Archive for the ‘Web Search’ Category

Why You Don’t Need to Brush Your Hair When You Buy Cosmetics

Monday, July 21st, 2014

Are you addicted to cosmetics? Hoarding makeup is not uncommon. If you own multiples of eye shadows, lipsticks, blushes and brushes (as I do…), then you’re not alone. Indeed, it’s globally pandemic: according to research by Feel Unique, there are millions of women on the planet who hoard cosmetics. The same research also found women spend more than US$170,000 on makeup in their lifetime — and would rather ditch their man than go without cosmetics. Really! (Can’t say I share that sentiment!)

Pore-refining, firming, lifting, tightening, toning, brightening, whitening, collagen, retinol, vitamin A, vitamin C, aloe vera, lactic acid, glycolic acid, grapefruit seed extract… sound familiar? Of course, all of these processes and ingredients promise women the one thing we’re so desperate to hold on to … eternal youth.

Traditionally, women have bought beauty products offline, visiting their aesthetician at a department store cosmetics counter, pharmacy or specialised cosmetics boutique. Some still do, to get the informed opinion of someone they possibly know and certainly trust.

But that’s changed. Nowadays, consumers can access this information from the comfort of their own home (where, they’re probably wearing a snail slime mask — yes it really exists, I’ve tried it). They can even browse for cosmetics on the go via their tablet or mobile device.

With online beauty e-tailers such as Sephorae.l.f. CosmeticsAdore Beauty and Strawberrynet, women can feed their insatiable beauty-beast desire in a matter of minutes. Online beauty retailers are not only price competitive and stock the latest and most coveted beauty products — they also provide a wealth of information in the form of blogs and forums. So instead of talking to one person, who no doubt has some degree of vested interest in the sale (which may, or may not change their view of a product’s suitability), women can get the honest feedback from as many people as reviews they want to read. And often it’s those comments that shape purchasing decisions.

Buying online is also fast.

Beauty e-tailer e.l.f. Cosmetics (which stands for “eyes lips face”), has an intuitive search solution that instantly connects users with the products they’re looking for; in fact, the search “learns” from past site search behaviour by tracking visitors’ aggregate search queries and clickthroughs. What does this mean? That digital shoppers are being presented with the most popular and relevant search results. (So no plugging in “eye shadow” to annoyingly receive results for “mascara”.)

Beauty e-tailer, e.l.f. Cosmetics, “learns” from every visitor’s search. The result is a search function that helps users find exactly what they’re looking for in a matter of seconds.

Beauty e-tailer, e.l.f. Cosmetics, “learns” from every visitor’s search. The result is a search function that helps users find exactly what they’re looking for in a matter of seconds.










Don’t know exactly what you’re looking for? No need for a breakout. In addition to the user product reviews and popular and relevant searches, online beauty retailers make the shopping process even more stress-free by offering best-sellers, how-to’s, celebrity-inspired looks and video makeup tutorials… as well as a list of all the products required to achieve those looks. Did a new blush colour catch your eye in a magazine, but you can’t recall the product’s name? Not a problem. Sticking with our savvy beauty e-tailer e.l.f. Cosmetics (and yes, I do own quite a few of their products!) allows you to search for the product type, e.g. “blush,” to reveal “as seen in,” which displays cosmetics and skincare that has received press mentions.

Reviews written by people who’ve previously bought the product help visitors decide what to buy.

Reviews written by people who’ve previously bought the product help visitors decide what to buy.









I also like e.l.f. Cosmetics’ intuitive product-recommendations engine; this optimises suggested products based on recommendation logic and data learned from past customer behaviour. For example, when a visitor lands on a product details page for a lipstick, they’ll be presented with other products typically bought with that lipstick, such as a lip exfoliator.

Australia’s Adore Beauty uses video demonstrations to help guide shoppers’ decisions.

Australia’s Adore Beauty uses video demonstrations to help guide shoppers’ decisions.








Australian-based cosmetics e-tailer Adore Beauty allows visitors to navigate its site by skin type, catering for dry, oily, problem or blemish-prone skin. Shoppers can also search for products by ratings and reviews; this will be important if they only want to consider top-rated products to buy.

Onsite videos demonstrating how to use products also help to humanise the whole digital experience. While it’s not the same as asking the assistant at the counter for tricks in using shaded tones to make your eyes appear larger, you can sit, to your heart’s content, and learn how to apply products you may never have seen before, or products you felt too silly to ask about. You get the benefit of experts, and no one will know — until, of course, they see how well you can shade your eyelids!

So to fellow beauty addicts who haven’t yet tried the online shopping experience, give it a go: chances are, you’ll find exactly what you’re looking for!

Do Americans Like Soccer? World Cup E-Commerce Data Is Revealing

Friday, July 11th, 2014

Americans have a love-hate relationship with soccer. Just look at the headlines this week:

  • 🙂 “The Debate is Over, Americans Love Soccer” (article3),
  • 🙁 “America’s Favorite National Pastime: Hating Soccer” (Ann Coulter),
  • 🙂 “World Cup Gives Soccer Momentum” (SFGate),
  • 🙁 “Future of Soccer: Bright for Our Team, Not the Sport” (CBS),

Because SLI works with 800+ e-commerce vendors globally and can study consumer search behavior online, we are in the unique position to put this debate to rest and learn how the World Cup really affected interest in soccer. Forget opinions and gut feeling, the data don’t lie.

So what did we find? Well, the 2014 World Cup kicked up more than just a sea of Tim Howard fans in the U.S. Increasingly more consumers appear to be interested in soccer and soccer gear. SLI studied consumer search behavior between March 2 and July 9, 2014 and found that for the month of June, soccer-related searches increased by 280% compared to May.


The study was conducted across eight leading international sporting goods and apparel retailers with combined monthly revenue of approximately $500M and analyzed more than 341 million consumer searches to track interest in soccer-related products. The interests of U.S.-based consumers were clear: there were more than 2.2 million soccer related product searches from just these eight e-commerce sites alone.

And that’s not all. Soccer is played year-round in the U.S., but recreational soccer gear tends to be purchased before the fall and spring seasons. We found a boost in online shopping behavior during June for products ranging from soccer cleats, balls, shin guards, gloves and other equipment, demonstrating the country’s increased interest in actually playing the sport.

Additional findings from the study include:

  • June 16th was the peak day for soccer-related shopping in the U.S., the day the U.S. played Ghana.
  • In the U.S., the international teams with most consumer interest are Brazil, followed by Germany, Argentina, and the Netherlands.
    • The most popular search terms, in order, for the U.S. were:
      • Soccer
      • USA Soccer
      • FIFA
      • Nike Soccer

It’s clear that The World Cup U.S. fanfare will continue long after Sunday’s final game. Writer Alan Black of SFGate put it best, “File soccer under American.”

Black Friday Roundup – eCommerce Sales Exceed $1 Billion

Monday, November 26th, 2012

Black Friday spending was up from last year

The numbers are in – and there were two major takeaways from this year’s Black Friday sales.

First: eCommerce made a huge leap this year. Revenues for online sales exceeded one billion dollars for the first time on Friday alone.

The second takeaway: mobile is red hot – 24 percent of all black Friday shoppers visited a mobile site on their phone, an increase of more than 10 percent from just last year.

Sales on mobile devices accounted for more than 16 percent of all online sales, up from 9.8 percent last year, which points to customers’ increasing comfort with mobile shopping. Of all mobile devices, 14.2 percent of sales came from iPhone and Android smartphones, while 9.8 percent of all mobile purchases came from an iPad. Of purchases only from tablets, 88 percent were completed from an iPad.

So while lines were still wrapped around buildings for doorbuster deals and parking lots were still crowded, there was an increase in sales from those of us who prefer to do our shopping couchside as we recover from our Thanksgiving food coma.

Holiday promotions are starting earlier with some sales beginning Thanksgiving night, and customers are definitely getting into the spirit of online shopping. You could be losing them if your eCommerce site’s search isn’t optimized for a variety of web and mobile devices. Whether your customers are surfing from their laptop, on the couch browsing from a tablet or in a store comparing products on their smartphone, they’re looking for a shop and purchase experience that meets their expectations. If you can exceed those expectations, that’s even better.

There are a number of ways to do that by optimizing your site’s search features with highly-relevant search, refinements and features like Rich Auto Complete, which visually display relevant products.

Space is at a premium on mobile sites, which is why features like expandable navigation that stays hidden until users need to refine their searches, or auto complete, which matches a partial search term with possible suggestions, have such great impact. The fewer words your customers need to type or clicks they need to make to get to their product, the more likely they’ll be to revisit your site because of a good user experience.

Bad usability not only turns off customers from a purchase, it also erodes their perception of your brand. During the holidays, you’ll have thousands, possibly millions of customers navigating to your site – don’t be caught with a poorly-navigable site. Instead, invest in the rapidly-growing eCommerce space by optimizing the site search and merchandising features on your eCommerce and mobile platforms to take advantage of a steadily growing channel.

If your eCommerce site could use an update, you can learn more about the best features to improve your site by downloading our Big Book of Site Search Tips.

Plus, check out other interesting Black Friday results in this infographic.

Google Instant Previews – any lessons for site search?

Wednesday, November 17th, 2010

Last week Google unveiled Instant Previews. This gives you the ability to preview a page by clicking a magnifying glass icon next to the title.

Instant Prevew

This is a cool feature, although I’ve found that I haven’t been using it since it went live. I’m typically happy with the information that is shown on the SERP. However Google are confident that it improves the experience – saying that people who use it are 5% happier with the results. What they didn’t say is what portion of people use it. I guess they’ll be learning more about it as they roll it out.

Lessons for site search?

As with all search innovations I look to see if there is anything that we might be able to apply to our site search customers. I’ve written before about how site search and web search can learn from each other. In this case many of our site search customers have already been doing something similar. They haven’t been showing a full preview of the page – this wouldn’t make sense on a site search because most of the page is the same – but instead have been doing mouse over popups, which show a larger image and potentially some more information. Note this can be done when you mouse over an image, or can be initiated by clicking on a link.

The nice thing about this feature is it makes it easy to see the product detail of several different products. Without this feature you would need to click on the product, look at the detail, return to the search results page, then click on the next product.

Here are some examples of it in action (with links to the pages):

On Bedbath store a larger image pops up when you mouse is over an image

On BedbathStore a larger image pops up when you mouse is over an image

BikeSomewhere show a larger image, a description and an Add to Cart button

BikeSomewhere show a larger image, a description and an Add to Cart button

On Efaucets when you mouse over you see a button to click to see a larger image that contains additional info and a Buy Now button.

On Efaucets when you mouse over you see a button to click to see a larger image that contains additional info and a Buy Now button.

Lessons for web search?

So is there anything Google and the other search engines can learn from the things we’re doing with our site search customers? One thing they should try is making the preview appear when you simply mouse over a result. They almost do this. You have to click on the magnifying glass image to turn on the previews – then you only need to hover over a result to see the preview. They should experiment with getting rid of that first step. I think that would improve the usability.

Secondly I think they should look at pulling out and highlighting more of the critical information on the web page. To be fair they are already doing some of this. But for example if they know it’s a product page and they have the product information – say from a feed that the retailer has submitted to them then they could show the detail of the product in the preview.

Its Time to Prepare for Mobile Commerce

Tuesday, June 8th, 2010

We recently conducted a survey of more than 400 e-commerce companies about their plans and activities in mobile commerce (m-commerce). The feedback was intriguing, to say the least. We found that while recent reports are pointing to significant growth in mobile subscriber numbers and an uptick in m-commerce, the majority of online retailers (80%) do not currently have a mobile commerce strategy in place. Yet, 83% of survey takers say between 1-10% of visitors come to their sites from mobile browsers and 12% cite that 11-20% get to their sites through the mobile web. As those numbers are expected to grow rapidly, we believe this represents a significant opportunity, and those of you that are preparing now for the influx of new business the mobile web represents stand to benefit.

The good news is, while many online retailers may be slow to adopt m-commerce, most recognize the opportunity and plan to address it in the near future. Fifty-six percent (56%) believe a mobile commerce strategy is very important or important to their overall business and 38% say it is important for driving sales. The majority (70%) plan to embark on an m-commerce strategy within the next two years. Only 38% believe m-commerce will be important or somewhat important to this year’s holiday campaigns, while 62% say it will not be important. It will be interesting to see the outcome this holiday season.

According to a recent post from Tim Parry of Chief Marketer, those that have yet to embark on a full-fledged m-commerce strategy may consider launching a mobile site now for research instead of focusing all of their efforts on sales. The thinking behind this is that it might help retailers determine the mobile usage patterns of their customers, so specific needs can be met as m-commerce strategies are expanded.

Other SLI m-commerce survey highlights include:

  • Seventy-nine percent (79%) say site search is important to a mobile website strategy and 61% are confident site search capabilities on a mobile site will generate additional conversions.
  • The top four features online retailers cite as the most important to enhancing the m-commerce experience are navigation (73%), site search (59%), product pages (54%) and product reviews (40%).
  • Of companies looking to build their m-commerce sites, 31% will utilize in-house resources, 28% will outsource the work to a third party developer, 36% will use a combination of both in-house and outsourced resources and the remainder are unsure.
  • Fifty-one percent (51%) of e-commerce companies do not consider the iPad to be a mobile device (they say iPad users can utilize their current website); yet 31% will direct iPad to their mobile site.
  • Only 22% of e-commerce organizations have developed shopping apps for platforms including iPhone, Android, iPad and BlackBerry, while 49% are planning on creating apps, but don’t currently have one; and 29% are not planning on creating apps at all.

Thanks to all who participated in our survey. The full results will be made available on our site in the next few weeks. It will be interesting over the coming months to see how retailers respond to the growing m-commerce demand. We are already working with a number of you on adopting a successful m-commerce strategy, and look forward to helping others increase sales through the mobile web in the near future.

Will Google suggest mess up referral stats?

Monday, May 25th, 2009

Last week it was announced that Google’s search suggestion feature is being updated. The major changes are:

  1. You will see results and ads in the suggestions, along with the keyword suggestions (it looks like only one result and ad at any time)
  2. The suggestion feature will be rolled out to the standard search results page – at the moment it is only on Google’s home page & toolbar. (I guessed they would do this in my post about Google Suggest last August)
  3. The suggestions shown will incorporate your search history

navigational-suggestion.pngI haven’t seen the new features live yet – but I wonder what impact this will have on the referrals you see in your web logs. If someone searches from Google’s homepage – and clicks on a result from the Google suggest list – then the referrer will presumably be This will mean that the referral URL won’t contain the search term. I recently saw in our own web logs but didn’t think anything of it at the time. I wonder if was a referral from Google Suggest?

If someone searches from an existing search page then the referrer will be that page and won’t contain search term they were actually using. That means the referral URL will contain a different keyword – possibly completely irrelevant. For example if I search for Microsoft then type in Apple and choose the homepage from Google Suggest then the referral URL in Apple’s web logs would be something like: and analytics software may mistakenly assume that they were ranking for the term microsoft.

There may be similar problems with the reporting for paid search. Presumably the folks at Google have thought of this and have some sort of solution.

Has anyone seen evidence of this happening?  Is there anything Google could do to help us accurately see the search term that was actually used (for example sending people through a redirect that contained the keyword in the URL)?

Refining search results by color/colour

Sunday, April 19th, 2009

When Google added a color picker to their image search last week I thought it would be worthwhile sharing a few ideas about the use of color refinements in site search. First – let’s take a look at what Google have done. When you do an image search a drop down menu is available at the top. When you click on it you see a selection of 12 standard colors that you can filter the results by.


Goolge will be doing some analysis of the images to work out which are the main colors in each images. For the few test searches I have done this works well.  Google shows the same 12 colors in the drop down even if there are no results. I think it could be improved slightly if they only showed the colors in the drop down for which there were results. Nevertheless, I imagine this will be a popular feature.

I recommend having a similar feature in your site search if you have results where color is important to your visitors. We normally recommend that you don’t use drop downs for the refinements because the drop downs make it slightly more difficult to use (one extra click) and you have to click on them to see what refinements/facets are available. The trade off is the refinements take up more screen real estate. By putting the refinements on the side and using a grid view you can still get plenty of results above the fold.When displaying a color filtering option – you should only show the colors for which there are results (this is the same for other refinement options as well).

Some problems

Color filtering can get a little tricky if you have products that come in several colors – if you don’t have a photo for every color of every product then the results may look a little strange. For example if you have a shirt that comes in blue and green but you only have an image of the blue shirt – then when you filter the results to show those that come in green – the blue shirt will show in the results. This is strange for the user because they’ve asked to see only the green products yet the image shows a blue shirt. It’s a valid result because the shirt does come in green but you need to tell the user somehow.

One solution is to take an image of every product in every color available and show the appropriate product when a color filter is applied. This can be very expensive and time consuming and if you’re custom making the products (for example sofas) then you may not have every combination available to photograph. Another solution is to show the available colors in the search result. Your Blinds do this in the example below. When you mouse over a color a larger image of the color pops up along with it’s name.


Choosing multiple colors

The example below from Jelly Belly shows an implementation that allows you to select more than one color. In this case blue and pink are selected. Jason Marrone, Ecommerce Marketing Manager at Jelly Belly mentioned in the ecommerce podcast that they have many visitors who are choosing candy to match a color theme for a function. These filtering options definitely help those people. I like this implementation – with the ticks in the colors that are selected.


Automatically pulling color from images

We did some experiments a few years ago where we analyzed the product images on a customer’s site and automatically tagged them with the major colors that appeared in the images. This worked reasonably well – but we didn’t have a technique for excluding background colors – which meant it didn’t work perfectly. I’m sure there are techniques for removing background colours – such as ignoring any colors that are on the edge of the image – or something more sophisticated. In any case we haven’t had much demand for this. If you don’t have your products tagged with their colors then let us know if you’d be interested in having a service like this. It will help us work out whether this is something we should be putting some more effort into.

Focus focus focus?

Tuesday, December 16th, 2008

I was reading Jacob Neilsen’s Alertbox article on Interaction Elasticity today. In the newsletter he mentions that shorter navigation paths are usually better. “4 easy clicks are more usable then 5 easy clicks, because the extra click is more work for users”.  This sounds obvious and it got me thinking about how it relates to site search (I pretty much do that for everything I read).

One of the nice things about search is it is a very efficient way of navigating on a site. You click on the search box, you type in your search term and press enter (or click on the search button). Then if the search is relevant the page you are looking for will be above the fold and you can click on it. If the results are not relevant you may need to click on a facet, a sort option, a related search, scroll down, go to the next page of results – or do another search. This is why relevancy is the single most important feature in a search. If the results are relevant it reduces the amount of work you need to do.

The auto complete functionality that we released a few months ago shortens this path further by reducing the number of keystrokes you need to make – by 8 on average. I see Google is testing enhancements to Google Suggest to not only show search terms but also results and ads as you type. Showing search results as you are typing reduces the path even more – you don’t need to see the search results page. For this reason I think  this type of functionality will become more widespread – both in web search and for site search.

Another idea that we are starting to encourage our customers to investigate is to put the focus on their search box on most of the pages on their site – essentially any page that doesn’t have a more important form on it. This again reduces the navigational path – you don’t have to do that first click on the search box before you start typing. You also don’t have to do the work of finding the search box (which on some sites can be surprisingly difficult) – you just start typing after the page is loaded.

You don’t see many sites that put the focus on the search box. Google does it on their homepage. They’ve done a lot of usability testing – so it must be a good idea. Amazon doesn’t do it. They’ve done a lot of usability testing – so it can’t be a good idea. Mmmm. Personally, I really like it. I think Amazon should do it – let’s see if it catches on elsewhere.

The Turing Test and search

Tuesday, September 9th, 2008

I saw an article by John Ferrara discussing how Alan Turing’s ideas apply to search (thanks to Daniel Tunkelang from Endeca for pointing this out on his blog). John observed that people often expect search engines to understand them in the same way that a person would. While search engines aren’t able to do this, one tactic he suggested was to help people formulate their queries by using a suggest function. I’ve blogged before that I am a big fan of this functionality. Yahoo has had their Search Assist for over a year, Google recently added suggestions to their home page and we’re offering our Auto Complete to all of our customers (now over 300 sites and growing). John predicted that this functionality will be ubiquitous in a couple of years and your site will look behind the times if it doesn’t include suggestions. I agree.

Another approach we take to query formulation is to show related searches on the search result page itself, both at the top and/or bottom of the results and with each search result. These enable people to execute a new query just by clicking on one of the search suggestions.

John went on to talk about how to improve the search assuming the user has done a good enough job of phrasing the query. He quite rightly pointed out that the best result is often not at the top and suggested reviewing your search logs to identify the most popular queries and tuning the results for those queries. I agree that it is important to  review and tweak the results for the most popular terms – but this approach isn’t scalable because search has such a long tail. The approach we take at SLI Systems is to watch which results the users are clicking on and rank those results higher. This lets the users do the tuning and means the search continually gets better without a huge effort on your behalf.

Google Suggest

Wednesday, August 27th, 2008

I see Google has finally put the Google Suggest functionality on their home page. I’m a big fan of this feature and use it all the time in their toolbar. We’re recently started offering our equivalent functionality (that we call Auto Complete) to all of our site search customers. This is being well received – so you’ll start to see this on a lot more sites. I think before too long people will come to expect this feature from a search box. I expect people will use the feature more as they see it appearing in more and more places.

I noticed Google doesn’t have the Suggest functionality on their search results page. I expect it will come eventually.