On-Site Search Tuning for Manufacturers & Distributors

On-Site Search Tuning for Manufacturers & Distributors
August 3, 2017 Jeff Winter

The ubiquitous search bar could very well be one of the most important parts of any eCommerce site, especially in the B2B space. With manufacturers having several varietals of similar products, or distributors having 100,000+ SKUs in their catalog, sometimes product category navigation can be too slow or cumbersome. Now, with Google-like search expectations, many buyers look to the search bar to find what they are looking for quickly and accurately.

However, like a fine instrument, in order to deliver the best experience to your website visitors, your on-site search engine often needs a bit of tuning. In the following, we’ll go through the various search tuning levers often available in robust eCommerce platforms such as InsiteCommerce, or independent 3rd party search providers.

Synonyms & Redirects

Often the first stop of anyone looking to adjust search results, synonyms are a simple concept to understand. Industry jargon may be prevalent, but may not always match up to a manufacturer’s product information. For this very reason, an electrician looking for an “outlet box” may also be looking for results of “junction boxes” and/or “electrical receptacles”. Synonyms allow you to tell your search index that when someone searches “junction boxes” to return the same results as if someone searched “outlet box”.

Redirects, on the other hand, are a mechanism in which a user is sent directly to a page when they search for a specific term. This could be used for 1:1 matches to avoid a search results page, or for promotional uses, such as having an ad directing people to “search for SPRING SALE” to return a specific landing page.

Boosting & Burying

Boosting (increasing a specific results’ rank on a results page) and burying (decreasing a specific results’ rank on a results page) can be done on multiple attributes, but often is found on products and categories. Typically accomplished by assigning products or categories positive or negative “points”, the search engine will then tailor the results page based on those rules, ranking certain products that may be specifically boosted, or burying a product that is part of a category that has negative or less points.

Boosting and burying products can be done for many reasons. Some distributors receive co-marketing dollars from manufacturers, or are recognized as “exclusive” or “platinum” dealers, and may choose to promote those products whenever possible. Or, some distributors may have a house or private-label brand that they have larger margins on that they may choose to show above other name-brand results. On the contrary, some attributes may be burying with negative points because customer research was shown that the attribute in question (perhaps product weight, or warranty length) isn’t a valuable attribute in returning accurate search results.

Fuzzy Search & Spelling

Fuzzy search, also sometimes referred to as misspelling search, or “Did you mean…?” results are settings that allow you to tune the tolerance of how many correct characters in a word must be present to return results. This allows for slight misspellings, and sometimes also can allow for “partial searches” or incomplete keywords that act more as a wildcard. This way, if a family of copper fittings all started with SPA198, all 4 of the results: SPA1981, SPA1982, and SPA1983 would be returned.

Other Important Features

While this is merely a starting place for common search tuning, there are also a ton of other parts of the search experience manufacturers and distributors can improve upon. Once you’ve established a good tuning base, look into advanced features such as:

  • Indexing your customer’s unique part numbers
  • Advanced results faceting and filtering
  • “Search-within-a-search” ability to further narrow down results
  • A “Previously Purchased” filter to apply to search results

And of course, I’d be remiss if I didn’t remind everyone to ensure their search index is rebuilt or refreshed frequently to catch new additions and apply your tuning preferences!