Think back to the last time you were in a big-box retail store with an overwhelming array of products. How did you find your way around, without being paralyzed by the vast selection? Retail merchandisers work to make it easier for you by categorizing groups of products in certain areas of the store. Signs point you to the correct aisle for bed and bath items, electronics, toys, and other products, so you’re not wandering aimlessly.

For online shoppers, the experience can be very similar. If users encounter a large set of search results for a particular keyword, they can also feel overwhelmed. As an e-commerce merchant, you can help them tremendously by offering refinement options to narrow numerous product results to a manageable set. While site search is considered one of the most essential elements to an e-commerce site, refinements are just as crucial in guiding shoppers to the right product, and to a sale.

Our new Big Book of Site Search Tips for 2014, available for free download, is filled with ideas for improving this vital part of your site search solution. Here are just a few of the suggestions from the Big Book – and you’ll also find more than 100 tips on everything from search box placement to merchandising in the Big Book.

Make refinements intuitive: Don’t force visitors to guess what your refinements are trying to say. When shoppers come to your site, they may have certain keywords in mind. Name refinements in a way that will match your users’ language, and that makes sense for the products you’re selling. SLI customer ReNew Life, which sells probiotics products, has a refinements category called “Concerns,” which highlights common health and wellness issues that customers may experience:

renew life - refinements

Pick the right place for refinements: Depending on how your visitors search your site, different placements for refinements may be called for. The most common spots are in the left navigation pane, and at the top of the search page. Either option may work fine, but you should test different positions and see which ones your visitors use most. We don’t recommend using the bottom of the page for refinements, since it forces visitors to scroll down, and the right side of the page may confuse visitors that aren’t used to seeing navigation bars there. Additionally, if your site utilizes search pages with infinite scrolling, consider floating refinements that will travel down the page as a user scrolls.

Refinements for ratings and reviews: Sometimes a series of reviews can be the difference in deciding whether or not to buy a product. Depending on the e-commerce business and product types, some visitors find value in sorting products by ratings or reviews. You can allow visitors to refine their search results based on the star rankings, for example, which can help users narrow down a selection to only top-rated products.

Allow users to navigate between refinements: If a visitor has clicked on a certain refinement, but decides he or she wants to see a different refinement, don’t force them to click the “back” button to get to the original search results page first. Users should be able to simply click a different refinement option from the page they are on, and see a new batch of results.

These are just a few of the many tips that you should keep in mind when optimizing your e-commerce site experience to make browsing and shopping easier. Download the 2014 edition of the Big Book of Site Search Tips today.

What features do you plan on adding to your e-commerce site in 2014? We’d love to hear from you! 

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