 on the list: Plant winter vegetables in raised beds or elevated rows. If you specialize in home improvement, garden or auto supplies, share your expert advice and provide shoppers with an El Niño checklist or direct them to already existing how-to guides so they are ready for the rain. They will appreciate that you are looking out for them.

Keep an eye on your popular search terms. The more it rains, the more people are going to realize they need certain things they hadn’t thought of. Make sure you are reviewing your most popular search terms. (If you are an SLI customer, make sure to look at your Poor Results report too.) Keeping in tune with what shoppers want will help you better merchandise the products you have. In addition, user-generated SEO will help your site be found as new, seasonal long-tail search terms gain in popularity.

Stay dry, friends. And for more merchandising tips, check out the SLI Knowledge Base.


How Catalogs Can Succeed in an Omnichannel World

Posted by , November 12th, 2015 at 9:11 am PST
Categories: eCommerce, Merchandising, Mobile, Site Search, Site Search Tips | No Comments »
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SLI Systems BlogRight after Halloween, the catalogs started arriving as usual for the time of year – Frontgate, Lego, Learning Express, Uncommon Goods, Crate & Barrel, Tinyprints and many, many more.

Each holiday shopping season, I find myself initially surprised at why retailers continue to send catalogs when more people are buying online instead. But then, as my kids start to flip through the catalogs to build their wish lists and I find myself earmarking pages over breakfast, I see why catalogs still work: Even though fewer people today will pick up the phone to make a catalog order, these colorful, glossy merchandising tools catch our attention in our homes, when we’re not intentionally thinking about shopping, and they drive us to the online or retail stores where we’ll make a purchase.

In this multi-channel (and increasingly omnichannel) world, there’s no reason for retailers to give up one form of merchandising that works, even if the actual purchase point for the customer changes. There are, however, many reasons to make sure that your different merchandising channels are working well together.

Here are a few tips for making sure that your catalogs are effective in driving shoppers toward a final purchase:

Know what actions you’re driving customers toward. Is your catalog a purchasing vehicle, an advertisement or both? Do you want people to have the option to place a phone order? If so, then the usual catalog best practices apply (a customer code on the back, a toll-free number on each page, clear color choices, item numbers, etc.). Or are you simply using your catalog to drive people to your online or brick-and-mortar store?

Each year I see more “catalogs” that promote products without providing a way to actually shop from the catalog. Learning Express doesn’t list item numbers or a toll-free number because they don’t offer shopping by phone; their catalog is simply a driver to their stores and web site.

Think about what will make shoppers buy from you versus a competitor. Special offers and promotions can make a big difference in whether your catalog encourages shoppers to go to your site or to a competitor’s site to complete a purchase, especially for products that are available through multiple vendors.

I have three learning-toy catalogs in a pile by my computer, each from a different retailer and each containing products that are available in at least one of the other catalogs. When I go to make my online purchases, I’m going to buy from the store that has advertised an offer I can’t refuse. If the offer is not compelling enough, I’ll just skip all three stores that sent me catalogs and buy the item from my favorite local-based online toy retailer.

Make sure shoppers can quickly find catalog items on your site. Once your catalog has done its job of making a shopper want an item that they carry, you’d better make sure that shopper can easily find the item in your online store. Don’t overlook the importance of having top-quality site search: if you don’t show the most relevant items first, whether the customer searches by item number, item name or a descriptive name, you’re not going to make the sale. Features like Rich Auto Complete™, faceted refinements and smart mobile navigation are now expected.

Remember that shoppers often go to their computers or tablets to finalize a purchase because of the speed and convenience of buying the item online rather than making a phone call. Other shoppers will use your catalog or web site to browse before walking into a store to try something on. But all shoppers need to easily find the products they’re looking for on their computers, phones and tablets. If you don’t make your products easy for them to find anytime and anywhere, then you’re not going to succeed in an omnichannel world.


Navigate Mobile Shoppers Toward Sales

Posted by , November 5th, 2015 at 6:00 am PST
Categories: eCommerce, Mobile/Tablets, Navigation | No Comments »
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NEW hands-coffee-smartphone-technologyMore than half of all time spent shopping online is done via smartphones and tablets, propelling mobile commerce to grow three times faster than overall e-commerce. In addition to site search, site navigation is one of the most important aspects of the mobile experience.

Here are some tips to help make sure your site navigation is ready for the mobile-and-tablet holiday rush.


Mobile Navigation

The limited space on smartphones and tablets magnifies the importance of intuitive navigation.

To best orient users and guide them through a mobile site (without cluttering the screen), use a simple design. Here are some main best practices:

  • Use drop-down menus with buttons or simple text so you can offer as many drill-down levels as needed while freeing up valuable real estate.
  • Use subpages to expand using familiar icons such as +, – and >. This allows shoppers to easily navigate through categories to exactly the products they are looking for.
  • Give category pages a look and feel similar to search results pages. This gives users a consistent experience across search and navigation.
  • Include a thumbnail image, product title, brief description, price and additional information such as ratings and discounts.

Include Refinements

Just as on your desktop site, refinements make navigation easier for mobile visitors. Since mobile devices have a lot less space for navigation, using a drop-down menu can be a good design choice. Presenting refinements this way saves screen space by hiding them when they are not in use. This helps reduce visual clutter on the mobile site and allows visitors to view more products and content without needing to scroll down.

Offer Infinite Scrolling

You may find that shoppers spend more time on your mobile site if you provide infinite scrolling.

Instead of requiring shoppers to click to the next page, infinite scrolling automatically loads more search results as the user nears the bottom of the page.

Make Links and Buttons Touch-friendly

When designing for touch-enabled devices, keep in mind the size of the human finger and thumb. The touch target for an index finger is 57 pixels and for a thumb it is 72 pixels. Making touch targets smaller than that can lead to user frustration and incorrect clicks. Moreover, don’t require users to pinch and zoom in order to navigate pages as these actions also lead to a negative user experience.

Direct Mobile Users to Mobile Pages

If you have a separate mobile site with a different URL, make sure to automatically send your mobile users to the correct site. You also need to direct search engines to this alternate site in order for your mobile pages to rank well in mobile search results. If you’re using responsive design, this shouldn’t be an issue.

Don’t Assume Desktop Features Will Work on Mobile Devices

A common mistake in mobile development is attempting to port desktop features directly to a mobile device. With a touch-enabled device, the user is not navigating the page with a mouse cursor so functions like hover don’t translate into a positive customer experience. At best, the user will attempt to click the item multiple times to activate the link; at worst, the user will be unable to click through at all and may abandon the site in frustration. Instead, optimize your development for the unique features and uses of each device type. Smartphone users and tablet users may use your site differently so consider both types of users.

For more tips on how to improve your site navigation, download our Big Book of Navigation Tips.



Top Costumes for Halloween 2015: Ready to Feel The Force?

Posted by , October 29th, 2015 at 8:32 am PST
Categories: eCommerce, Press, Site Search, Uncategorized | No Comments »

Don’t be surprised if you have Princess Leia, Darth Vader or Yoda knocking at your door this Saturday, looking for treats. Star Wars mania is in full swing and is dominating the 2015 Halloween costume craze, as Hollywood blockbusters are again leading the costume trend this year.

SLI Systems Halloween DataData from SLI Systems found Star Wars is an unmatched force with nearly 37% greater interest than Minions – the next closest film. In fact, this Halloween season, consumers conducted twice as many costume searches for Star Wars characters than Frozen characters, which were the most-searched costumes in 2014. Anticipation of Star Wars: The Force Awakens is clearly attracting new generations, adding to decades of loyal fan numbers.

The top 5 most-searched movie-themed costumes of 2015 were:

  1. Star Wars (combines searches for Leia, Darth Vader and other characters)
  2. Minions (includes searches for Despicable Me)
  3. Frozen (includes searches for Elsa, Olaf and other characters)
  4. Marvel Universe (includes Hulk, Thor, Ironman, Spiderman and other characters)
  5. Maleficent


As noted in a recent Multichannel Merchant article, SLI studied site search activity across e-commerce costume retailer websites based in the U.S., Canada and Australia, analysing a total of more than 10 million consumer searches taking place between Sept 1 and Oct 20, 2015.

The SLI data team compared the most popular site search terms across costume retailer websites using our Learning Search® service and found interest in current events as well. For instance, searches for ‘Trump’ increased significantly, with 33x more searches than the same timeframe in 2014. The data also revealed, the search term “Trump” was 38% more popular than “Ironman”!

Here are some of the additional findings from SLI’s 2015 Halloween Costume Site Search study:

  • The top three most popular non-movie searches in order were: witch, pirate and zombie
  • Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle-related searches remain popular but missed the Top Five movie-themed list, coming in 6thplace
  • Supergirl (and Superwoman) was 3.5x more popular than Trump and nearly 5x more popular than Ironman, the least popular Marvel super hero this season
  • Spiderman was the most popular Marvel super hero
  • Maleficent saw 3x the searches compared with (Princess) Leia

So if you haven’t already bought your Halloween costume for Saturday, there is still time. You can either buck the trend or join the legion of fans who will pay homage to the Star Wars franchise.

May the force be with you!


Aim for Holiday Merchandising Perfection

Posted by , October 23rd, 2015 at 6:00 am PST
Categories: eCommerce, Merchandising, Mobile, Uncategorized, Webinar | No Comments »
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There’s a great deal of science behind online retail, especially this time of year. Holiday shopping projections and results are measured by every retail organization and publication from August through February. Smart retailers analyze these numbers to create merchandising strategies that maximize their conversions.

webinar brontoAt SLI Connect last month, Jim Davidson, Head of Research at Bronto Software, shared his latest findings on what retailers believe shoppers want versus what consumers actually expect for the 2015 holiday season. Following are a few interesting points from his presentation, “Creating Holiday Perfection Online,” which he will share in an SLI webinar next week.

Highest Converting Holiday Promotions
Bronto surveyed retailers and shoppers to learn which holiday promotion messages work best for online buyers versus in-store buyers. One of the discoveries was that 38% of shoppers will not buy if free shipping isn’t offered.

Mobile Shoppers: Browsing or Buying?
We know there’s an increasing trend toward using smartphones or tablets to shop online. However, because some retailers are slow to make their sites mobile-friendly, many mobile shoppers still turn to their desktops or go to a store to make the purchase. Bronto found that 22% of shoppers plan to actually make a purchase on their smartphone this holiday.

Even with holiday merchandising in full swing, there are plenty of digital promotions yet to be executed and much fine tuning to be done in the next two months of 2015. Listening to the retail analysts, along with optimizing your site search and mobile search, can help you achieve perfection.

Learn more by registering for the webinar “Creating Holiday Perfection Online” on Tuesday, October 27, at 11:00 a.m. PDT.


Consider the Power of User-generated Content

Posted by , October 14th, 2015 at 9:30 am PST
Categories: eCommerce, Ratings and Reviews, SEO | No Comments »
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User-generated content in the form of ratings and reviews can deliver powerful SEO benefits to your e-commerce site. Many e-commerce platforms, including Magento, now have built-in ratings and reviews. Other platforms offer extensions in their marketplaces to support user-generated content. Regarding the importance of user-generated content, Search Engine Journal offers the article, Why Should UGC be a Part of Your SEO Strategy?

  1. Unique content for product detail pages: The language used by reviewers is different than the language used in product descriptions. When you include this unique “review language” in product detail pages, you create unique content. Your pages can no longer be considered duplicate to any other page on the internet.


  1. Rankings boost from unique terms used in reviews: Internet search engines understand the language used by reviewers is not the same as the language provided by manufacturers. Search engines use review language to reinforce the topic of the product detail page. As a result, pages might rank better for phrases they already ranked for and they might rank additionally for phrases introduced via reviews.


  1. Social proof: Favorable reviews and ratings act as social proof. Studies show that products are purchased more often when there is proof that other consumers liked those products as well.


Keep in mind that ratings and reviews only help your page rankings if they are part of the pages themselves. For maximum impact they must be visible as part of initial page loads, without use of iframes and without hiding the information behind tabbed or accordion-type controls.

We recommend showing rating and review information only after several reviews have been collected. Otherwise a low review count might negatively impact the perception of desirability for the products on your site.

Ratings & Reviews Partners of SLI include Feefo, Reevoo, Bazaarvoice, Power Reviews and TurnTo.

For more tips on improving your SEO, download our white paper “How to Get the SEO-Driven Revenue You’re Missing.”


The Next Innovation in E-commerce: Enhanced Rich Auto Complete

Posted by , October 5th, 2015 at 5:00 am PST
Categories: eCommerce, Rich Auto Complete, Site Search | No Comments »
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racThe world of e-commerce is constantly evolving. When site search was first introduced, the functionality was clumsy at best and completely frustrating at worst. Shoppers typed their entire search query before seeing if the site had what they were looking for. This involved a lot of guesswork and often led to no results or irrelevant results – even when the site had the product shoppers wanted.

In 2008, SLI Systems launched Auto Complete. As soon as users started typing their search query, a search box dropdown instantly displayed search suggestions. In 2011, we were the first site search provider to add images and product suggestions to this experience, which gave birth to SLI Rich Auto CompleteTM and allowed shoppers to find relevant products faster. Each improvement to our Auto Complete experience has increased conversions and customer engagement.

The E-commerce Evolution Continues

Today, we are excited to announce industry-leading enhancements to Rich Auto CompleteTM. Our new Rich Auto Complete experience has been designed from the ground up to speed the path to purchase and engage shoppers on any size device.

After considering a number of usability factors, best practices and client requests, we redesigned the entire experience to increase e-commerce sales, enhance product discovery and reduce the risk of returning “no results.”

RAC Blog ShotGreat for Shoppers

Our latest version of Rich Auto Complete provides better guidance to shoppers as soon as they engage with the search box. We added the ability to show search suggestions based on category, brand or department, which lets shoppers jump to the right section of results. For example, a search for jeans at a large department store might show options for jeans in Women, jeans in Men and jeans in Kids.

Our new dynamic content feature allows users to preview products of interest right within the Auto Complete box. We do this by updating products displayed when users hover over search suggestions, which gives them more choices and increases engagement.

In addition, the new Rich Auto Complete helps you capture more sales from your small-screen shoppers. We’ve created dedicated mobile and tablet designs that automatically display options correctly regardless of device size and orientation. As a result, shoppers can type less and buy more.

mobile_racPowerful for Retailers

Rich Auto Complete uses patented SLI Learning Search® technology to continuously re-rank product suggestions based on user activity. This allows you to showcase the most relevant products to your shoppers, and you can tune the results to control the order in which products appear.

SLI Systems has always customized the look and feel of our solutions to match your e-commerce site. Our new Rich Auto Complete now includes a variety of design options so that you can choose an experience that fits your brand and delights your shoppers.

Our SaaS platform allows your site to evolve alongside our e-commerce solutions. Existing Rich Auto Complete customers will enjoy these new features at no additional cost. New customers can look forward to combining the power of Learning Search® with industry-leading Rich Auto Complete to create a premium search experience

Learn more about accelerating your e-commerce by reading our Rich Auto Complete product brief.


Navigation: The Art of Good Usability

Posted by , October 1st, 2015 at 9:38 am PST
Categories: eCommerce, Navigation, User Experience | No Comments »
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NavTips_Email_Body_400x200Well-designed site navigation leads shoppers straight to the items they want, much like a well-designed satellite navigation system directs drivers to their destinations.

Great site navigation helps visitors avoid wrong turns and dead ends, but poorly designed navigation has the opposite effect: Shoppers lose their way and their patience, causing them to abandon the path to purchase before the journey even begins.

As an e-commerce retailer, you don’t want your visitors to fall into even a second of frustration, or they could be lost. A staggering 88% of online consumers are less likely to return to a site after a bad experience (Econsultancy).

One challenge of creating intuitive site navigation is accounting for different shoppers’ preferences. Some visitors are familiar with your site and others are new. Some will start at your home page, while others enter your site through a product page or landing page. Certain users always start at the search box, while others strictly navigate or use a mix of search and navigation. No matter the path, all visitors want you to bring them to the exact products or information they are looking for as quickly as possible.

The design of great site navigation is both an art and a science. After more than 14 years of helping the world’s leading e-commerce retailers turn shoppers into buyers, experts at SLI Systems have gathered an array of best practices to speed the path to purchase for shoppers in every industry, which we share in our “Big Book” series.

Our newest release of “The Big Book of Navigation Tips” includes more than 50 site navigation tips to help you lead your shoppers straight to their desired destinations.

Topics include best practices for:

  • Overall site design
  • Integration with ratings and reviews
  • Refinement display
  • SEO
  • Merchandising
  • Smartphones and tablets

Download your copy today and stay tuned to this blog for more articles about site navigation in e-commerce.


Announcing Next-generation Learning Navigation

Posted by , September 24th, 2015 at 5:10 am PST
Categories: eCommerce, Merchandising, Navigation, SEO, User Experience | No Comments »
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learning_navIn the drive to turn your visitors into buyers, navigation is a critical part of the shopping journey. More than 70% of site visitors navigate their way to the products they have in mind. But if your navigation is clumsy or confusing, those shoppers are more likely to bounce than buy.

Site Navigation as a Tool for Merchandisers, Content Marketers and SEO Pros

Originally we launched SLI Learning Navigation® in 2006 to provide a consistent experience across a site that also uses SLI Learning Search®. Learning Navigation® has always leveraged our patented learning technology to continually re-rank products based on user activity. Over the years, our navigation solution evolved based on customer feedback.

Today we are excited to introduce the next generation of SLI Learning Navigation – completely rebuilt for improved SEO and better merchandising. The newest version of Learning Navigation is designed to give you more control over your SEO while creating a better user experience based on industry best practices.

Our revamped navigation solution dynamically generates clean, search engine-friendly URLs, making it easier for shoppers to find your products during an organic search. Our new interface allows you to quickly edit URLs, titles, headings, meta tags and page descriptions, giving merchandisers and content marketers more direct control over factors that affect their SEO.

Learning Navigation also helps you avoid SEO issues with duplicate content by controlling which pages search engines index. The navigation pages provide refinement and filtering options for the whole product catalog.

Learning NavigationBring Your E-commerce to the Next Level

Adapting to the evolving e-commerce experience and expectations of our customers is at the core of SLI – to continuously enhance our offering, accelerate your sales and provide these improvements seamlessly via our SaaS platform. We are excited to help you bring your e-commerce to the next level with this newest version of Learning Navigation.

For new customers, we recommend signing up for Learning Search together with Learning Navigation to gain the maximum benefits of SLI learning technology. For existing SLI Learning Navigation customers, our SaaS platform allows us to easily upgrade your Navigation for no cost at your discretion.

To learn more about Learning Navigation, click here.