Your Business Online | Professional Jeweler



March 28, 2001
Smarter Searches: Part 1
New and improved search software can make your e-tail site more efficient and effective

One of the most annoying things to online shoppers is not being able to find what they want at an online store. Shoppers looking for diamond-and-sapphire rings don't always want to click through an online jewelry store's entire ring selection. Using a 56k modem, the most common modem right now, it could take upwards of a half an hour to browse a collection of 50 or more rings. Sometimes shoppers just want to search for the item, locate it quickly and check out. Unfortunately, most e-tail sites use older search technology that isn't always efficient and is often frustrating to use.

Last spring, Forrester Research tested the search engines at many popular online retail sites. The results were disastrous: more than two-thirds of the sites failed to list the most relevant matches on the first page of the search results. Most often, this problem is caused by the way the search engine works. Most scan the pages of the site for the keywords entered by the user and return a list of pages containing the words. However, this type of search has many inherent problems. For example, many search engines will return results with the word "earring" when the search was for "ring" because the string of letters – r-i-n-g – is part the word. Search engines also usually list pages with the most appearances of the keywords first, which isn't always the best way to sort search results. Overall, this type of search works and is better than nothing, but it often returns quite a bit of irrelevant material. Luckily, new search technology is here and it's more efficient than ever.

The latest software for product searches scans a company's product database rather than the individual site pages and notes the relationships between columns and rows for better results. It searches the database and pulls information into tables and categories that are useful to customers. For example, if a customer searches for a diamond-and-sapphire ring with a platinum band in size 6, the search engine will scan the database for rings. Then it will find rings with diamonds and sapphires, narrow it even more to the ones with platinum bands and finally find the ones available in size 6 and return the results to the user. By directly searching the database, the software doesn't have to sort through any information not relevant to the product, like it would if it was searching the individual pages. The system can even be set up to allow customers to re-sort the results by a range of details, such as by availability.

Database search technology isn't cheap, though. Large e-tailers can expect to pay at least $500,000 for good system, but e-tailers with smaller inventories can find better deals. Some companies that offer this technology are:

  • EasyAsk - www.easyask.com
  • Mercado Software - www.mercado.com
  • iPhrase - www.iphrase.com
  • Requisite Technology - www.requisite.com
If you're not sure if you need better search software for your site, test your search engine as if you were a customer to see what problems your site visitors might encounter. Then take what you learned and talk to your e-commerce host or call one of the companies listed above. Remember, efficient search software can help almost any online store – it makes customers happier and can lead to more sales and a better reputation.

- by Julia M. Duncan