Full Text Search: The Forgotten Hero

Full Text What?

You’ve all used it before, you may just not have known what it’s called. Full Text Search is the magic that happens when a site offers you results after you type what you are looking for into a handy search bar. Like this:

Full Text Search

It May Not Be Wearing The Biggest Gown, But It’s Definitely The Belle of the Ball:

Sure, it’s easy to overlook. You may have never even tried a search on your own store’s website. But I bet your customers have!

Website heat map technology, which track which parts of the page are most commonly clicked on, typed in and engaged with, universally report the Search Bar is red hot. It’s one of the most commonly used tools on retail websites.

How common? We tracked every visitor that looked at two or more pages on every site we host (over 1,000 of them) and measured it. Even though we expected the full text search to be used often, we were shocked when the results came in:

66% of visitors to sites like yours perform a full text search!

End consumers leave sites with inaccurate full text search results:

Not only is full text search used frequently, end consumers shopping for appliance, furniture, mattresses and electronics have a very low tolerance for missing or inaccurate results. When 1,768 end consumers were asked:

“You are shopping on a website and the on-site search is not very good-that is, it does not find you the products you are looking for. What happens next?”

  • 73% said that they would leave the site and continue shopping with a competitor
  • 26% said they would keep shopping on the site, but would feel frustrated
  • Less than 2% said that they really wouldn’t care that the search didn’t work for them

Looking at some anecdotal comments we captured during this research you can see how they reflect the general frustration consumers have with ineffective search functionality:

“[Poor search results] would be a huge red flag of an incompetent company.” -33-year-old man from Riverview, FL

“This is very annoying. A site that can’t be bothered to have a functioning search engine is a site I don’t want to deal with.” -30-year-old man from Chicago, IL

“If the search tells me the products aren’t there, I’ll assume this store doesn’t have it and move on.” -20-year-old woman from Spokane, WA

Even though the third quote above is less emotional than the first two quotes, it could be the most damaging. The most common way search fails isn’t by returning the wrong results: it’s by returning no results at all.

From the customers’ perspective, having no results returned from their search doesn’t mean the engine doesn’t work properly… it means the company doesn’t have their product! Consumers make this assumption even if the company does carry the products and prospects are just seeing search errors.

Here’s a quick example: imagine that a prospect is searching for a “leather couch” and your website’s search engine doesn’t understand that a “couch” is a synonym for “sofa.” As a result, the prospect’s search will not display any of the sofas you have to sell.

We know that when this happens, the prospect is likely to leave your site for a competitor no less than two out of every three times for US adults.

Doing Full Text Searches Well Is Important… but Not Easy:

There’s a reason Google is such a technology powerhouse – they wrote the book on how to do full text searches well while so many do it poorly.

Full Text Search is the kind of technology programmers, and entire companies, spend billions of dollars and decades of time trying to do well. It’s incredibly complex, difficult to accomplish even mediocre results and undeniably important.

That’s Why RWS Continually Invests In Improving Our Full Text Search:

Countless dollars and hours are consumed by the RWS software development team testing, improving, and retesting our full text search algorithms. It’s a difficult, and under-appreciated job – but we’re proud to do it well!

Our incredibly accurate search results are powered by the interaction of this search algorithm functionality and the rich product data we compile in our normalized product data base. We not only mine the data manufacturers publish on their consumer facing websites, we augment that data with additional information our data team works tirelessly to gather by digging into documents that cannot be spidered and using our expert industry knowledge to draw conclusions.

For example – each manufacturer may have multiple descriptions of the color “blue” – azure, sapphire, navy, midnight, indigo, aquamarine, etc. Our database captures both the exact manufacturer description (say… sapphire) and a “normalized” color (like “blue”). That makes it easier for end consumers to narrow their results themselves, and also to get accurate full text search results if they search for “blue sofas”.

And No One Does It Better Than Us!

Go ahead – put us to the test. Try the following full text searches on:

  1. An RWS WebFront
  2. Your own site
  3. And a site made by one of our competitors
Appliance Retailers:
Search for “black stove”
Furniture Retailers:
Search for “end tables”
Mattress Retailers:
Search for “memory foam”
Electronics Retailers:
Search for “curved TV”
Decorative Plumbing & Hardware:
Search for “chrome pullout faucet”

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